Last week our community won a historic victory. Justice is in the new global development goals. 

The original Millennium Development Goals, issued in 2000, were laudable, but they left out law and justice altogether. Our community came together to argue that justice should be at the heart of development.

Many officials said this would be impossible – that justice was too contentious, too political.

Hundreds of people in the legal empowerment network took action to argue otherwise – in New York and in national capitals around the world.

Last week the UN adopted a new set of Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. The 16th goal commits to achieving “access to justice for all”, and ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.”

Principles of access to justice and legal empowerment are woven throughout the new goals. In several places, the document uses the same language that we proposed in our joint letter to the UN General Assembly. There are specific targets on government transparency, legal identity, participation in basic services, and governance over land.

This is a groundbreaking recognition by world governments that people cannot improve their lives without the power to exercise their rights. Development does not succeed without justice.

Now it is time to turn those words into results.

  • Above is a video message from network members around the world, celebrating the role of justice in the new goals and calling on governments to implement them.
  • Here is the full text of Goal 16, and here’s the text of the entire 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
  • In this short brief, Stacey Cram assesses how well the new framework incorporates the five principles from our joint open letter to the UN. She then charts a course for bringing the justice promises in the new goals to life.
  • Here’s how network members in the Philippines, Jordan, and Kenya are already using Goal 16 to influence national development planning.

The challenges we face are enormous – from predatory criminal justice institutions in the United States, to the waves of land grabbing across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, to the global failure to respect the rights of refugees.

We can overcome these challenges if we stand together. That’s what we did in the fight for what has become Goal 16. If we continue to come together, weaving our local struggles into larger ones, we can achieve a fairer world.