Legal Empowerment Initiative was launched in 2005 by a group of developing and industrialized countries including Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Tanzania and the United Kingdom, and has a mandate to complete its work in 2008, which it did so with great speed. The Commission is hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and consisted of a stellar cast inclusing 19 former or current Presidents, Madeleine Albright and Hernando do Soto (a Peruvian economist that some view as controversial). It aims to make legal protection and economic opportunity not the privilege of the few but the right of all. (If you have been folowoing this blog, you will know that I have been reporting on the Commission's major activities.)
Basis of Analysis
Unlike the dominant Rule of Law practices which focus overwhelmingly on top-down institutional reform, the Commission bases its analysis from the bottom-up angle of the poor. In particular, it considers the actual rights and legal issues that impact the poor.
- Four billion people worldwide are excluded from access to justice and the rule of law/legal protection and opportunities
- In some countries, over 70% of economic activities take place in the informal sector, without legal protection. They lack basic rights such as having a legal identity, property rights, legal employment and business rights. The importance and size of this sector has long been underestimated in the context of international development.
- The majority of those living their daily lives in the informal sector are women.
- The Commission formed five working groups which examined these areas
- access to justice and the rule of law (how access to justice and the rule of law can be reformed in individual countries in order to ensure universal legislation that safeguards the poor)
- property rights (how property rights can be used as tools for fighting poverty)
- labor rights (how a minimum package of labour rights is required for workers) and
- (small) business rights (how the poor involved in economic activities can be given both protection and opportunities through laws and regulations)
- These are the four 'pillars' that form the foundation for legal empowerment of the poor. Specifically they are:
- an enabling framework for access of justice and rule of law (beginning first with legal identity)
- property rights (especially land-related)
- labor rights
- small business rights
- Relationship between these four pillars: There is a connection between the right to safe and protected work, the right to do business within the bounds of the law, and property rights. These are three pillars that must be put in place through a process of legal empowerment reforms in which everyone is given access to justice and the rule of law, beginning with legal identity of each person.
- Some specific recommendations to these pillars are:
- focusing at the local level
- access to services at the local level
- affordable legal aid
- ensuring quick and simple property registration procedures
- basic rights for people in the informal sector.
- property rights should be safeguarded
- property rights can be used creatively; ie collective rights should be used as a tool for providing the poor with access to technology and financial services.
- the various rights are interrelated
- Recommendations on Implementation:
- Legitimize implementation on overarching frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other legal covenants, which already bound governments who have ratified them
- Analysis based on each contextual situation is needed (including the current policy environment), and timing must be right
- Start with change and some (not all) areas, grow in increments
- Manage stakeholders, mobilize allies: Form networks of pro-poor change involving leaders across society, especially among 'policy champions'
- Learn from lessons learned by other countries, remain flexible
- International efforts, including collaboration and creating of legal instruments
My initial response:
- There is inherent benefit in propelling this issue to the global agenda through these high-level UN Commissions;
- Whatever the details, the angle of bottom-up legal empowerment offers a complimentary (and maybe even alternative) to the practice of law and development via the current Rule of Law paradigm.
- It is certainly a more compelling idea, tied in with the concept of freedom/rights, the MGDs, and being people-centered.
- My worry about the focus on the four pillars is that other important legal issues might be excluded in certain situations- such as rights against violence. Moreover, many other systemic factors need to be taken into account, and are usually the causes of poverty (not the lack of legal empowerment).
- My worry too, is isolating legal empowerment as a 'sector' or 'program' at the risk of the lack of integration with other sectors of development- legal rights, like 'eduction' or 'technology; should cut across all sectors.
- While there is some acknowledgement of the roles of NGOs and civil society, their important role in implementation seems to be overshadowed by that of national governments and international organizations.