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Access to justice for all? Now that would be a measurably good thing
by Stacey Cram and Vivek Maru
Namati, agencies
Jan. 2016
Justice is bigger than police and prisons, it is the key to exercising our rights. The methods we use to evaluate it must therefore be correspondingly broad.
When a housing programme in the Indian state of Haryana guaranteed land to impoverished families in Raniyala, a village in Mewat district, it seemed like welcome news. Instead, government officials seized the land and refused to hear the villagers’ objections.
Could a newly agreed global framework support this community and others fighting injustice? Of the 17 global goals for sustainable development that come into effect on 1 January, goal 16 commits to “access to justice for all”.
The goal, which covers peace, justice and strong institutions, was contentious. Many governments said development should be a technical, economic undertaking, and that justice was too political to be included. The passage of goal 16 at the UN in September was therefore a milestone, a recognition that people cannot improve their lives without the power to exercise their rights.
But some countries are now taking the wind out of the goal by choosing a narrow set of indicators by which to measure progress.
At an October meeting in Bangkok, the expert group tasked with developing a monitoring framework for the new sustainable development agenda rushed through discussion of the 16th goal in what many viewed as an attempt to avoid public debate. Governments that had championed goal 16 at the UN general assembly just months earlier suddenly muted their support. The experts focused on what state agencies already measure, rather than what they could or should measure.
The draft indicators focus exclusively on criminal justice, including pre-trial detention times and crime reporting rates. Those numbers matter, but justice is bigger than police and prisons. Justice requires that every organ of the state treat citizens fairly.
If governments and the UN are serious about providing access to justice for all, global indicators must go beyond any one set of institutions. Measurement should instead focus on whether people faced with injustice are able to achieve a fair remedy.
In Raniyala, local women trained by the Haryana-based SM Sehgal Foundation supported community members to demand the return of land that was rightfully theirs. They formed collectives and gathered evidence, camping in government offices when refused a meeting. After five years, their efforts were rewarded. Seventy-six families now have decent homes.
The whole community has benefited from the legal skills learned by the female advocates along the way. The women mediate local disputes, monitor and demand better health and education services, and have trained more than 22,000 people in legal literacy. Raniyala is one town, but these women are part of a global movement of grassroots legal advocates who tackle injustice every day.
At the Bangkok meeting, the UK representative questioned the feasibility of measuring citizen perceptions of justice, a concern quickly echoed around the room. Yet it was the UK that pioneered a citizen-focused approach with the Paths to Justice survey that has been used to shape policy since 1996. Today, the World Justice project collects data on how people interact with the law in more than 100 countries.
Drawing on that experience, we support two global indicators. The first focuses on the proportion of people, from all those who faced an injustice in the past year, who tried to resolve it using any institutional channel – the courts, but also administrative and customary institutions – and felt the outcome was just. The second asks how many citizens can access independent legal support that they find helpful.
These two indicators would anchor goal 16 in real experiences. The first focuses on how injustices are resolved. The second challenges governments to give legal empowerment efforts – the work of the advocates in Raniyala and their counterparts around the world – the space, recognition and even some of the financing that they need, while respecting their independence.
We know that justice requires not just investment in state institutions but organisation and engagement by the people themselves. It is empowered citizens that create responsive governments.
What if we lose this battle? Amartya Sen told heads of state in September that reducing goal 16 to anaemic indicators “is like trying to cancel the French Revolution because liberté, égalité and fraternité couldn’t be precisely measured”. The global movement for justice, which made goal 16 a reality in the first place, is greater than any set of metrics.
Already, civil society groups in Kenya and the Philippines have used goal 16 to press for progressive changes: a legal aid bill in Kenya, and a section on access to justice in the Philippines’ national development plan. And each country will choose national indicators to complement the global ones.
Goal 16 belongs to the people, and the people won’t relinquish it easily.
• Stacey Cram and Vivek Maru work with Namati, which is dedicated to placing the power of law in the hands of people.
10 Jan 2016
Rampant corruption is paving the way for violence, lawlessness and environmental damage in India, writes James Bennett for ABC News.
Baba Umar walks through bulldozed foundations that were to be his new home, to the location of a chilling attack on his mother.
Pointing to dried blood still visible on some grass, he recounts the details.
"These guys, they came with steel rods, shovels, axe, and they beat my mother ruthlessly," he said.
The attackers were so-called "land mafia", based in his city of Srinagar, Kashmir.
"They''ve been trying to forcibly grab this piece of land from us," Mr Umar said.
"They don''t have any papers, they don''t have any valid document, they''re just trying to pressure us.
"There are many people here who just left their land, and then these guys [the mafias] sold these lands."
After his family refused the thugs'' demands for money, for the privilege of building on their own land, Mr Umar''s mother was set upon.
Neighbour Hanan Bazaz said he and his father saw the incident unfold.
"We came for help and we took her to the hospital," he said. Asked if he was scared, Mr Bazaz replied, "yeah, absolutely".
