A comprehensive new report by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, released earlier this month, has now set the stage for next year's intergovernmental negotiations on the world's development priorities for 2015-2030. It is a document which strengthens expectations that justice will be a cornerstone of the new development framework.
The so-called Synthesis Report seeks to sum up the extensive global consultations that have taken place so far, ahead of the expiration next year of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000.
The report endorses the Open Working Group (OWG) Outcome Document already adopted by the UN General Assembly as the basis for the post-2015 negotiations, which emphasizes the need to “provide access to justice for all.” Secondly, it envisions justice as one of six essential elements for delivering on the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Thirdly, it recognizes the fundamental role of civil society—and regular people—in securing sustainable development. Overall, the secretary general’s report points to a growing consensus linking justice and development.
As this global movement strengthens, it is worth reflecting on the diverse understandings of, and priorities for, access to justice and good governance of different regions, countries, and communities. Even when we collectively agree on a global or national level for particular priorities—whether it be access to justice, access to information, legal identity, or land rights—specific strategies to advance these themes are viewed differently depending on where one sits.
From a government’s perspective progress on a goal to “ensure access to justice for all” might require increased government budget for public defenders, which in turn might result in a greater number of public defenders. But such an activity might not ensure various populations have reliable access legal advice or representation in their daily lives. Nor is there any guarantee that additional budget to public defenders results in higher quality services.
Each justice theme listed in the OWG and secretary general’s reports must be evaluated from a variety of perspectives. Guaranteeing access to information, for example, might be strengthened through the government’s passage of a right to information law. This might help secure a more predictable and enforceable regulatory environment for information. But more will be required to ensure people know where to seek information or that requests are responded to in a timely manner.
As we enter the next stage of negotiations, we have much to learn from existing national efforts. In Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, and beyond, the Open Society Foundations are working with governments and civil society groups to understand how to promote progress towards justice. Our longstanding partnerships, and new ones shaped by the post-2015 planning process, reveal several lessons that can inform global deliberation on the SDGs.
First, justice and development are diverse concepts characterized by multiple perspectives. A bureaucrat in Kathmandu and a small-holder farmer in KwaZulu-Natal cannot be expected to view problems and progress in the same way. The SDGs are a critical opportunity to catalyze and expand the ways in which progress is measured, which requires the participation of everyday people. The framework could, for example, integrate measures of progress from perspectives including:
- Government progress: Improving access to justice and governance requires sustained government effort. Government administrative data will be important in presenting the picture of these efforts. The framework should acknowledge and reward governments for investing—materially and legislatively—in improving justice and development outcomes.
- Social progress: Government effort does not always translate, however, to immediate outcomes. Instead, social progress can be measured by indicators designed to capture objective assessments of progress towards justice and development targets.
- People’s experiences: Concrete improvements in the lives of the most vulnerable are central to the ambitions of the new development framework. The SDGs should include indicators that capture the experiences and perceptions of real people. Through such tools, the experience of regular people can be used to assess progress in justice and governance.
Second, learning from the experiences of the Millennium Development Goals, there is an urgent need to put marginalized people at the core of the new framework. Experiences from both Nepal and Indonesia highlight the need to develop an approach to measurement that includes—and indeed, highlights—the experiences of the poorest and most underserved. With a specific emphasis on marginalized communities, government and civil society partners will reveal disparities and secure more inclusive gains for the marginalized. A move towards more focused and disaggregated information would allow both civil society and governments to better target assistance to specific populations.
Third, the new development framework offers an important opportunity to deploy new approaches to the use of information and evidence in justice and governance work. The Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report is ambitious in this regard, laying out a multidimensional approach to measurement and monitoring. While there are questions of quality and verifiability, administrative and output measures are most valuable when paired with sources that can document the experiences of regular people engaging with state institutions.
Finally, as the secretary-general’s report notes, civil society has a fundamental role to play. The post-2015 framework should help governments to incorporate new and complementary sources of data into assessments of progress. The Indonesian government’s KPK corruption index, for example, incorporates data from international non-governmental organizations like Transparency International. Across the world, civil society groups are gathering important data which could be included in “official” measures of progress.
The next year represents a historic opportunity for governments, civil society, and, most importantly, ordinary people to come together to shape a more just, equitable, and sustainable world. The new development framework must leverage all our perspectives and capacities to make real progress.