Bring Justice to the Fight Against Poverty, Says George Soros

BALI—George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations, spoke today about the importance of including justice as a key component of the global development agenda. Soros is visiting Indonesia this week to participate in initial discussions on a new international economic and social agenda aimed at eliminating extreme poverty and promoting development.

Hosting these discussions this week is Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, one of three world leaders named to head the high-level panel established by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a new development and poverty-elimination agenda. The other two heads of the panel are David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Prime Minister of Liberia.

The panel’s meetings will take place on the island of Bali from March 25 to 28. The new agenda will replace the 10-year Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.

Soros supports a call for efforts to strengthen human rights, rule of law, and access to effective justice institutions, including the establishment of concrete targets with measurable indicators of progress. About four billion people worldwide currently live in poverty and have no access to the protections or the opportunities the rule of law and effective justice institutions can provide.

“When you look at extreme poverty, in each case we see examples of repression, discrimination or exclusion at work,” Soros said. “Making justice a central point of the next development goals would remove the remaining large pockets of extreme poverty.”

In this short video, George Soros and the Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, among many others, elaborate on the importance of including justice in any new development framework.

Soros through his Open Society Foundations has provided over $8 billion to support the development of open and democratic societies around the world. This includes support for the TIFA Foundation in Indonesia.

TIFA has helped fund legal empowerment groups that have given poor persons and otherwise excluded groups of people a voice in asserting rights that exist in theory but, regrettably, not always in practice. This support has included support for Indonesia in implementing the recently passed Legal Aid Law, by working with civil society organizations in producing paralegals that will give pro bono legal assistance to the poor in various parts of the country. TIFA has also provided technical assistance to the Indonesian government in the development, in 2009, of a comprehensive national strategy on access to justice.

The new national strategy drew strength from community-level input. It emphasizes ways of giving vulnerable citizens a voice, such as training local community members as paralegals, and strengthening the participation of local civil society organizations in decision making.  It has resulted in a comprehensive review of local regulations to remove any bias against women, an acceleration of the process for obtaining compensation by victims of labor abuse and violence, and the development of minimum standards of public services, which will be used to monitor their performance. The strategy also helped shape Indonesia’s national legal-aid law, which endorsed state support for community paralegals to provide legal support to the poorest members of society.

“Indonesia’s approach to access to justice should provide a model for the global community as we look towards the future,” said Soros. “It involves partnership between government, civil society and others, and the end result is more justice and more development.”

The Deputy Head of the UKP4 (Presidential Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight), Mas Achmad Santosa said “Indonesia is proud to be at the forefront among developing countries in securing citizens’ access to justice through provision of national legal instruments,” but he also quipped, “the challenge for Indonesia lies in ensuring that all stakeholders in the country are willing to work together to achieve a common goal of justice and prosperity for all.”