Justice like a River: Why development needs justice

Moving stuff in this article, Justice like a River: Why development needs justice by Jamie McIntosh and Hiroko Sawai

For those of you interested in international law or development, this is both interesting and saddening.  The article lays out several different areas where a lack of justice leads to increased poverty and suffering.  Fortunately it goes on to describe some of the solutions as well.  The authors have found that the case model, working with people at the ground level, is having a significantly better effect than broad efforts at judicial training and reform.  It seems these efforts are often a mile wide and an inch deep, whereas getting into the details of specific cases helps to establish precedent and makes an example for others to follow... or rightfully be afraid of.

Selected excerpts.

Without legal protection from violence, the lives and the livelihoods of the global poor are at perpetual risk. Four billion people on our planet live in that risk.

Most of the world’s poor are consigned to “live outside the ambit of the law.”1 Lacking safety, security, and protection, the global poor take the brunt of the world’s abuse: trafficking for labour or sex, violence, robbery, illegal detention, illegal property seizure, extortion, sexual assault, and the like. Laws against these things exist, but “even the best laws are mere paper tigers [when] poor people cannot use the justice system to give them teeth.”2
People cannot flourish, economically or otherwise, in the face of pervasive injustice.

The Effects of a Broken Public Justice System
Living outside a functional justice system, makes all other humanitarian investments and efforts unsustainable: micro-business is thwarted when money from a micro-loan is stolen. Education initiatives fall short of their intended aims of empowering young girls when the pupils are molested by their teachers or neighbours with impunity. A widow remains unable to till her crops with her new farming equipment because both it and her land have unlawfully been taken from her by violent relatives. When the poor are unable to use the laws in place to ward off corruption, extortion, oppression, or abuse, injustice thrives and development collapses.

There is compelling evidence that when the poor are able to benefit from the protection of a functioning public justice system, they can and do prosper—and the benefits can be far-reaching, extending to the national level.

A poor person rarely has the financial means to pay legal fees, whether to negotiate a contract or defend him or herself in court. Without access to state-sponsored legal representation, the poor must navigate the complexities of their nation’s legal system without an advocate or a guide. Consequently,  the innocent can languish in prison for years on unsubstantiated accusations.5 Even if a poor person could afford to pay for legal representation, in a developing country he or she might not be able to find an available (let alone competent) lawyer to take on the case.

Bonded Labour
The absence of a public justice system that works for the poor has allowed practices such as debt bondage to proliferate, despite laws criminalizing this practice around the world. Bonded labour is a contemporary form of slavery in which an employer offers a small loan in exchange for work at the employer’s facility until the debt is repaid. However, the labourer (and often his or her family) becomes enslaved in an exploitative working arrangement wherein the minimal wages, false charges against those wages, and dramatically inflated interested rates make repayment of the loan impossible.

Illegal Property Grabbing and Food Security
Although almost all African countries have laws preventing gender discrimination and protecting the inheritance rights of women, land succession is often guided in practice by distortions of customary law. When a husband dies, the widow is often ejected from her home through intimidation, threats, and physical violence. For the widow and her children, being forced off their land means the loss of adequate housing and the primary means by which to feed themselves and secure an income.

Combatting HIV/AIDS
Property grabbing also undermines the effort to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Without the enforcement of property-grabbing laws, widows in sub-Saharan Africa are more susceptible to the customary practice of “widowhood cleansing” or “widow inheritance” and are at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.

Click here to read the whole article.

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