Tag Archives: sustainable development

A little more on the rule of law and development debate

by Rhodri C. Williams

A few weeks back, I wrote about some good news, namely the evidence that rule of law efforts – instilling accountability and legal certainty through support to formal adjudicatory institutions – is central to equitable development. As well as some bad news, that being that said evidence was difficult to measure and therefore of lesser interest to those development donors fixated on checking the log-frame boxes.

Since then, a few more iterations of this debate have crossed my desk, both of which underscored the significance of rule of law to development – and particularly the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and sought to push back on the measurability issue. First was Mo Ibrahim on Project Syndicate with an appeal to African leaders to push for the explicit inclusion of rule of law in the SDG process. Citing concrete cases of local civil society and expert efforts to resolve disputes, title land and prevent corruption, Mr. Ibrahim concludes that:

This is the rule of law in action at the local level, and it is building, often from scratch, a culture in which disputes are settled peacefully and benefits distributed transparently. The alternative – recourse to violence in the face of unequal access to resources – has led to a cycle of political instability in many countries, with the consequent lack of economic development that has come to characterize much of Africa’s recent history.

As the debate on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals unfolds at the United Nations this year, it is my fervent hope that African governments will endorse the inclusion within these goals of measurable targets for access to justice. To be sure, the dominant themes that are emerging in the UN discussions – jobs, economic growth, infrastructure development, and poverty reduction – are all still desperately needed across the continent. But the rule of law is a fundamental principle that does more than promote economic growth, and it would be a serious mistake not to include it in the SDG agenda.

In a very similar vein, Namati has circulated an open letter to the UN General Assembly promoting attention to rule of law and access to justice in the SDGs. Like Mr. Ibrahim, Namati notes that rule of law efforts are crucial to securing a broad variety of rights. These range from more civil and political rights concerns like freedom from structural violence (the focus of the Gary Haugen Op-Ed I blogged on earlier) to more traditionally economic and social concern such as access to and secure tenure in land. To quote Namati:

Approximately three billion people around the world live without secure rights to what are often their greatest assets: their lands, forests, and pastures.  Increasing demand for land is leading to exploitation and conflict.  Giving communities the power to manage their land and natural resources would reduce poverty and promote sustainable development.  Securing property rights for all individuals, including women, is necessary to improve financial stability and personal safety.

Interestingly, Namati not only note that inclusion of rule of law in the SDGs would be perfectly consistent with many previous UN statements and resolutions, but also rebut the measurability issue head on as one of their central advocacy points:

Where legal empowerment efforts take hold, the results are visible and quantifiable.  Women in Bangladesh who challenge the practice of illegal dowries are reporting greater cash savings.  Due to the work of community-based paralegals, grievances in Liberia are being resolved more equitably, resulting in greater food security. Prisoners in Kenya have returned to jobs and families after successfully appealing their sentences.

The emphasis on “visible” as well as “quantifiable” strikes me as astute. One of the unsatisfying aspects of sheer quantification is that it can be blind to context. Measuring the number of judicial decision referring to international human rights standards is fine, for instance, but do the rulings properly apply the standards or misinterpret them to abusive ends? And who is to be the judge of that, and on what criteria? And in either case how many such decisions actually survive appeal?

Sustained engagement with a particular development setting is not a guarantee of good analysis, but provides an opportunity for sensitivity to context and local dynamics that would not otherwise arise. The results can provide visible evidence for those minded to see it, but whether this will always be quantifiable is another question.

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New RRI report (and upcoming guest post) on community land rights in tropical forests

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) just released a new report indicating that forest peoples have “quietly gained unprecedented legal rights to the land and resources owned under customary law” over the last twenty years. However, the authors also express concerns about legal obstacles to the exercise of such rights and the risk of their rollback by elite groups seeking to facilitate international land and natural resource deals. According to RRI’s press release:

“Forest peoples are caught between the forces of a drive for environmental sustainability and the intense pressure of economic development”, said Jeffrey Hatcher, Director of Global Programs for RRI, and one of the authors of the new report. “Despite tremendous progress in establishing legal tenure regimes, a lack of political will and bureaucratic obstacles make it a struggle to implement any real action in most forest-rich developing nations. ….”

The report is described as providing “the most comprehensive global legal analysis to date of the status of forest tenure rights held by Indigenous Peoples and other local communities in more than two-dozen developing countries”, which together account for “approximately 75 percent of the forests of the developing world, home to some 2.2 billion people.” It was released together with a separate study on the positive development effects of recognizing customary forest tenure. Both reports taken together constitute the results of an analysis undertaken by RRI on the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in order to inform the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on June 20-22.

I am very pleased to announce that Fernanda Almeida, the lead author of the report, will be guest-writing on TN next week in order to provide further analysis of the results of RRI’s research and insights on how these findings may be of practical assistance in efforts to secure the tenure rights of forest peoples.

Fernanda’s guest-posting can now be read at the following link:

– What Rights? Comparing developing countries’ national legislation on community forest tenure rights (11 June 2012)