A major step forward and a post-2015 challenge | Sheelagh Stewart

24 Dec 2012

Legal Aid programme in Darfur Women and girls in El Fasher, North Darfur, march for “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”. UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Rule of law is fundamental to development. People who don’t feel safe and think that their property may be stolen or destroyed, do not invest in the future. Why buy seed if the harvest will be stolen? Why invest in a business whose profits will be swallowed by corruption?  Who would send their daughter to school if they thought she was going to be raped on the way?

Communities that cannot deal with the past cannot move forward. Transitional justice, which allows post-crisis communities to address legacies of violence and hold perpetrators to account is therefore critical. Without transitional justice, no meaningful social contract is possible. In each case, the rule of law allows people to look forward to a brighter future, in which they find opportunities to achieve their potential and in which legal protection exists for all.

The world has shifted on its axis since 189 diverse Member States settled more than a decade ago on the MDGs, excluding any discussion of sensitive issues related to governance, access to justice, and human rights. But with the Cold War now long behind us and the Arab Spring having re-opened discussion of the social contracts that must necessarily underpin a cohesive community, we now find organizations such as the African Union, Council of Europe, and Organisation of American States all comprise regional human rights bodies of their own.

Rule of law and all it implies–transparency, accountability, and universal access to justice–are now squarely on the table. The question at hand then is how to institutionalize and operationalize this new consensus.

One pathway is the new UN Global Focal Point system, agreed in September, which will allow UNDP and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to collaborate closely and quickly in supporting police, justice, and corrections in post-crisis and post-conflict settings.

Another will be the incorporation of rule of law in whatever targets succeed the MDGs. Member States agreed last September 24th to include the rule of law into the discussions of the post-2015 agenda. Possible inclusion of a goal related to the rule of law would be a major incentive for reforms.

We must now develop a set of relevant indicators, along with appropriate language making clear that sustainable good governance and rule of law are not benchmarks for but critical enablers of development—without which equal access to opportunity, health care, education, sanitation, and nutrition, for example, is simply impossible.

Talk to us: What indices should we use in assessing rule of law and how can we make them integral to development targets?

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