Friday, September 30, 2005

UNDP forms the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor

Maybe I wish that the international community will embrace a bottom-up, rights based approach will come true? I mentioned about this wish in this previous post (and I'm sure I let it slipped elsewhere too) where I said that while I've done both reform work and NGO rights-based work, the current paradigm seems to be heavily biased in favor of top-down Rule of Law institutional reform work. 

A colleague of mine sent me this UN announcement via email (apologies that I don't have the original link,a nd note too that, while I'm generally skeptical of top level, collaborative results, I do hope that these efforts, especially given the high profile members, will at least put the topic on the international agenda):

Global Poverty Linked to Scarce Rule of Law:  New Group To Promote Access to Legal Protections for the World’s Poor
September 13th, 2005
New York, NY - The Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, a new independent global initiative, today announced it will fight global poverty by focusing on the connection between poverty and the lack of legal protections.
Legal Empowerment, which is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, this month will begin its unique mission to extend the rule of law to the world’s poor.
Legal Empowerment members include an array of international leaders with a diversity of views from the worlds of politics, economics, law, and social policy. They include Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, former Presidents Fernando Cardoso of Brazil and Mary Robinson of Ireland, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi of Iran, all of whom were in New York for Legal Empowerment’s launch today.
“This is a wholly different approach to the poverty debate,” said co-chair Madeleine Albright. “While many worthy initiatives are underway to fight global poverty, our Commission will focus on a unique and overlooked aspect of the problem: the inextricable link between pervasive poverty and the absence of legal protections for the poor.”
“Our ultimate goal is to give the world’s three billion poor the tools they need to create capital and economic growth for themselves,” said Hernando de Soto. “We need to replicate successful practices that allow individuals to participate in legitimate economic systems and to improve their lives.”
Legal Empowerment’s work is based on the conviction that broadening the rule of law and ensuring users’ and property rights for the poor and marginalized populations leads to economic and social empowerment. As poor populations gain benefits that go beyond property and ownership, they will become participants in a system of laws and commerce that can leverage capital, create investment, and generate such rewards as clean water, medical care, schools and economic growth.
“Global poverty can be eradicated only if governments give the poor a legitimate stake in the economy by extending property rights and other safeguards to all citizens,” said Secretary Albright.
“Most of the world’s poor possess assets of some kind, but they are unable to benefit from the economic system because they lack legal means to protect and leverage their assets,” said Dr. de Soto. “In many poorer countries, overly burdensome and unworkable bureaucracies compound the problem.”
Legal Empowerment will operate as an independent entity with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its capacity as chair of the UN Development Group. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) will also play an important role in light of its support for countries that are transitioning towards a market economy.
Legal Empowerment will be funded by voluntary contributions from the private and public sectors, and is endorsed by the governments of Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Guatemala, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Tanzania and the United Kingdom.
This two-and-one-half year effort is intended to contribute significantly to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the global and country levels, including the pledge by all UN members to cut extreme poverty worldwide by half by 2015.
In addition to drawing on the experience of Legal Empowerment members, advice and expertise will be solicited from a variety of non-governmental organizations, multilateral agencies, and target populations, such as indigenous people, women, labor unions, and displaced individuals.
Other Legal Empowerment members attending the launch activities included Lahkdar Brahimi, head of the United Nations Mission to Iraq; Ashraf Ghani, dean of Kabul University and former Minister of Finance for Afghanistan; Muhammad Medhat Hassanein, former Minister of Finance for Egypt; Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Minister of Development Corporation, Norway; Mike Moore, former Director General of the World Trade Organization; Syed Tanwir H. Naqvi, former chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau of Pakistan; Arjun Sengupta, chairman of the National Commission on Enterprises in the Informal Sector of India; Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu, Minister of Housing for South Africa; and Pansak Vinyaratn, Chief Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Thailand.
More information is available about the Level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor at

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