Justice – Wanted By All and Essential to the Sustainable Development Goals

Justice – Wanted By All and Essential to the Sustainable Development Goals
By Michele Forzley

On September 25, 2015, the global community expressed its desire to be healthy, have enough food, water, education and more of the good qualities of life many enjoy but so many do not.

Called the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDG)1 the 17 goals (see box below) were adopted as the elements of a global plan to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Justice is one of the goals and was identified through broad stakeholder consultation as essential to achieving the development goals and a goal unto itself. This article presents a quick history and explanation of development goals, how they were co-created, and some examples of how lawyers may contribute to accomplishing these goals through pro bono or professional opportunities.

Sustainable Development Goals
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

*Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

The predecessor to the SDGs were the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Over the years since the MDGs were launched many important improvements have been achieved, which while significant unto themselves, are more important when considered in light of their impact on the overall socio-economic, political and cultural health of a country.2 Examples of accomplishments include:
  • Extreme poverty has declined significantly over the last two decades. In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day; that dropped to 14% in 2015.3
  • The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide fell by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015, down from 100 million in 2000.4
  • The global under-five mortality rate declined by more than half, decreasing from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015.5
  • Internet penetration has grown from approximately 6% of the world’s population in 2000 to 43% in 2015. “As a result, 3.2 billion people are linked to a global network of content and applications.” 6

The MDG accomplishments demonstrate that the international community can be mobilized to confront complex challenges. Innovative approaches, a range of involved stakeholders, new forms of transparency, and sound public policies were just some of the factors leading to steady improvements.

Yet there is more to do, as evidenced by the recommitment by the international community to use the MDGs as a springboard to a future co-created by a process of consultations that has never before been so broad and inclusive. Input was gathered from all UN Member States, the entire United Nations system, experts and a cross-section of civil society, business and, most importantly, millions of people from all corners of the globe who were enabled by technology and the outreach efforts of civil society groups, such as the United Nations Development Group on “A Million Voices: The World We Want.” These impressive outreach efforts to involve as many voices as possible resulted in a collective vision for our world, perhaps for the first time in human history.

It is important to take note that the voices of the world have underscored the need for democracy, the rule of law, more effective governance and capable institutions, responsible business and effective local authorities, and rigorous accountability mechanisms. All of these goals require law and lawyers. There is now also high level support for the rule of law for the first time in history.7 Moreover, this public discourse has accentuated the urgent need to address the trust deficit between governments, institutions and the people, and ensure respect for the rule of law, which will require rebuilding institutions.

This call for justice to promote safe and peaceful societies and strong institutions is now embodied in Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. Though there are 12 target elements, and all are worth a read, only one can be explored here and that is “Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.”8 At a minimum, effective institutions, whether that be government ministries, the court system, law enforcement or other branches of the legal community, must protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and ensure that at all levels institutions are inclusive, participatory and accountable to the people.

The legal system has a particularly important role to play and this has been described to include many things, such as to provide access to fair justice, combatting corruption and illicit financial flows, protecting freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and ensuring access to information. Exactly how these numerous targets and goals are to be achieved remains to be understood; there is room for lawyers everywhere to take an active role.

Practical ideas that can be implemented in resource constrained environments are sorely needed to bring these lofty ideas into reality. One example of a basic solution or intervention that combines goals 16 and 3 for health is the internal review board. In many developing countries, an aggrieved party may only have an appeal to the very same person that made the objectionable decision. This is a recipe for corruption, or worse, the loss of integrity of the regulatory agency. A simple solution is possible by creating a review board.9 Attorneys in the United States and those in other legal realms know such boards under the umbrella of administrative law and as a regular feature of the health care system. Examples include insurance appeal boards, Medicare claim review boards, licensing regulatory agency review boards and the many commissions, committees and other boards designed to review the decisions of governmental bodies. These can serve as models to target two goals.

There are also opportunities for bar associations to twin with bars from developing countries as many already do; for lawyers to undertake justice sector strengthening work for development organizations such as the UN Development Program or to teach in Fulbright programs or law schools around the world. Others may devote their careers to aligning the health sectors in developing countries with the law as I have. Whichever course one may take, it is clear that law has become an important element in the process of advancing the well-being of our world.

Michele Forzley is a senior legal advisor and public health professional based in Maryland. Her clients are health institutions, national ministries of health, and inter-governmental organizations such as the World Bank, World Health Organization, The Global Fund, PEPFAR/SCMS and professional associations such as the Global Health Council and Access to Medicines Index among others. Current projects include the USAID Health Policy Project in Afghanistan where she is Legal and Governance Advisor on private health sector regulation and in Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and Uganda and elsewhere, where she is revising health and medicines laws and health systems processes to support the national health plan, meet international obligations such as the International Health Regulations and institute best practices. Among her numerous accomplishments, her work has resulted in the delivery of HIV medicines to millions of patients by removing regulatory barriers and through pooled procurement and a global change in policy on access to medicines for pain and palliative care as resolved by the 2014 World Health Assembly. She is a graduate of The Hague Academy of International Law. She is a Senior Scholar at the O’Neil Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law Center.

1Sustainable Development Goals, available at www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/.
2United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 (2015), available at www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20rev%20%28July%201%29.pdf.
3Id. at 14.
4Id. at 24.
5Id. at 32.
6Id. at 7.
7Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N., Remarks at Opening of High-Level Session of the Global Dialogue on Rule of Law and Post-2015 Development Agenda, New York, NY (September 26, 2013), available at www.un.org/sg/dsg/statements/index.asp?nid=447; U.N. Secretary-General, The Road to Dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet, Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General on the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, U.N. Doc. A/69/700 (Dec. 4, 2014), available at sustainabledevelopment.un.org/majorgroups/post2015/synthesisreport.
8U.N., Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/peace-justice/.
9Forzley, M. Internal Review Boards; an innovation in health sector governance. World Bank Law Review Vol. 7, 2015. Available November 19, 2015.


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