But Mr Umar credits his neighbour for saving his mother''s life. "If it wasn''t for these guys, my mother would have been dead this time," he said.
The gang returned that night, bulldozing the wall and foundations the Babas had already built.
Their brazen tactics are the result of an impunity, built on networks of corrupt police and politicians.
"These guys they work in tandem with officials from police, judiciary, revenue officials. They can seek patronage from the political parties as well," Mr Umar said.
Local Saffron industry also under threat
Saffron, lucrative and able to flourish in only a few locations worldwide, is also under threat.
In the villages surrounding Srinagar, growers of the delicate flowers say the government is turning a blind eye.
Saffron grower Shabeeh Farooq shows the ABC homes, built where the plants once grew.
"It is all illegal construction here, built on saffron fields," he said, driving through a village near Pampore, just to the south of Srinagar.
Officially the land is protected. But illegal houses are encroaching on the fields and Mr Farooq is straightforward about why.
"This land mafia business is flourishing because everyone here is corrupted," he said.
"Everyone takes a cut and turns a blind eye on the illegal constructions. The Government doesn''t listen to us."
The gangs do not stop there either. In the mountains above Srinagar "timber mafia" log trees on public land, while in the valley below in broad daylight an excavator gouges out the banks of the river Jellum.
Truckload after truckload of sand are carted away to feed cement-making and construction.
"Sand mafia" are found right across India, doing as they please and driven by a combination of lax environmental law and runaway demand from an economy growing at 7.5 per cent a year.
Nadreem Quadri, a Kashmiri environmental lawyer, said if permission was sought it was almost always under the table.
"Most of the work is illegal, most of the work is without official approvals but definitely under a political patronage," he said.
Mr Quadri said the fact that so many people stood to gain made the graft extremely difficult to halt.
"The money which is being collected from the economic activity of all these trades, doesn''t have one partner only, it has multiple stakeholders," he said.
"There are recorded statements in the high court that this cannot be possible without the political patronage and the state government support."
The Chief Minister''s spokesman Wahid Parra readily concedes that gangs operate with political and police protection, but says that is changing.
"They enjoyed support of police, sometimes they enjoyed support of government as well but now our priorities are very similar, we are trying to address all public grievances," Mr Parra said.
The ability to make money through bribes is one reason that government jobs in India are highly prized. It is also rare for people to be fired.
But Mr Parra said the government of the chief minister was trying to change the culture of impunity by doing just that.
"We have sacked 60 people who are facing the corruption charges. It has never happened in any Indian state," he said, adding that further sackings would follow.
"It''s a challenge, because it''s a virus in the society. It''s in our blood," he said of the culture of paying officials.
As Baba Umar headed to court to submit evidence of his mother''s injuries, he agreed. "I know the Government is trying to check corruption but it''s not possible here," he said.
Mr Umar is prepared for years of legal fighting in his family''s case, but said he did not expect major change anytime soon.
"It''s widespread ... people have internalised it, they can get small things done, and I don''t think its going to go away quickly," he said.
Aug 2015
The problem of forced evictions is a huge one in China, writes Stephen McDonell:
"We stumble across a protest outside a municipal government office in downtown Nanjing. As soon as we arrive, people who claim they"ve had their homes stolen are eager to speak.
WOMAN #1: "They didn"t notify me before demolishing my house. Now I have nowhere to live".
POLICEMAN: "You"re making us lose face in front of the foreigners".
WOMAN #1: "I"m from Nanjing City, Gulou district. Meitanggang Road, number 5".
Stephen McDonell: The woman proudly declares her name and address to the camera despite police urging her to be quiet.
WOMAN #1: "Because I spoke to you today I might now be thrown in jail".
Stephen McDonell: "Have you all come here with the same problem or different grievances?"
WOMAN #1: "We"re all the same".
Stephen McDonell: "You"re here because your houses have been demolished?" They also have stories of violent evictions.
WOMAN #2: "You can see my parents were beaten to death. Both houses were my legal property. They took our houses and they beat us".
Stephen McDonell: The police bring out their own camera to capture us, but they"re also interested in the demonstrators. The authorities film as those who"ve spoken out give their contact details. The police tell us to stop recording. The residents keep coming.
WOMAN #3: "I tell you my house was demolished illegally. They took it. It"s been six years, six years and they haven"t paid me. Give me back my house. No compensation. They beat me. They detained me. What can I do?"
A former state prosecutor, Shen Liangqing has seen the widespread payment of bribes, the awarding of contracts to friends, the hiding of laundered money in the accounts of family members. He says corruption is everywhere within Chinese officialdom.
Shen Liangqing: "Every official has shit on his arse. The question is whether or not you investigate. If you do, they will have problems. I am very pessimistic. We should definitely crackdown on corruption".
Ordinary people like Xu Juan, who believe they"ve been wronged by corrupt officials. She says that developers have been trying to force her family and her neighbours out of their homes, and that she"s been fighting back on their behalf.
