April 30, 2016

Improving Health and Environment Outcomes through the Rule of Law

When world leaders endorsed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, their support of Goal 16 — committing countries “to promote peaceful, inclusive societies for sustainable development, to provide access to justice for all and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” — shined a spotlight on the deeply integral role of justice and the rule of law in not just enabling but driving human development around the world.  

Over the past month, the international development community recognized the 69th annual World Health Day, the 47th annual Earth Day and the first anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) reflected on the role of the rule of law in empowering communities to advocate for responsible industry and healthier environments, protecting vulnerable populations from unregulated exploitation of natural resources and strengthening the ability of partner governments to prosecute crimes linked to illegal resource extraction.

Principles that are central to promoting the rule of law — such as accountable and transparent governance, equality before the law, participatory decision-making and adherence to fundamental rights — have amplified the world’s progress on social and economic development goals. For instance, legal protection of people living with HIV (PLHIV) from discrimination is considered central to curbing the spread of the epidemic. In contrast, a lack of respect for these principles can have negative effects, as in the case of marginalized populations who are in danger of permanent displacement if they do not understand land tenure laws and lack access to dispute resolution services.

To meet the growing demand for an evidence-based understanding of how support for the rule of law contributes to achieving broader development goals, ABA ROLI produced a technical guide titled “Integrating Rule of Law and Global Development: Food Security, Climate Change, and Public Health.” Informed by the guide, ABA ROLI approaches these complex issues through a combination of applied research, technical legal solutions and governance support. Addressing the environmental health concerns of a community impacted by industrial mining not only requires a domestic legal framework that articulates community rights and company obligations, but demands that communities have access to information about the legal framework and the actions taken under it, access to public participation to share information, experiences and express concerns, and access to redress through both skilled mediators and a court system in which lawyers, judges and prosecutors are trained to hold all parties accountable. 

The principles of a rights-based rule of law response laid out in ABA ROLI’s guide can be applied in a targeted way to specific development challenges. To do this effectively, there is a critical need for undertaking tailored assessments that inform the design of integrated justice programs. Our HIV/AIDS Assessment Tool, for example, leads practitioners through the process of assessing the extent to which discriminatory laws and practices against PLHIV and key populations hinder HIV prevention and treatment work. Similar tools can be developed and implemented to create rule of law frameworks for achieving better development outcomes in areas such as food security, climate change, land tenure, maternal/child health, indigenous peoples’ rights and more.  

To learn more about our work in health and environmental justice, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org