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December 28, 2011

Lawyer’s Role in Sustainable Development Addressed During ABA Program

The law is an “underutilized tool” in sustainable development around the world, said James Silkenat, partner, Sullivan & Worcester, as he introduced a recent panel program cosponsored by the ABA Section of International Law.  The panel titled “Achieving Sustainable Development: The Lawyer’s Key Role,” discussed the importance of lawyers partnering with other professionals on projects and initiatives that support sustainability.  Working at the local level, lawyers can use assessments to guide policy decisions in nations around the world, and legislative reforms to enhance access to justice.

Michael Burke, chair of the Section of International Law, spoke about some of the section’s international projects and task forces focused on legal and rule of law issues.  The Task Force on Financial Engineering for Economic Development, for example, provides resources for emerging markets to assist in creating the framework for functioning capital markets.  In addition, the International Legal Resource Center provides technical legal assistance to the United Nations Development Programme in connection with its rule of law and democratic governance work.

The ILRC, established in 1999, places legal experts in UNDP country offices and regional service centers, where they advise and empower UNDP’s local partners, conduct legal research in support of legal reform, and assess legislation on substantive topics.

The section’s International Models Project for Women’s Rights is an innovative initiative to establish a global collaborative research database on women’s rights under law.  The project is expected to play a unique role in supporting the worldwide implementation of the principles underlying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The World Justice Project, which originated within the ABA, seeks to build and sustain thriving communities around the world, according to acting director Juan Botero.  Its Rule of Law Index provides data that allows stakeholders to assess a nation’s adherence to the rule of law in practice, identifies a nation’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to other countries, and tracks changes over time.  The WJP’s Opportunity Fund awards seed-money grants to grassroots groups that work to advance justice.  One example is the 50/50 Group Sierra Leone, an effort to increase the level of female participation in representative government.

Other topics in the “Sustainable Development” program focused on how the legal community can work with medical and other professionals to improve access to health care around the world.  Michele Forzley, co-chair of the Section of International Law’s International Life Sciences and Health Law Committee, noted that essential medicines are an unmet human right, and that areas of the world don’t provide adequate access to medical services.  Government commitment in this area doesn’t necessarily translate to success, according to Forzley, who stressed that laws must make government a responsible actor.

Paulina Rudnicka, senior legal analyst with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, addressed the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, explaining how lawyers can encourage legislative reform, enhance access to justice and promote local capacity building.  Specifically, lawyers can: ensure that the necessary regulatory structures are in place; help mobilize local bars; establish legal clinics; work in the context of legal-medical partnerships; and support hate-crimes legislation combating discriminatory behaviors.

The program, part of the “World Bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week 2011: Innovation and Empowerment for Development” conference, was held in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16, 2011.

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