Thammasat University, School of Global Studies | Thailand
Dr. Shekh Mohammad Altafur Rahman is a human rights lawyer and faculty member of the School of Global Studies, Thammasat University in Thailand. Born in Bangladesh, Dr. Rahman had built a professional career through voluntary services and community support program. He has been focusing on human rights and development in Asia. Rahman`s area of expertise comprises international human rights mechanisms, election and democratization, conflict transformation, emergency management, and application of human security framework. Dr. Rahman He has his PhD in Human Rights and Peace Studies from Mahidol University in Thailand.Dr. Shekh Mohammad Altafur Rahman talked about the importance of access to justice to better implement SDG 16. He underlined the challenges of measuring justice and discuss the methods of strengthening individuals` right to access just and strong institutions. Dr. Rahman also discussed in detail the components of a good and accountable governance and put an emphasis on the importance of a critical implementation process review for the SDG #16.
What is the nature of SDG #16’s access to justice component vis-a-vis the other component as in a functional modality? What is the challenge of measuring this particular component and how to overcome this situation? Goal #16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, improves access to justice for all and builds effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Peaceful societies and freedom from violence are both important goals and a means of sustainable development. No permanent progress can be achieved in a context dominated by violence, conflict and the threat of violence.
An effective state administration with responsible institutions, transparency and the rule of law all have an intrinsic value of their own. They constitute the basis of good governance including anti-corruption measures, and are important driving forces for development. Everyone is equal before the law and must have equal access to justice and the opportunity to exert influence and demand accountability from decision-makers. Good governance and the rule of law are fundamental components of development. Violence in all its forms is one of the greatest threats to development at both the individual and community level.
First of all, SDG #16 and the access to justice have a clear characteristic of overlapping features. It is not something that stands alone as an achievable component. Rather, it has the overlapping features with all of the targets within the scope of the SDG #16. If a society prioritize strong institutions, then it would have a clear relationship with the notion of the judicial system. Peace, extrajudicial killings, trafficking and child rights are also important components that overlap with the notion of access to justice. In that regard, the feature of overlapping is a very important characteristic of access to justice.
The second component is to understand what it means to access justice, which is not uniform everywhere in the world. The word of access itself has a very different kind of connotation, depending on where you are. For a person in a society which is more hierarchical, the notion of access is very different from the person who is living in a free society. The interpretation of access to justice itself is heavily used by the dominant political forces in the society and the country for their own benefit in many senses, and in many cases.
The indicator that is used to access to justice are targets 16.3.1 and 16.3.2. The SDG 16.3.1 is all about the idea of political crime, crime repartition and the SDG 16.3.2 is the unsentenced detainee. Reflecting on the indicators will underline the contrast with what the UN perceived as the indicator of rule of law. In the UN system, there are at least 135 indicators regarding the rule of law; the SDG #16 is only referring to two out of 135 indicators. The gap is enormous and it is very obvious that just by reporting on the criminal prosecution and the detainee, we cannot understand the whole state of accessing to justice. There are so many other issues that are relevant.
The other component of the discussion is the way those indicators are used, the collection of data for the voluntary report or the progress report which is often very much restricted in nature. The shift from the MDGs to SDGs took place to bring the development stakeholders from the narrow interpretation of development to move towards an inclusive idea of sustainable development. However, how we process these reports often focus on a very restricted way of collecting data rather than getting it from the third source or even through a civil society contribution. When this is the case, the only available source of data is the government institutions. Unfortunately, most of the government institutions are not really capable enough to provide a data support. Therefore, when there is no data, no credible information, there is little to achieve. The policy formation may not take place.
The participation and the authority of the state over some of these institutions is very important. When the state institutions provide the data, some of them would be very biased, depending on the political structure and establishment of the country. Considering this fact, a country establishment can easily be motivated to some extent to change the data. If this is the case, that means a country is assessed based on a completely wrong data, a complete incorrect set of information. When the extreme kinds of government and strong institutions are analyzed, it is observed that the judiciary is likely to be manipulated. This is exactly what is happening in many countries across the world. The judiciary, an independent pillar of the state, has been changed to be a tool of excessive power or control. It is one of the circumstances showing how the human rights are violated at the local levels.
This is an important time to reflect observations especially to those who are at the policymaking level to assess whether a policy is correct, a process is working, or a framework is really functional or not. We need to review the implementation of the SDG 16 in detail and see how it can be improved, developed and brought for a better protection of human rights and ensure everyone`s equal access to justice.