International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

17 October 2012

Breaking the cycle of poverty and injustice

Brussels, 17th October 2012 – For millions of people in post-conflict and developing countries, living in poverty is a barrier to accessing justice. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) believes that the law and judicial systems should not be an obstacle for individuals and groups living in vulnerable situations; on the contrary, the use of law and access to justice is an opportunity for people to fight for their rights and break the cycle of poverty and injustice.

People living in poverty are in a situation whereby their most basic human rights, such as the right to health, education, food, water and sanitation, housing and an adequate standard of living are near impossible to realise. One of the major issues leading to the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East was the lack of respect for those rights. Today’s challenge in those countries and other parts of the world is to ensure that the law protects those who are marginalised, rather than being a factor of oppression and injustice.

In order to build a democratic society based on the rule of law, one must restore the population’s confidence in the justice system. State institutions will gain credibility and be more capable of meeting their obligations in terms of human rights if people – particularly those living in vulnerable situations – see that the law does not suppress them, but rather applies the same standards across society.

ASF teams are contributing to these endeavours across the globe, from Tunisia to Uganda, from Burundi to Nepal. They help people living in poverty, pre-trial detainees, children in conflict with the law, victims of sexual violence and international crimes, and other groups in vulnerable situation. By facilitating their access to the knowledge and tools to protect their rights, ASF supports these people to take charge of their own lives. ASF also strengthens the capacity of civil society organisations, bar associations and State services, so that information, advice and legal aid services are well implemented. Finally, ASF actively advocates in favour of laws and national policies that systemically ensure the right to access to justice.

Promoting respect for human rights and establishing the rule of law is a long-term effort that requires time, resources and political will. The economic and financial crises should not prompt States and institutional donors to reduce their engagement in the justice sector, particularly in the global South. National and international disengagement supporting access to justice will reduce the chances people in vulnerable situations have to realise their rights, and can aggravate the consequences of the crisis for those people.

Access to justice is not just an obligation in terms of respect for the right to a fair trial; helping to realise basic human rights related to health, education or living conditions is also an opportunity to create and promote poverty and insecurity reduction.

Cover Picture: © Indra Van Gisbergen

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