Dr. Khine Khine Win
Access to justice is an inherent rule of law and a fundamental requirement of any democratic society. Justice is a broad notion that is based on the concept of moral rightness that incorporates varying perspectives on fairness, ethics, rationality and law. Keep in mind that access to justice is fundamental human rights. The Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008), section 21(a) states “Every citizen shall enjoy the right of equality, the right of liberty and the right of justice”. Article 8 of the UDHR where it declares that “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the Constitution or by law”. When a right is violated or damage is caused, access to justice is of fundamental importance for the injured individual and it is an essential component of the rule of law.
The United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the “Transforming our world: 2030 agenda for sustainable development” by UN member States in September 2015. It is a new compact for people and planet anchored in 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. The Goals and targets stimulated the action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet. In January 2016, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted its new 2025 Community Vision. This guiding document acknowledges the complementary relationship between the UN’s 2030 Agenda. By adopting this vision, ASEAN became the first regional body to acknowledge its members efforts to implement and monitor the SDGs. Again, Chair’s Statement of “20 Years of ASEM: Partnership for the Future through Connectivity” welcomed again the adoption in 2015 of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. In this statement leaders agreed to work together towards the timely and full implementation of the goals set in this document at the national, regional and global levels.
SDGs recognize the central role of justice in achieving development, with Goal 16 specifically guaranteeing “equal access to justice for all”. In this regard, ASEAN Regional Consultation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Access to Justice and Legal Aid was held on May 26-27, 2016 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Over 100 participants including government officials and civil society members from ASEAN countries, representatives from ASEAN bodies, academics and international experts on measuring access to justice and legal aid were attended. The meeting provided a platform for regional participants to gather best practices on providing legal aid for poor and vulnerable people, strengthening access to justice provisions in ASEAN countries, as well as tracking progress and measurement of access to justice. This initiative aimed to develop national commitments to strengthen the rule of law and implement Goal 16 of the SDGs for peace, justice and strong institutions, and concrete actions for future cooperation in the ASEAN region. ASEAN has taken the initiative and demonstrated that regional bodies can provide invaluable support to national efforts to implement and monitor the justice commitments of the SDGs. By seeing aforementioned facts, we can understand that ASEAN member countries are readiness to cooperate together to implement SDGs including Goal 16.
There is no access to justice where people do not have legal awareness or information or knowledge of rights or where there is a weak justice system. For instance to address violations of human rights by the duty bearers, increase knowledge and awareness on human rights issues are needed. Therefore a broad dissemination of information about rights is essential for an access to justice. On the other hand, improve rule of law will improve access to justice. Rule of law is undermined if people cannot exercise to their rights to access to justice. Even rule of law is rightly regarded as being the foundation of any democratic society it is meaningless if there is no access to justice. No doubt, every government has a fundamental responsibility to ensure access to justice is available when there is no other realistic option for people. If they fail their responsibility, there will be no justice. If there is no justice there will be no peace.
Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.