2030 Agenda: Making the Rule of Law the Bedrock of Development

23 Sep 2015

In many parts of the world, the past year has been marked by flagrant disregard for the rule of law – from mass killings of civilians and deliberate displays of cruelty to horrific violence and discrimination against women and girls, unfair trials and gross miscarriages of justice. Widespread corruption robbed citizens of resources, agency and dignity. Weak and failing institutions showed scant respect for rights and justice. Where rights were violated and justice denied, insecurity and poverty flourished. Tens of millions were forced to abandon their homes and seek shelter elsewhere, in lands often unprepared or unwilling to welcome them. Lives were lost, destinies thwarted, opportunities missed. 

But 2015 could also be a watershed in the world's collective endeavor to address these ills. The longstanding pursuits of peace and justice have been given detailed expression in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, about to be adopted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit. This is one of 17 Goals, which together form what has become known as the 2030 Agenda -- a comprehensive attempt to redefine and enshrine development, in its multiple dimensions, for the next 15 years. Engaging rich and poor countries alike, the 2030 Agenda sets out to break the overarching concept of development into quantifiable objectives. 

Goal 16 is remarkable in that it puts the rule of law squarely at the heart of development -- no longer an optional extra, but the very stuff without which no development can be sustained. It lays strong emphasis on access to justice, on the quality and inclusivity of institutions, and on the necessity of a legal identity for all. In doing so, Goal 16 underscores the legal dimension of development, rather than merely its economic one. Goal 16, in other words, speaks the language of rights. But so do -- and herein lies the 2030 Agenda's transformative potential -- all of the other goals. Whether the focus is on health, on equality for women and girls, or on the discriminatory effects of climate change, the law is recognized either as essential or as a key contributor. The rule of law thus becomes the underlying philosophy of the entire document, and the achievement of it a central quest of our time. 

As the only intergovernmental organization with a dual mandate to promote the rule of law and development, we take pride and intense satisfaction in this outcome. Our expertise in judicial reform, access to justice, legal empowerment and economic opportunity is derived from 30 years of  experience: it has made us a privileged interlocutor at the United Nations, and we have greatly contributed to the SDG consultation process. We will be present at the Sustainable Development Summit in New York on 25-27 September, and will be keeping our friends and partners informed of the proceedings. In the next few days, we will be gathering here a large number of resources, which will serve to articulate our vision. Now that the synergies between the rule of law and development have been recognized by all, the tough road to their realization lies before us.

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