Democratic transitions in Arab world require strong legal foundations, says UNDP Chief

06 Dec 2012

Doha -  Strengthening the rule of law, justice and security will be critical for the stability and inclusive growth of Arab states, especially those now facing the transition to democracy, said the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

“Where societies are emerging from conflict, social and political upheaval, strengthening the rule of law is particularly important for making a transition to a more peaceful and cohesive future,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark yesterday at an event hosted by Qatar University’s new Distinguished Speaker Programme.  

The rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law, and that the laws in place in a country are fair, non-discriminatory and respect human rights. 

In her address, entitled “Rule of Law and Development: Times of Challenge and Opportunity,” Clark focused on the importance of the rule of law in the realm of global development and discussed the implications for Arab countries at this critical time of on-going transition. 

“Important and often highly-contested political, economic, and social processes are underway across the region, in countries pursuing rapid transitions after the downfalls of regimes, and in others pursuing a more gradual pace of reform,” said Clark in reference to last year’s regional unrest, which continues to simmer in countries like Syria. She added that citizens need to see that the institutions of the state – including police and the judiciary– are there to serve them, rather than act in their own interests in order for the rule of law to be firmly established.

“Accountability for past abuses and the human rights violations of previous regimes will be a priority in many transitions. Dealing with the perpetrators is complex as justice needs to be seen to be done, and new systems of governance need to give assurance that human rights abuses will not be repeated,” she said. 

Clark acknowledged the role that Qatar has had in promoting justice and the rule of law across the Arab region and said that the country is acknowledged for its advocacy of anti-corruption causes. Last year, UNDP and Qatar began a programme with Attorney-General, H.E Dr Ali Bin Mohsen, to establish a regional hub in Doha for training and research into the rule of law and to tackle corruption. “UNDP is proud to be associated with these principles,” she said.

Through a range of programmes in over 170 countries, UNDP helps provide legal empowerment to poor and marginalized groups, including women, young people, the disabled and migrants; improving justice and security institutions and access to justice in conflict and post conflict states; and helping communities to deal with a legacy of war through methods such as truth commissions, the prosecution of conflict-related crimes and establishing community-based violence prevention initiatives.

“We see in the region so much human potential and capacity to build a better future for all who have suffered exclusion and repression,” said Clark, adding that  efforts to strengthen the rule of law underpin UNDP’s work, expanding people’s ability to determine their own destiny and to participate in the decisions that shape their lives.

The United Nations re-affirmed that human rights, the rule of law, and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing this year at the UN General Assembly where it held its first ever High-Level Meeting dedicated to the Rule of Law at the national and international levels.

Highlights of UNDP’s work in the context of Rule of Law in the Arab region:

  • In Tunisia, the National Constituent Assembly, elected in late 2011, is drafting a new constitution. UNDP is supporting that effort, working with the government, and also with civil society groups to engage the broader public in discussion about what they want to see in the new constitution.  
  • In Libya, recognizing that youth are often excluded from political discourse, UNDP supported a number of youth activists in the lead-up to the recent elections to become trainers who could motivate other young people to participate. These peer educators reached out through radio and open days at ten universities to encourage youth to vote and to inform them about voting procedures. 
  • In Yemen, which  has embarked on a two-year transition timetable, UNDP and other parts of the UN are  supporting rule of law, justice, and security sector programming which includes assistance to strengthen  the national human rights architecture; transitional justice processes; and the national dialogue. 
  • In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the National Authority has committed to delivering responsive and accountable justice and security services.  UNDP is supporting the Authority’s efforts to strengthen its capacity for this, including through reforms to the internal discipline and governance of the police. 
  • In Somalia, UNDP is working with the authorities to ensure the establishment of legal aid networks across communities, and the accessibility of these services to women and marginalised groups. By supporting these services, including by ensuring the presence of permanent and mobile courts across Somalia, UNDP is helping women, internally displaced persons, and prisoners, receive legal aid, and seek justice for previously unaddressed violations ranging from sexual violence, land disputes, and breaches of human rights.
  • In Lebanon, UNDP helps strengthen the institutional capacities of the Ministry of Justice, improve state legal aid services, and promote access to justice and to legal information through information and communication technologies. An enhanced case management system in the law courts has facilitated their workflow. The Ministry of Justice’s website now offers more information, and the e-library helps judges and other court personnel. 
  • In both Jordan and Morocco, UNDP conducted studies on the role of women in public administration to inform initiatives to promote women’s leadership and empowerment.  Support will be offered in 2013 to strengthen women’s networks, develop young women’s leadership initiatives, promote gender-sensitive legislative frameworks, and develop gender guidelines for public administration.

Contact Information

Noeman Alsayyad at + 974 33 291 330; Noeman.alsayyad@undp.org