Monday, April 14, 2014

Access to Justice as a Human Right - Part II

Make Access to Justice Part of the Global Development Agenda

 By Lauren E. Bartlett

 Building on my post last month on the right to counsel, I want to tell you about an opportunity to keep access to justice in the spotlight here in the U.S. and also on the international level.   There is a growing movement to press U.N. Member States to declare that justice, the rule of law, and legal empowerment, are essential principles in the new U.N. post-2015 development goals.  Last year, the Open Society Foundations and very notable people, including President Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, made an appeal to the U.N. Member States to include justice in the goals. International groups have also included access to justice in draft post-2015 goals.  This movement presents a unique opportunity for U.S. human rights advocates.  If the U.S. government were to take on an international leadership role towards making access to justice a main part of its international platform, this could keep access to justice central to U.S. policy, as well as help advance the right to counsel and other access to justice causes here in the U.S.


As background, in 2000, the U.N. General Assembly passed the Millennium Declaration, which provided the basis for a new global initiative to reduce extreme poverty, support development and protect the environment.  The Millennium Declaration led to eight significant and measurable goals that became known as the Millenium Development Goals (“MDGs”), aimed at: 1) halving global poverty and hunger; 2) ensuring universal primary education; 3) promoting gender equality and empowering women; 4) vastly reducing child mortality; 5) improving maternal health; 6) halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; 7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and 8) creating a global partnership for development, by 2015.  The U.S. joined 189 world governments in 2000 in committing to achieving the MDGs. President Obama has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the MDGs and the U.S. has played a leading role in the success of reaching some of the goals, including reducing extreme poverty rates by half and also halving the number of people without access to improved sources of water.  With the target date quickly approaching, the U.N. is working to build on the success of the MDGs by developing post-2015 development goals, which are expected to be adopted by U.N. Member States at a Summit in September 2015.  There is ample time for the U.S. to step up and take the lead on this issue, but the sooner the better. 


What U.S. advocates could hope for in the near future is perhaps an equivalent to the speech that Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made declaring “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights”.  Perhaps in years to come we could also hope for the launch of corresponding federal programs, such as the programs launched by the State Department and other federal agencies to support and defend LGBT rights abroad.  Whether due to internal pressure, international pressure, or most likely otherwise, the LGBT rights movement has made great progress in the U.S. in last few years.  The access to justice movement could benefit greatly from even a little of the overall success that the LGBT movement has seen recently. 


Pressing the U.S. to take a leadership role to make access to justice part of the post-2015 development goals is also the right thing to do.  There is much evidence that shows that justice drives development, helps fight poverty, and eliminate discriminatory practices.  Moreover, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department have both developed cutting-edge rule of law programs and have spent billions of dollars worldwide.  The American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative is world-renowned.  U.S. foundations, such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, have also taken the lead in establishing international justice programs to drive development and fight poverty around the world.  The U.S. has much to be proud of and to promote in terms of both its justice system and its work to establish strong, effective and equal justice systems around the world.  It would be a natural and appropriate step for the U.S. to take the lead and make access to justice part of the post-2015 development goals.

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