The role of law is to provide safeguards and protection for us all. But when the law resides in the hands of a few, those few have the power to ignore it, evade it, or manipulate it to advance their own interests – often at the expense of others. Such injustices occur around the world everyday, in various forms. They can affect an individual, a family, a community, a nation, or, as in the case of the Panama Papers, the world.
The 11.5 million leaked documents that make up the Panama Papers reveal that legal professionals at Mossack Fonseca law firm helped set up tens of thousands of offshore companies. While these shell companies are not technically illegal, the Panama Papers have shown that they carry out and hide a wide array of serious crimes, including, but not limited to, tax evasion. Mossack Fonseca reportedly “found allies and clients in major law firms in virtually every nation”.
The unknown whistleblower(s) behind the leak cited ‘the scale of injustice’ as their motivation for releasing the documents. The trillions of dollars siphoned out of countries, particularly from developing and emerging economies, is done at the expense of ordinary citizens. According to the Tax Justice Network, just 1% of this mountain of offshore wealth would yield more than $120bn a year in tax. This is close to the entire $131bn global aid budget. Offshore wealth is expanding inequality by hiding money that should be going towards public services like healthcare, education, and legal services for those who cannot afford or access it. This act of corruption is an injustice of global proportions.
Yesterday, David Cameron hosted over 40 countries at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Although the summit was planned prior to the Panama leak, it could not have been better timed. With the world’s attention currently fixed on corruption, the summit looked to galvanize and coordinate action for developing global tax regulations, closing legal loopholes that permit corruption, and increasing the transparency of lawyers, bankers and other professionals who can facilitate financial secrecy. In a promising start, the UK, the U.S., Nigeria, the Netherlands, and South Africa have all announced a package of steps to stop global corruption. A new global plan was also announced for the return of stolen assets.
These international reforms are important, but they will not solve the problem on their own. Top-down or purely government-run anti-corruption initiatives have proven to be of limited effectiveness and sustainability. Implementation and enforcement remain a major challenge. To bring about lasting change we need to devolve the powers of governance from the elites to the billions who currently live outside of the protection of the law. We need legal empowerment.
Legal empowerment practitioners around the world help citizens to understand, use, and shape the law to ensure justice for those who need it most. Armed with legal knowledge and skills in advocacy, litigation, mediation, and education, these community paralegals and grassroots legal advocates empower ordinary people to defend their rights, hold those in power accountable and fix broken systems. They have successfully confronted stark imbalances of power between citizens and private firms, between citizens and the state, and between citizens and regressive local norms.
In apartheid South Africa, community paralegals mobilized people to confront and change unjust laws and governance structures. Today, they assist clients to access government services and enforce new legislations and protections. In Mexico, local organization Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos has helped prisoners eligible for early release access their records which were unfairly being withheld by officials. Over 40% of those prisoners secured early release based on the records they obtained. And earlier this year, in Sierra Leone, community paralegals working with Namati helped a community win back land that was sold to a Chinese rubber company without their consent.
The impact of legal empowerment efforts extends beyond individual cases. By equipping clients with knowledge of their rights, the laws, and the legal processes, they are able address future injustices and hold those in power to account. The aggregate data collected from grassroots experience also creates a powerful empirical basis from which to advocate for systemic reform. It can lead to positive changes in the law itself, and in the institutions by which the law is applied.
Yet, to date, most governments have overlooked the vital role of legal empowerment. Governance and rule of law make up a small and declining share of official development assistance. Between 2005 and 2013 only 1.8% of aid has gone to the justice sector, compared to 7.5% for education and 11.7% for health.* Of that limited funding, the vast majority goes to state institutions rather than civil society organizations.
Yesterday’s Anti-Corruption Summit was another missed opportunity for governments to provide direct support for legal empowerment work. But the initiatives announced still hold promise. The planned return of stolen assets, for example, could be directed to funding legal empowerment work or anti-corruption commissions.
World leaders must commit to providing greater support to legal empowerment initiatives if we are to tackle injustice and corruption. More must be done to help put the power of the law in the hands of the people.
*Source: forthcoming report June 2016, Developing a portfolio of financially sustainable, scalable basic legal service models, Law and Development Partnership
Last updated January 30, 2013.
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Last updated: May 25, 2018
This Policy describes our privacy practices and sets out your obligations and ours with respect to your use of the Site and the Forum. This Policy applies only to the Site and the Forum and does not necessarily apply to our offline collection of information.
Namati may collect and retain two types of information about Site and Forum visitors: (i) personal information that individual visitors voluntarily provide when interacting on the Site or Forum or on certain other occasions (such as via forms or in emails); and (ii) tracking data, which is data that is automatically collected from every Site and Forum visitor as they use and browse the site.
