The Case for Justice in Development

By Faustina Pereira, BRAC

This blog post is adapted from a keynote address given by Dr. Pereira at the WANA Forum in Amman, Jordan in June 2014.

This is an important global moment. Just last month the Open Working Group (OWG) of the UN General Assembly released its zero draft of goals and targets on Sustainable Development for the Post 2015 Development Agenda. The Open Working Group (OWG) is tasked with preparing a proposal on the Sustainable Development Goals to be attained by 2030, which are to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which will end in 2015.

What shape the SDGs will finally take will be decided in just a year from now. There is a high level of advocacy at global and national levels in favour of competing development imperatives for inclusion as development goals. Legal Empowerment advocates have been working very hard over the last two years to make the argument for inclusion of Justice, Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment as a separate goal in the post 2015 Development Goals.

Some of these advocacy efforts have paid off. Last year we saw that the Report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda placed a strong emphasis on justice. The endorsement of His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal to recognize the right of all to access to justice has added greater imperative and momentum to the global movement for a rights based approach to development. Today, with a few exceptions, most member states are supportive of the inclusion of rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda. The Open Working Group (OWG) has also categorically specified its recognition of the importance of human rights principles, including the rule of law, good governance and gender equality as integral to addressing what it calls the greatest global challenges of our times, namely poverty eradication and ensuring sustainable development.

The story behind reaching this level of recognition includes the persistent efforts of human rights and justice advocates to develop language and bring together circles of influence to call for a paradigm shift in the essential understanding of human development. This paradigm shift calls for making a critical link between justice and development. This shift is as much a shift in a state of mind as institutional change from within. It raises the argument that the task of freeing humanity from poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved through inflexible channels of law and state institutions, but by bringing into the development equation the central role of justice in stark human realities of poverty, injustice and legal exclusion.

When justice, rule of law and legal empowerment of the poor and marginalised are recognised as goals of development it will require states and institutions to move away from a traditional economic or welfare model of meeting needs – and evolve instead a model which recognizes the centrality of human agency and voice. It will recognise not just the “need” but also the “right” to development.

Simply put, the result of inclusion of justice as a development agenda will ensure that human beings in their progressive journey will be transformed into subjects rather than objects of development.

The call for inclusion of justice as a development goal is based on the premise that people are poor because they are powerless, that conflicts arise because of perpetual discrimination and disenfranchisement, and that the law has a much larger role to play than it does today in addressing the claims of a common humanity. The non-recognition of this premise will result in missing once more the opportunity to make the law transform itself to justice, and will further relegate the world’s most poor and marginalized to the periphery of development.

The great news is global poverty is on the decline. But a close look at this declining trend shows some disturbing realities. One of this is that 64 per cent of the world’s extreme poor live in just five countries – India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. My country Bangladesh remains one of the top ten countries with the largest share of the global extreme poor. And yet, Bangladesh is often called the poster child of the MDGs for its astounding track record in achieving almost every development goal and much earlier than the target date of 2015. How did this miracle come about? This is a point of examination for many. My organization, BRAC, together with the Government of Bangladesh and other development partners, has helped achieve this near miracle through a number of measures.

One of the biggest and most recognized factors behind this miracle has come by actively ensuring, through policies and targeted measures, the visibility of girls and women in the development sectors, particularly education and health. Enabling women’s participation in the three thrust sectors for our economy, namely agriculture, readymade garments and foreign remittance has brought about a silent revolution in almost every home in the country. There are studies which capture the links between reduction in maternal mortality where marriage and child birth was delayed by two years, and the mothers who survived childbirth today who nearly a decade ago were made to stay in school those two extra years. Healthy and educated women, who are empowered not just socially and economically but also legally, are better decision makers in their families, are more active citizens, and demonstrate greater justice seeking behavior.

In other parts of the world too we have measurable indicators and examples of how legal empowerment can be a pathway out of poverty and exclusion. Beyond the narrow lens of quantification there are many more examples which can demonstrate the critical link between justice interventions and development outcomes.

It goes without saying that different approaches are required to achieve the different dimensions of sustainable development, in accordance with national circumstances and priorities. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) can be taken forward by focusing on five key priorities – access to information, legal identity, rights to land and property, legal participation, and legal services.

Each country will be faced with its own challenges in achieving sustainable development. Whether we are African countries, least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), small island developing States (SIDS), middle-income countries (MICs) or countries experiencing conflicts, we are all part of a common humanity and we must all work towards a common framework to ensure that no one is left behind.

Dr. Pereira is Director
 of Human Rights and Legal Aid Services for BRAC


June 30, 2014 | Faustina Pereira