Financial crisis threatens legal protection for the poor

04 Mar 2009

Bangkok - The economic crisis will increase the demand for justice among the poor, especially to protect their property, jobs, working conditions and their right to do business without extortion, according to economists and development experts taking part in a regional UN Development Programme meeting here this week.  

The three-day dialogue brings together more than 80 senior government and UN officials to identify priorities and proposals for countries in Asia to ensure access to justice, property rights, labor rights and business rights for the poor and marginalized.

“A recession in one country has spawned an extensive and devastating global economic downturn, with no exception for Thailand and other Southeast Asian neighbours,” said Mr. Charnchao Chaiyanukij, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice in Thailand.

“In an attempt to alleviate these challenges, the Thai government is forced to invest a large amount of its limited human and financial resources that would otherwise have been earmarked for such useful purposes as education or medical care,” added Mr. Chaiyanukij.

He pointed to activities planned by the Ministry of Justice in Thailand that will target 10 of the poorest provinces in order to “directly enhance access to justice and labor, property and business rights of poor and vulnerable people.”

The meeting is aimed at finding national and regional ways of applying recommendations put forward last year by the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, which concluded its work with a report titled, "Making the Law Work for Everyone."

Mr. Naresh Singh, former Executive Director of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of  the Poor, said that in the midst of the financial crisis, it is “important to address the resilience of the livelihood system because people in the informal sector don’t have jobs, they do jobs.” He added, “The working poor in the informal sector have legal needs and demands that must be identified and addressed.”

Mr. John Samuel of Action Aid called for legal, social and political empowerment for the poor. “Don’t just bail out banks, bail out voices of people who have been put under the carpet – women, indigenous, the Dalits,” he said.

According to the Commission’s report, four billion people worldwide find themselves excluded from the protections provided by the rule of law. In urban slums and rural villages, poor people often have no legal identity, no birth certificate, no legal address, no rights to their home or business, and no protection of their labour. It calls for focus on property, labour, entrepreneurial rights and access to justice. As a package, these rights can help prevent legal exclusion and foster economic and reduction in poverty.

“The financial downturn will threaten the security of land tenure of millions of working poor as they face destitution, forced eviction and land grabbing,” warned Mr. Hamid Rashid, UNDP Senior Advisor on legal empowerment. “With rising unemployment, wages are likely to fall, working conditions to deteriorate and labour rights to be violated,” he warned.

 “Protection of law is essential for people living in poverty to shield them against oppression, create economic opportunities, and enable them to secure decent standards of living with dignity,” said Nicholas Rosellini, UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact Cherie Hart: cherie.hart@undp.org; 662 288 2133