Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks at Open Society Foundation Reception on “The Justice and Post-2015 Development Agenda”

Sep 26, 2013

Remarks for Rebeca Grynspan, Under-Secretary General and UNDP Associate Administrator, Remarks at Open Society Foundation Reception on “The Justice and Post-2015 Development Agenda”

I thank Mr. Soros for inviting me to speak this evening on the importance of justice and legal empowerment. The intellectual leadership, advocacy and initiative you yourself and the Open Society Foundations have brought to this agenda is admirable and very much appreciated by all of us at UNDP.
We share the conviction that people-centred, bottom-up approaches are an important and effective way to expand justice and strengthen the rule of law. This orientation may stem in part from our perspective as practitioners.

Laws, human rights treaties, and global agreements can build the foundation for broad-based development. But without the capabilities to turn them into practice, however - countries and people can be left with only empty expressions of distant aspirations. Development practitioners, on the ground see this play out time and again: poor and disadvantaged people - most in need of the protections of the law – are unable to seek redress for the injustices done to them; or demand their rights to access basic services, live in safe communities and secure homes, work in environments free from abuse, or build and invest in their futures.

The challenge for human development is not a modest one: The Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor estimated in 2008 - that four billion people live outside the protection of the law, leaving them vulnerable to a wide range of abuses.

Our response has been, like that of OSF, to turn the focus of legal reform around – to start not just with the laws themselves but with the legal empowerment of the poor.  UNDP is proud to have been an early investor in this approach – both with our support for the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor and through the Global Legal Empowerment Initiative which followed.

By starting with the realities and experiences of poor and disadvantaged people – the Commission identified concrete and tangible ways the rule of law can be made more of a reality for people. This was an exciting realization for practitioners, community groups and policy makers alike.

Since this time our understanding of the relationship between justice and development has continued to grow – in part through the advocacy and good work of the Open Society Foundations and others like them. In 2008, the Commission illustrated how expanding access to legal protections, justice and the rule of law could help alleviate poverty and advance the rights of the disadvantaged.

This morning, the UNDP Administrator Helen Clark opened the Global Dialogue on Rule of Law - citing evidence of the convergence in thinking that holds the rule of law and justice as an integral part of sustainable development. And yesterday at the UN Special Event on the MDGs - all member states agreed on an outcome document calling for “a single framework and set of Goals which includes the promotion of peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.” Rather than add-ons, many now agree that the rule of law and access to justice should be most appropriately reflected in the next, post-2015 agenda - as both enablers and outcomes of development.

To realize this, the empowerment of poor people and marginalized groups must necessarily be a key driver. This is what we have learned from testing and putting the legal empowerment approach into practice. Reviews conducted by UNDP and DANIDA, for example have identified ways legal empowerment approaches can be used to improve land and forest management, recognize and incentivize the creation of green jobs and secure women’s rights to access and own land.

Our work in 30 developing countries is demonstrating that with legal aid and paralegal support, poor and marginalized people reach better justice outcomes. This year we were pleased to work with the Open Society Justice Initiative and UNODC on a soon-to-be published handbook elaborating good practice in early access to legal aid. The UNDP supported Global Commission on HIV and the Law issued a Report in July 2012 which, amongst other things, has provided countries with a blueprint for addressing human rights related barriers to accessing HIV treatment.

In the Ukraine, UNDP is supporting the government to eliminate the heavy administrative fees once needed to secure land tenure and undertake pro-poor justice and land sector reforms. UNDP helped Guinea Bissau establish justice centres and mobile posts providing legal aid to vulnerable regions and legal awareness on topics from domestic violence to property rights – helping to empower and enable in particular women and excluded groups to access justice and employ the protections of the law.

The Open Society Foundations is an important partner. We are jointly, for example, working in six African countries to uncover the hidden social and economic costs of excessive pre-trial detention - on detainees, their families and communities. Almost half of Africa’s prison population is in pretrial detention. To help address this bottleneck in justice, UNDP and OSF are supporting the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to develop pre-trial detention guidelines.    

It is only when people can effectively claim their rights and benefit from the protections of the law, that they can enforce their human rights, drive their economies and meet development goals. This is the spirit the UN development system is taking forward through an unprecedented series of consultations on the next development agenda - in which well over one million people have shared their priorities for the future agenda.

Through this global conversation – we seek to build on the path breaking trend of broad public engagement established by the MDGs. We seek in particular to involve people from marginalized, poor communities and excluded groups who would not normally contribute to global debates.
The messages they send are clear: People understand that power imbalances are driving exclusion, poverty and growing inequalities – and they want an end to what is unfair and to experience justice.

From legal empowerment and other bottom-up approaches - we have learned that when we listen to people, respond to their voices and build capabilities – we engage and mobilize them as practitioners of development rather than passive recipients.

I hope Member States will have this important insight foremost in their minds as they move forward to debate and negotiate the new agenda. We at UNDP look forward to working with all of you to this end.  

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