Sunday, December 20, 2009

More thoughts on UN Report on Legal Empowerment of the Poor

I have been following the concept of Legal Empowerment of the Poor, and have blogged about it in the past. (If you want to view all my previous posts on that topic, just search for 'legal empowerment'.) At the recent UN General Assembly, the report has been endorsed. Today, Tom Ginsburg, a respected Law and Development academic from the Unversity of Chicago Law School, posted his thoughts about the UN report on the Law and Development Blog: (re-formatting is mine for emphasis)
One of the trends in law and development practice in the past few years has been towards emphasizing legal access for the poor. The high-level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor issued its report in 2008, and I now see that the report has received the endorsement of the UN General Assembly.
Like much in law and development, it seems to reflect a consensus between political right and left: much of the emphasis is on formalization of property rights, but also on legal services to the poor and poverty reduction.I must admit some skepticism about what all this means on the ground. Its probably safe to say that anything endorsed by the UN General Assembly must represent a consensus so shallow as to be insipid. 
In most countries, for structural reasons, the law is a mechanism in which the "haves come out ahead." Political movements, of course, can force redistribution much more effectively than the courts. I wonder if there is any evidence on this kind of thing affecting large scale change in any particular country.
Following his post, I revisited the official UNDP Legal Empowerment website, which I first announced in this post, and found that it is much more sophisticated and content filled than my last visit (maybe 6 months ago?). However, I can't find a concrete approach description anywhere (although it describes itself as having four focus areas), its 'About Us' page still seems pretty spartan:
UNDP enhanced its focus on legal empowerment of the poor following the publication of the final report of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor in 2008. As we work with our development partners on this issue, UNDP draws upon the skills and expertise of staff across our global, regional and country offices. Since 2008, we have forged partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders to share knowledge and generate strong political and financial commitment to legal empowerment of the poor.
UNDP’s Initiative for Legal Empowerment of the Poor (ILEP) which takes into account the key recommendations of the Commission, supports a range of national, regional and global efforts to expand poor people’s access to the legal and institutional mechanisms that can help them break the vicious cycle of exclusion and poverty.
This initiative aims to: 
  • generate strong political support, commitment, knowledge and understanding for the legal empowerment agenda with resolutions, decisions, and dissemination of knowledge on the subject; 
  • develop the capacity of government entities at national, provincial and local levels to undertake necessary legal and institutional reforms and to deliver legal empowerment of the poor; 
  • engage grassroots organizations in legal empowerment, supporting social movement and promoting accountability and sustainability for pro-poor reforms.

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