International Development Law Organization

The Rule Of Law: Shaping The Post-2015 Agenda

23 Jul 2014

A conference organized jointly by IDLO and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 21st heard that the rule of law enhanced accountability, helping achieve sustainable development for all. The statement was contained in a message from UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson. His words – and those of John W. Ashe, President of the 68th General Assembly – opened the event at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

The conference, entitled Achieving a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda, probed the relationship between the rule of law and sustainable development – two objectives which Kenyan Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said must be integrated as a “global project of our time” in the search for a “just new world”. The rule of law, IDLO Director-General Irene Khan explained, “provides not only predictability and certainty for economic development; it […] helps fight poverty and inequality. Finally, it strengthens the legal framework to protect the environment and promote environmental sustainability.”

By empowering the poor, development economist and senior FAO official Jomo Kwame Sundaram argued, the rule of law also helps realize food security. It could be instrumental, he said, in shifting the world’s focus from protection (ie, helping rural communities at times of deprivation) to production (ie, building resilience). At the same time, Prof. Sundaram warned against “reifying” or “fetishizing” the law: some law regimes could harm the poor through zealous enforcement of exclusionary property rights, for example. His comment was echoed by Ms. Khan, who drew a distinction between rule of  law and rule by  law. The essence of the rule of law, she stressed, was to ensure “substantive as well as formal justice”.

For her part, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security Gerda Verburg said there was a need for concrete indicators, reliable data and financial instruments to quantify the empowerment of the poor and vulnerable – including their access to food and services. In this, she echoed senior UN human rights official Flavia Pansieri, who argued forcefully that human rights and the rule of law were measurable concepts.

Italy’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lapo Pistelli, also extolled the role played by the rule of law in delivering socio-economic progress – and the importance given to it by his government. He was speaking against the dual backdrop of Italy’s presidency of the European Council and the finalization of draft Sustainable Development Goals in New York.

(At the conference, fellow Italian government figure Giampaolo Cantini , who heads the Italian Development Cooperation, outlined his country’s busy calendar of access-to-food initiatives in the year ahead. This includes hosting the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome and Expo 2015 in Milan, whose theme is ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. “Today,” he said, “we have had confirmation that food security and rural development are of crucial importance.”)

The World Food Programme’s Ertharin Cousin also described the rule of law as essential. “We will not achieve zero hunger without good governance,” she said, adding that Syria’s civil conflict had set back development in that country by a startling 35 years. The rule of law was to be viewed as a transformative enabler, Italy’s Mr. Pistelli went on to add. Rome, he said, continued to believe that a specific SDG on good governance and the rule of law would be a “value-added product” in the post-2015 development agenda.

There was much discussion of Goal 16 in the current SDG draft, which calls for peaceful and inclusive societies and access to justice for all. While the text lists many targets associated with the rule of law (eg, developing accountable institutions or ensuring public access to information), the words ‘rule of law’ themselves are missing from the Goal’s title. Yet Nikil Seth, a UN official deeply engaged with the SDG-drafting Open Working Group, declared himself satisfied with the outcome. “The elements [of the rule of law] are there. Our energy should not be focused on preserving expressions, but on implementation.”

Speaking for civil society, Ignacio Saiz of Brooklyn-based NGO the Center for Economic and Social Rights welcomed the SDG draft, even as he issued a word of caution. He called for rigorous targets that would not give “too much leeway” for adjustment or "too much deference... to what may be overly restrictive national laws."

It was another civil society figure, Faustina Pereira of Bangladesh’s BRAC, who made one of the day’s most widely acclaimed points. The leading lawyer for what is often described as the world’s largest NGO, she laid the emphasis squarely on rights. “Freeing humanity from hunger,” she said, “cannot be achieved through the strictures of law and institutions alone. The state must move away from a welfare model of meeting needs […] and recognize the centrality of the human voice and human agency; not just the need for development, but the right to development.”

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