• UNDP has long been engaged in supporting national partners in issues that are substantively related to legal empowerment, such as access to justice, gender, land related reforms, income generation, public administration etc. Recently, we did a mapping of our activities and found that there were 55 active projects in 33 countries, which has broad legal empowerment objectives. This is very encouraging and we are excited to learn that the largest projects are in Indonesia, China and India.
• These projects, and many before them, offer us a good foundation of knowledge and practical experience to promote the legal empowerment agenda.
• Legal empowerment is an inherently complex issue which cannot be accomplished overnight. There is no short cut and there is no alternative to strong national ownership. A regional dialogue, such as this one, can help us not only a common regional understanding of the issue, but also pave the way for national ownership.
• Encourage the participants to use this opportunity to identify the legal empowerment challenges that are most relevant to the region and possible priority areas for action.
• Wish a very productive round of discussions on legal empowerment of the poor.
• Thank the Regional Director and the Regional Center team for organizing the regional dialogue on legal empowerment of the poor. Thank the Government of Thailand (if a senior representative is present at the opening session) for its support and interest in legal empowerment.
• Welcome UN Resident Coordinators, UNDP Country Directors as well as government and civil society representatives to the regional dialogue.
Setting the stage
• Recall that exactly 9 months ago, on 3rd June 2008, the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor – a group of eminent academics, the former heads of state from North and South, Supreme Court Justices, representatives of Civil Society and Private Sector - presented its landmark report, Making the Law Work for everyone
• The report argues that an estimated four billion people, the majority of the world’s population, are excluded from the protections of a functioning legal system and are denied equal opportunity to better their livelihoods.
• Legal Empowerment of the Poor encompasses a broad and holistic agenda that recognizes the complexity of society and at the same time the extraordinary potentials of the poor people.
• Anchored in four pillars – Access to Justice, Property Rights, Labor Rights and Business Rights, legal empowerment presents a new approach and focus on human development and human rights as well as achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, it gives us the innovative tools and approaches that tackle structural problems of exclusion and informality.
• UNDP has been proud and honored to host such a high-profile Commission and to facilitate its work both administratively and substantively since its establishment in 2005. In fact, many UNDP Country Offices, Regional Bureaux and Centers played an important role in organizing national consultations which the Commission undertook in 22 countries around the world, 6 of which were in Asia.
• Although UNDP was closely engaged in the work of the Commission, it is important to recognize that Making the Law work for everyone is the report of an independent global Commission, and is not a UNDP report. As such, we do not necessarily have to agree to all of its recommendations and conclusions, and of course we should recognize that the problems of exclusion and informality are different in different parts of the world. UNDP has, however, taken up the mission to implement some of the key recommendations of the Commission to strengthen and complement its on-going efforts for poverty eradication and human development. UNDP’s strategic plan serves as a guiding document for our global programme and country-level work on legal empowerment of the poor.
UNDP and Legal Empowerment of the Poor
• Legal Empowerment of the Poor is a critical agenda for UNDP not least because it proposes an alternative route to development focusing on the link between exclusion, poverty and the law. Anchored in UNDP’s Strategic Plan, legal empowerment of the poor aims to build on, and maximize on the synergies between, capacity development, inclusive growth, and democratic as well as economic governance.
• Legal empowerment is impossible when de jure or de facto, poor people are denied access to a well functioning justice system. Hence, the commitment of the state and public institutions to address these issues and to ensure equal access to justice is critical.
• Similarly, it is important to have efficient system of governance of individual and collective property rights, which integrates the extralegal economy into the formal one and makes it possible for the poor, for instance, to use property to obtain credit and to improve livelihoods. By the same token, labor is not a commodity but is the greatest asset of poor people, which needs to be recognized and effectively protected. Access to basic financial services and protections, the ability to make deals, enter into contracts and acquire or transfer ownership is indispensable for supporting local entrepreneurship. Way too often, the poor are denied these basic entitlements – which are often taken for granted in developed countries.
• By making the law work for everyone, legal empowerment embodies a bottom-up approach to law and development to create enabling conditions for doing business and reaping economic opportunities.
• Legal empowerment, to say the least, has strong links to UNDP’s capacity development approach, which particularly focuses on supporting capacities at individual, institutional and societal levels. Obviously, effective legal empowerment requires that the state is able and willing to understand and also to respond to the grievances aired by the poor and the excluded members of the society. It is, therefore, an imperative that the society as a whole recognizes and nurtures a closer and equitable link between the citizens and the state.
• In this regard, participation and inclusiveness are critical for the realization of legal empowerment as without a broad national ownership laws and regulations will not take root, and institutions will not reach population they are designed to serve.
Legal Empowerment at global and regional level
• The UN General Assembly in December last year unanimously adopted a resolution on legal empowerment of the poor and eradication of poverty, which was co-sponsored by more than 50 member states, among them the Philippines and Indonesia, which are present here.
• The resolution stresses the importance of sharing best national practices in legal empowerment and requests the Secretary General to present a report to the General Assembly at its next session. UNDP will play an important role in preparation of the SG report, and the outcomes of our consultations here in Bangkok will definitely feed into the bigger picture.
• At the regional level, legal empowerment is also gaining its prominence. Our dialogue here in Bangkok is an excellent example.
• Further, the recently held summit of the African Union discussed legal empowerment in the African context, and is considering UNDP as a key partner in implementing legal empowerment in many African countries. A special launch of legal empowerment initiatives, and a regional dialogue, will take place in Benin in April, bringing together representatives from 21 francophone African countries.
• A number of initiatives are taking place in Europe, and a similar regional consultation is planned for the Europe and CIS region.
• Besides engaging in various international and regional forums and generating strong political commitment to legal empowerment, UNDP is forging partnerships with a wide range of potential partners, including international agencies, the private sector and civil society organizations to promote this important agenda.
• For example, UNDP is further strengthening its collaboration with the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, the leading organization which provides diagnostics of informality and policy reforms in the area of property and business rights.
• Recently, Open Society Institute and Soros’ Foundation expressed interest to support legal empowerment, particularly focusing on grassroots level engagement for legal empowerment.
• Discussions with: CIVICUS, Slum Dwellers International, World Conference of Religions for Peace, The Huairou Commission, a global coalition for grassroots women’s organizations; Baker and McKenzie and Lex Mundi, the world’s leading law firms –are all eager to contribute to the promotion of legal empowerment.
• Last but not least, even though the commission on legal empowerment is now closed, the members of the Commission are actively promoting and supporting the agenda around the globe in their personal capacities.