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A New Vision for the 2015 Millennium Development Goals: Integrating Access to Justice

Issue of the Month
A New Vision for the 2015 Millennium Development Goals: Integrating Access to Justice
Friday, January 24, 2014

[1] Associated Press, “One Indian woman killed every hour over dowry”, (3 September 2013), online: Aljazeera <>.

[2] Open Society Foundations, What Does Justice Have to Do with Overcoming Poverty?, (2013 August), online: OSF <>.

[3] The World Bank Press Release, “Corruption is ‘Public Enemy Number One’”, (19 December 2013), online: World Bank <>.

[4] Transparency International, “Overview of corruption and anti-corruption in Bangladesh”, online: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre <>.

How does access to justice play a role in eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development in the global south? How can countries address access to justice issues, and how should they prioritize them? Should access to justice be adopted as a new Millennium Development Goal (MDG) post-2015?

These questions and others concerning the access to justice and the rule of law in developing countries will form part of the discussion at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) high-level summit on the MDGs in 2015. A bit of background: The MDGs were adopted in 2000 by world leaders as a part of the United Nations Millennium Declaration which had the intent to significantly reduce in global poverty by 2015. A list of the eight goals and their indicators can be found here.

While significant progress has been made towards reaching these goals, there is still much that needs to be done to meet the remaining targets. In 2013, UN world leaders met to renew a commitment to the MDGs; they agreeed to decide on a new set of goals in 2015, when the current goals expire. This presents the perfect opportunity to address issues not considered by the original eight goals – such as access to justice and the rule of law.

I would like to suggest that access to justice and the rule of law, in particular, should be unequivocally adopted as a new freestanding goal come 2015. Access to justice is central to development and the eradication of poverty. Without development of access to justice and the rule of law, many legal reforms that take place in developing countries fall short of their projected goals. For example:

  • When minimum wage laws aren’t enforced, a person may not be able to make a fair income to support their family.
  • Property owners who claim land without obtaining a deed due to excessive red tape, may lose their home.  
  • Dowries are illegal in Bangladesh, but the practice is still prevalent in part because of the male-dominated culture [1].
  • Corrupt bankers in some countries provide loans to businessmen backed by political leaders, hurting small businesses and staggering economic growth [2]

But access to justice does more than overlap with the current MDGs - it forms the backbone of progress in the developing world. Access to justice is quoted by the Open Society Foundations as a “basic precondition for sustainable economic development” [3]. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim declared corruption in developing countries as the greatest barrier to development today, calling it “public enemy number one” [4]. It makes sense that access to justice and the rule of law is an integral piece of development. How can sustainable growth be achieved when a property deed is viewed as worthless, subversion of the law is the norm due to copious amount of red tape, citizen’s basic human rights are not respected, and governments spend public money on their private affairs?

Introducing the rule of law and access to justice into the post-2015 UNDP development strategy would certainly pose challenges. It may be harder than other goals to measure progress. It may be difficult to build on existing systems in states while still maintaining cultural relevancy and functionality. But to ignore this crucial piece of the development puzzle would undermine the effort to eradicate poverty in the post-2015 program.

To learn more about this issue, see the Open Society Foundation’s Justice and Development Project page.


Hannah DeJong is a student Research Fellow at the CFCJ.  She is in her first year in the JD program at Osgoode Hall Law School.