I am honoured to be here to open this high-level session of the global dialogue on the rule of law and the post-2015 agenda.
I thank the organizers for their vision in convening this gathering. And I thank all of you for coming here with energy, inspiration and ideas.
What I would like to talk about today is why the rule of law is so critical to the work of the United Nations.
In the year 2000, world leaders agreed on an historic 15-year blueprint to address poverty: the Millennium Development Goals. We are now closing in on the last stretch of our campaign to achieve them. And we are shaping a vision for development that will guide our efforts beyond 2015.
Today, we have new ways of consulting on the future we want that never could have been imagined at the dawn of the Millennium. Then, the process was steered by government officials and development experts. Along the way, we held many meetings with civil society groups – but today we can go directly to the people, canvas their views, collate that information and respond to their needs. This opens an extraordinary window for global, grass-roots ownership of our agreed goals.
This is critical because our development agenda centres on people. When we listen to them, we can succeed.
At the same time, the doors of the United Nations are open as never before. As we listen closely to the world’s citizens, we also benefit enormously from those of you who have dedicated yourselves to addressing the issues that matter most.
The rule of law is one of these issues.
The Secretary-General has made this a priority because he understands that when you pay attention to delivering justice, you gain results across the international agenda.
The rule of law is not just an abstract concept. It is an infant who gets a birth certificate that is counted in national statistics. It is a police service that earns public trust. It is a court system that cannot be bought by the highest bidder. It is an election where all votes are equal.
The rule of law helps the most vulnerable in society reclaim their rights. The rule of law enables countries to settle their disputes in a courtroom instead of on a battlefield. The rule of law preserves human progress and allows us to go further in our pursuit of what is right and just.
I understand how important this is from personal experience. When I was growing up in Sweden, we did not have the economy we do today. My father used to say that public trust was the key to progress. I always took this to heart. Sweden as a country made gaining public trust a priority – with great success on many fronts. And in my own career as a diplomat, I have always achieved the greatest results with an emphasis on the same spirit of trust that underpins the rule of law.
The rule of law helps foster inclusive growth. It reduces violence. And it promotes equality and human rights.
Where we establish the rule of law, people have a greater interest in their common future. One study showed land value in rural parts of Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand increased when farmers got title deeds. Knowing they had legal ownership, individuals were willing to invest more.
Where we establish the rule of law, businesses can operate in an environment with transparency, predictability and accountability. At the same time, the rule of law can prompt businesses support the broader public good, such as by sustainably managing natural resources.
Where we establish the rule of law, we fight corruption which causes businesses and investors to flee. The Global Corruption Barometer found that people think the police and judiciary are among the top five institutions most affected by corruption. We must address this through focusing on the rule of law.
Where we establish the rule of law, we can foster a just and fair society. The poor have better access to health, education and other social services that enable them to lift themselves out of poverty.
To give just one example, in Ecuador, women who received legal aid services were 20 percent more likely to obtain child support than women who did not. The case is simple. People need institutional support and information to protect their rights. And protecting their rights will drive development and solidify peace.
The 2011 World Development Report highlighted the connection between security, justice and employment. It found that when you strengthen national institutions and improve governance, you can fix the economic, political and security problems that trap fragile states in cycles of violence.
This is the rule of law in action. This is sustainable peace. This is true progress.
While we concentrate on re-establishing – or sometimes just establishing – the rule of law in conflict-torn countries, the vast majority of our rule of law activities are carried out in countries that already have peace.
There is a growing international consensus that these efforts have enormous value.
One year ago, United Nations Member States representing 193 different legal cultures and traditions came together with the same idea: that the rule of law and development are mutually reinforcing. The Declaration adopted at their high-level meeting affirmed that this interrelationship should be considered in the post-2015 development agenda.
The Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons shared this view. The rule of law is fundamental to many of the goals identified in their report. The Secretary-General’s own report, “A Life of Dignity for All,” calls for building peace and effective governance based on the rule of law and sound institutions.
Our future development agenda should be ambitious and inspirational. It should have sustainable development at its core – with eradicating poverty as its priority. Delivering the rule of law through strong institutions is paramount to development.
A woman in Indonesia who was helped by UNDP explained that a life of dignity means justice is done. She said, “When we have our own homes . . . when our children can have an adequate education, and when we can live safely and peacefully [with] enough food and drink each day, then we will have justice.”
I count on you to keep this woman and the millions of others like her in mind as you hold dynamic discussions over the next two days.