We may, from time to time, store and archive the information you submit to or through the Site and Forum. The information that we gather may include your name, title, and address, telephone number, email address, credit card number or other elements of personal information. In addition, if you contact us, we may keep a record of your correspondence, including any information contained therein.
You may decline to provide any personal information, but please realize that you thereby may be unable to register or to participate in activities or services offered on the Site and/or Forum.
In addition to the information you submit to or through the Site and Forum, we also may collect and store data from and about you gathered in the course of your use of the Site and Forum. We call this “tracking data.”
Such tracking data may include, but is not limited to, information regarding the number and frequency of visits to the Site and Forum, the websites that you access before and after you visit the Site and Forum, the software and operating system used to access the Site and Forum, and your IP address and Internet service provider.
Our use of your Information involves various forms of communication with you, including:
We will not disclose any personal information to third parties, except:
Information provided to third parties is limited to the information needed to perform their functions. We seek to limit third-party use of information; however, we are not responsible for such third-party use of information.
We retain the right to transfer or assign all information pursuant to a merger, purchase or other transaction relating to Namati or our assets.
The current list of third-party service providers we use include:
Personal information you submit via your member account, other than information provided or content posted by you to public areas of the Site as described below, is deleted from Namati’s records following the deletion of your account. However, such information may continue to be retained by third-party service providers to which it has been disclosed for one of the reasons listed above.
Your Information is stored on Digital Ocean servers in New York, USA.
We take reasonable precautions to protect your information from loss, misuse or alteration. You should recognize, however, that there is no such thing as “perfect security” on the Internet, and we cannot guarantee the security of your information. In addition, because Internet communications are unsecure, it is also possible that the information you supply to us or your access of any information via the Site will be intercepted during transmission. We are not liable for any breach of our systems or interception of our transmission, and we hereby fully disclaim, to the fullest extent possible under law, any liability associated with any claim relating to a breach of security, data or information.
You should be aware that any information provided or content posted by you to public areas of the Site, including but not limited to interactions on the Site and information posted to the Member Directory (via your profile), the Tools Database and the Forum, may be read, collected or used by other visitors of the Site, who may not need to log in as a member to view the information. Namati is not responsible for the third-party use of any information provided in such manner. By participating in the use of the Site’s interactive features, you consent to Namati’s use or disclosure of any content that you submit. For more information on posting content, please see our Terms.
The Forum uses data about your posts and other activity to make automated decisions about whether your posts are spam.
The Forum may also use data about your posts and activity to award you badges and calculate a trust level for your account. Your trust level may affect how you can participate in the Forum, such as whether you can upload images, as well as give you access to moderation and management powers in the Forum. Your trust level, therefore, reflects Forum administrators’ confidence in you, and their willingness to delegate community management functions, like moderation.
From time to time, we may email users of the Site or the Forum information regarding important developments affecting Namati and/or the Global Grassroots Justice Network. We may also email users on occasion regarding the Site or the Forum. Such emails may be sent to users of the Site or Forum even if they have not requested to receive any communication from us.
You may choose to unsubscribe from future emails by using the unsubscribe link included in all mass email correspondence from Namati and the Grassroots Justice Network.
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Because Namati is concerned about the privacy protection of children who access the Internet, we comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Accordingly, the Site and Forum are not intended for use by anyone under the age of 13, and we do not knowingly collect information from anyone under 13 years of age without the consent of a parent or guardian.
We reserve the right to disclose any information to comply with any law, regulation, decree, judgment, order, subpoena or any other governmental order (“Order”) without any obligation to contest or verify the accuracy of such Order.
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The section titles in this Policy are for convenience only and have no legal or contractual effect.
The Site, the Forum, and any third party services they use, may be subject to additional terms and conditions regarding privacy and use of information. Your use of the Site and the Forum is subject to those terms and conditions, which are incorporated into this Policy by reference. In the event of an inconsistency between this Policy and any additional posted conditions, the provisions of the additional conditions shall control.
We may need to change the Policy from time to time in order to address new issues and to reflect changes on the Site or in the law. We reserve the right to revise or make any changes to the Policy, and your continued use of the Site subsequent to any changes to this Policy will mean that you agree to and accept such changes. You can tell if the Policy has been updated by checking the last revised date posted on the top of this page.
You can also access, remove, update or correct your information, and raise any questions or concerns regarding the Site or the Policy, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailing:
Namati Data Protection Officer
1616 P Street NW, Suite 101
Washington, DC 20036, USA
If you live in a country which has adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (EU; 2016/679), you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application.
The Policy was updated in May 2018 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.