On September 25th 2015 the new 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by 193 countries at the United National General Assembly. Tackling injustice has been placed at the heart of this framework. While we must celebrate the substantial gains made by the Justice 2015 Campaign, we cannot under estimate the challenges that lie ahead. Now is the time for pragmatic, actionable next steps.
The adoption of the new Global Goals marked the end of a three year process proclaimed as the most inclusive in the United Nations’ 70 year history. Over 11 million citizens shared their opinions and priorities on issues ranging from injustice to climate change; to gender equality and healthcare. Governments, civil society and business heard these calls and worked together to turn grand ambitions into a plan of action for the coming 15 years. The goals have the declared aim of improving the lives of hundreds of millions – by ending extreme poverty, fighting injustice and defeating climate change Thousands in New York and millions around the world cheered on when the UN declared the Goals adopted.
Three years ago when the justice and legal empowerment community began advocating for the new global agenda to place justice at its heart, we were told this was impossible, it could not be measured, it was not needed. Thankfully, as practitioners and advocates we knew these obstacles could and must be overcome. A lack of legal power and protection is a major reason why people fall into, and remain in, poverty – any global agenda which failed to recognise justice would fall short on its ambition.
Thanks in part to the efforts of millions of citizens and hundreds of civil society organisations around the world, the SDGs recognise the essential role of justice, effective rule of law, good governance and transparent institutions, in eradicating poverty, protecting our planet, ensuring prosperity and fostering peace. This agenda is not perfect, but reflecting on how far we have come in the last three years, it is a collective win for our community.
What made it into the Final Declaration and Goals?
The Justice 2015 Campaign had five key objectives: to ensure access to information; legal identity; participation in basic services; rights to land and property; and access to independent legal services. The below is a snap shot for how the new agenda reflects each of these areas.
As you can see, with the exception of access to legal services all of the areas that we campaigned for made it into the agenda to some extent. Principles of access to justice and legal empowerment are woven throughout the new goals, preamble and declaration. In several places the document uses the same language, word for word, that hundreds of us proposed in our joint letter to Ban Ki Moon. There are specific targets on government transparency, legal identity, participation in basic services, and governance over land with the end result outweighing our initial expectations (this earlier blog provides a fuller analysis of individual targets). However, the omission of access to legal services is a real threat to the fulfilment of all the other targets. Accessible independent legal services are a proven way for citizens, especially the poor and marginalised, to seek redress when they are denied these rights.
Take for example the experience of Khadija, a 23-year-old resident of Kibera in Nairobi. Khadija was unable to obtain birth certificates for her seven children because she herself did not have any official ID. As a member of the Nubian community Khadija faces extra barriers to obtaining citizenship; the process was complicated and she was put off trying. This meant that her seven children had no legal identity and would be denied services throughout their life as a result.
Within the new Global Goals, target 16.9 recognises ‘legal identity for all, including birth registration’. But this right alone does not help Khadija and her children. Thankfully, Khadija had access to frontline legal services; a community paralegal named Hassan was able to navigate the administrative hurdles, obtain the necessary paperwork, follow up with government departments and after months of sustained engagement ensure that Kenya had eight new citizens.
The challenge the legal empowerment and justice community must take up now is to convince governments that while legal services may not be explicitly named in the new agenda they are necessary for its success.
Turning Words into Action
Getting a global agreement which recognised justice was no easy task, but compared to the work that lies ahead it was but a drop in the ocean. In recent months, while the UN has been preparing to celebrate justice around the world, we have seen countless movements lamenting the absence of it.
From race and policing in the US, to the attempted assassination of a human rights activist in Burundi, to the violations of Syrians’ rights inside and outside their country, injustice is a common thread. And these are just the stories that have made the press. There are no column inches dedicated to the millions of people facing daily injustice – harassed by police, forced of their land, denied education, denied healthcare, imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, forced to pay bribes, raped, tortured and trafficked.
Global Goal 16 and the new agenda have the ambition to tackle injustice for all peoples around the globe. By signing this agenda, 193 countries have agreed that justice is a universal right to be enjoyed by their citizens and all peoples around the globe. No country, however, is currently set up to deliver justice for all; to achieve this ambitious agenda whole system must be reformed, new laws must be passed and we will need to see a significant reallocation of resources.
When a problem is so large, it can be daunting to know where to even begin.
Firstly, let’s recognise that there are already thousands of organisations and individuals working on issues of injustice. Many of them will have no idea about the new justice targets so we must spread the word – online and especially offline – to ensure that everyone, everywhere can benefit from the Global Goals. Already reformers are using the Global Goals to catalyse their existing ambitions. After years of campaigning for legal aid in Kenya, Kituo cha Sheria, was finally able to move the Legal Aid Bill through parliament using Kenya’s global commitment to Goal 16.
Secondly, we must recognise that there will be likely as many out there working against the values of justice and empowerment. We must look to identify and create new champions inside government who can push forward vital justice reforms, and to ensure a robust regulatory framework can track those blocking reforms.
Specifically we need to see:
- Leadership in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals at the country level now, ensuring that justice, rule of law, and legal empowerment are front and central. The US showed such leadership this week announcing its commitment to Goal 16 within the US through the establishment of White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable. By making the Global Goals relevant to its own citizens the US has shown commitment to the universal nature of this agenda; the Global Goals are not just about development aid and we need to see more states show such leadership within their borders.
- Partnership between government and civil society, citizens, communities and all other stakeholders to implement this agenda and ensure effective monitoring and review. In the Philippines civil society and government are collaborating to develop a new National Development Plan which prioritises Goal 16 and access to justice. Citizens across the country are being consulted by civil society and government so that their views and needs are incorporated.
- Investment in improving the quality of justice, by building the capacity of service providers, empowering citizens to understand and use the law and increasing funding for legal empowerment and access to justice programs. In the face of legal aid cuts the Scottish Legal Aid Board was able to persuade Ministers to allocate additional funding from other public service departments to fund legal aid and to reinvest savings made from wider justice system reforms back into legal aid. Cross sector budgeting and reinvestment of savings into legal aid are actionable ways to increase funds for justice services without relying solely on Ministry of Justice funding.
- Collective ownership and shared responsibility in delivering justice for all at the local, national and global level. States, civil society, citizens, philanthropists and the private sector all must recognise their role in delivering justice. Together they need to develop innovative partnerships for justice. Lawyers for Resource Justice is one such innovation – where partnership across borders is advancing justice for all. In rural Liberia International Lawyers are supporting local NGOs and communities to negotiate with multinational corporations on land rental fees and related revenue.
The cheers in New York last week were ceremonial for the work accomplished, but the true success of this process is still to be seen. Success must be defined by the smaller cheers, by the cab driver who did not have to pay a bribe to a police officer, by the father able to obtain medication for a sick child, the family able to secure the release of a brother unfairly detained in jail, the community who win the right to stay on their land. These won’t be high-profile moments, and few people will ever know about them, but they are genuine and they are the victories that we must strive for. In Kenya, Hassan has begun this vital work by helping Khadija; together the legal empowerment network has begun this vital work; join us to ensure “justice for all” becomes a reality.