Xu Juan: "They offered us 4,000 yuan per square metre but the 2011 local housing price had already surged to 20,000 per square metre. The gap is huge".
Stephen McDonell: She says most of her neighbours have already caved into the pressure to leave. In the former community only 8 families are still holding out for what they say is fair compensation. Xu Juan says paid thugs, working with officials, have been sent around to try and bully the remaining residents into leaving. She is seven months pregnant when we speak to her.
Xu Juan: My demands are just - and yet they use thugs against me. It only shows how shameless the Government is".
"President Xi has taken down lots of bad guys", says one young university student.
China''s President Xi Jinping has made fighting corruption a key priority for his Government.


UN Security Council says Human Trafficking may constitute War Crime
by UN News, BBC, Walk Free
16 Dec 2015
The UN Security Council today deplored all acts of trafficking in human beings by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, underscoring that certain acts associated with that practice in the context of armed conflict might constitute war crimes.
Issuing presidential statement in its first-ever meeting on human trafficking, the Council called upon Member States to reinforce their political commitment and improve their implementation of applicable legal obligations to criminalize, prevent and otherwise combat trafficking in persons, while enhancing efforts to “detect and disrupt” it.
The meeting heard briefings by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as well as two moving accounts from the front lines by Nick Grono, head of the Freedom Fund, and Nadia Murad Basee Taha, an Iraqi woman of the Yazidi faith.
“The Security Council expresses solidarity with and compassion for victims of trafficking,” said the statement read out by Samantha Power (United States), Council President for December. It called upon Member States to hold accountable those engaging in human trafficking in armed conflict situations — “especially their Government employees and officials, as well as any contractors and subcontractors” — urging them to mitigate the risk that public procurement and supply chains might contribute to the practice.
Calling upon States to consider ratifying or acceding to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the Council requested that the Secretary-General take all appropriate steps to reduce “to the greatest extent possible” the risk that the Organization’s procurement and supply chains might contribute to trafficking in persons in situations of armed conflict, and to report back on progress in 12 months.
Opening the meeting, Mr. Eliasson said millions of people were living as slaves, most of them women and children deceived or abducted into a life of suffering, exploitation, torture and servitude. Thousands of men and boys had been forcibly conscripted by the LRA, while the plight of women and girls held by groups such as ISIL and Boko Haram was well known. “Trafficking in persons is a crime and a violation of human rights and must be treated as such,” he emphasized.
Mr. Fedotov, said there were strong frameworks that could enable joint responses, notably the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. While most States parties had enacted relevant laws, 41 per cent had reported no trafficking convictions, or fewer than 10, per year.
“Clearly, this impunity must end,” he added, stressing that more must be done to foster cooperation.
Mr. Grono said that while slavery was hidden in most conflicts, ISIL was challenging that taboo. More than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls were thought to be enslaved by the extremist group, which was advocating the revival of slavery, organizing slave markets and issuing official “how-to” manuals.
ISIL had institutionalized slavery and sexual violence in order to increase recruitment by promising male fighters access to women and girls, to populate a new “caliphate” through forced pregnancy, and to terrorize communities and generate revenue.
Breathing life into that account, Ms. Basee Taha said she had been living with her family when ISIL had attacked her village in August 2014. Its fighters had taken her to Mosul as merchandise to be exchanged. ISIL had made Yazidi women into “flesh to be trafficked in”, she said, adding: “This is collective suffering.”
Imploring the Council to recognize acts of human trafficking as a genocide and to refer them to the International Criminal Court, she also urged members to help the Yazidis liberate their territory, establish an international budget to compensate victims, eliminate ISIL and bring perpetrators of trafficking to justice.
When the floor opened for debate, members praised Ms. Basee Taha’s courage in sharing her experiences while they roundly condemned human trafficking as slavery in the twenty-first century. Some speakers emphasized that ISIL’s use of people as human shields, sexual slaves and forced labourers constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity, and thus punishable by the International Criminal Court.
Angola’s representative reinforced that sentiment, stressing that the Council must link human trafficking to war crimes and crimes against humanity, thereby enlarging the scope of those crime categories. The staggering number of people living in slavery made a mockery of current efforts to combat the scourge.
Nigeria’s representative said the Council must consider expanding civilian mandates to include a trafficking dimension, stressing that her Government was determined to defeat Boko Haram, with the help of neighbouring countries, and to free all women and girls held by that group.
Malaysia’s delegate proposed that States offer reintegration programmes for women and children liberated from traffickers in order to protect them from re-stigmatization. In a similar vein, Jordan’s representative said States must adopt legislative, legal and administrative reforms, as well as provide medical and psychological assistance.
Council President Power, (United States), speaking in her national capacity, said Ms. Basee Taha’s testimony was the most powerful rejection of what ISIL stood for, adding that slavery had become “a versatile weapon of war” for helping terrorist groups to generate revenue, among other aims.
Also speaking today were representatives of Spain, Chad, Lithuania, France, Russian Federation, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Chile and Venezuela.

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