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And justice for all: Enforcing human rights for the poor

Gary HaugenGary Haugen of International Justice Mission writes:

— Hilda reports the rape of her 12-year-old daughter to the local police in a slum in a Latin American metropolis. The officers don’t have a car to arrest the suspect and instead instruct the diminutive woman to find the accused — a physically imposing security guard — and bring him on foot to the station herself.

— Halfway around the world, Sriram is held as a forced laborer in a South Asian brick kiln; he would report the abuse, but his owner is a leading local politician.

— In Africa, when Veronica tells a judge that her brother threatened to kill here while he was illegally seizing her home, he suggests she learn to “get along” with her family.

Efforts by the modern human rights movement over the last 60 years have contributed to the criminalization of violent human rights abuses, including those against Hilda, Sriram, and Veronica, in nearly every country.

The problem for the poor, however, is that those laws are rarely enforced.

Without functioning public justice systems to deliver the protections of the law to the poor, the legal reforms of the modern human rights movement rarely improve the lives of those who need them most. In fact, in much of the world, the poor find that virtually every component of the public justice system — police, defense lawyers, prosecutors, and courts — works against, not with, them.

The average poor person in the developing world has probably never met a police officer who is not, at best, corrupt or, at worst, gratuitously brutal. When a poor person comes into contact with the public justice system beyond the police, it is frequently because he or she has been charged with a crime. With incomes for the global poor hovering around $1-$2 a day, the average poor person cannot hope to pay legal fees — and will likely never even meet a lawyer.

Even when cases are reported and referred for trial, there are frequently too few public prosecutors to handle the volume. This creates an enormous backlog, allowing cases to languish indefinitely. Some experts, for example, have estimated that at the current rate, it would take 350 years for the courts in Mumbai, India, to hear all the cases on their books. According to the UN Development Program, someone who is detained while awaiting trial in India often serves more than the maximum length of his or her prospective sentence before a trial date is set.

The modern human rights movement began in the years following World War II, when a number of scholars and diplomats began an effort to articulate and codify international standards on fundamental rights in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the following decades, these standards were embedded into national law by individual governments throughout the developing world.

The tragic irony, however, is that the enforcement of these political, civil, economic, and human rights was left to utterly dysfunctional national law enforcement institutions, which were developed during the colonial era to serve the elites and appropriated — with little change — by authoritarian governments at the departure of colonial powers. As a result, these systems have rarely effectively protected the poor — they were never designed to.

… The modern human rights movement must enter into a new era, shifting its focus from legal reform to law enforcement. On the local level, approaches must focus on directly cultivating the political will and capacity of the police, prosecutors, and judges who are supposed to enforce the law on behalf of the poor. At the state level, aid must focus on developing both the political will and the capacity of government elites to enforce existing laws.

… We can no longer stand by as billions in this world are daily ravaged by lawlessness. Without functioning public justice systems we will never make human rights meaningful and international development sustainable.

Read the full text of this excellent article by clicking here.
Are you familiar with Gary Haugen’s book, Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World?
Learn how you can make a difference through IJM by clicking here.

Deepening the Soul for Justice

Bethany H. Hoang

The challenges of global injustice can be overwhelming. The pain is real; the violence dark. Many well-intentioned Christians get burned out. What can you do to stay in the game?

Bethany Hoang, director of International Justice Mission‘s IJM Institute, has seen firsthand how spiritual formation can fuel our response to God’s call to justice — from the inside out. At IJM, global justice issues are seen as a catalyst for greater spiritual growth and deeper personal discipleship. Hoang shares the spiritual concepts and practices teams members use to maintain spiritual vitality in the face of the world’s injustices. Honed on the frontlines of the fight for justice, these guideposts for inward journey can propel a disciple outward, empowering the difficult work of justice.

Discover spiritual disciplines for the justice-seeker and renew and invigorate your own justice journey.

This booklet includes questions for group discussion. It is part of Intervarsity Press‘ “Urbana Onward” series of studies designed to help students translate the powerful inspiration of the Urbana missions conferences into meaningful, effective action. Other titles in the series: Pursuing God’s Call, Partnering with the Global Church, Spiritual Warfare in Mission, Your Mind’s Mission, and The Mission of Worship.

Available December 2012. Click here to view on

(Purchase benefits Multiply Justice partner projects)

Helping a widow in distress

From International Justice Mission:

When Grace’s husband passed away, relatives tried to steal her home — she became a victim of property grabbing. Her home and her land was her entire livelihood, the only way she could provide for her five children. Without anyone to defend her rights, Grace started to lose hope.

Then Grace met IJM, and everything changed. “My old life has ended and now a new one is beginning.”

Click the image below to watch the video.

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