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Measures of justice

The UN General Assembly has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030. Ambitious and laudable in equal measure, the SDGs aim to end extreme poverty in all countries as well as combat inequality, injustice and global warming.

White & Case lawyers played a key role in helping shape the way progress on Sustainable Development Goal 16.3 will be measured. Under this sub-goal, signatories pledge to: "Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all."

The SDGs are the next generation of global goals following the 15-year focus on the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000. Each of the SDGs includes several sub-goals, which are intended to galvanize action by government, civil society and the private sector. In addition to its overarching focus on the rule of law, which is most broadly stated in Goal 16.3, Goal 16 has several other interrelated strands including tackling human trafficking, reducing corruption and providing legal registration of all new births.

White & Case helps the UN measure Sustainable Development Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

We are part of a working group that also includes the UN Foundation, the UN Association of the United States of America, BNY Mellon and Deloitte, which was formed to provide input to the UN about what metrics should be used to measure progress against Goal 16.3. Partner Ank Santens led the Firm's work on the project with pro bono counsel Louis O'Neill and associate Aditya Singh.

Many groups are providing input on the metrics for the SDGs. Our group focused on how the rule of law can influence business and investment and thereby improve a country's economic conditions. One of our suggestions was that looking at the enforcement of and compliance with decisions rendered under international investment treaties could prove a useful means of measuring progress on the rule of law, since the way countries deal with their disputes provides evidence of accountability.

There are about 3,000 of these treaties, which guarantee foreign investors legal protection in the event of expropriation of assets or other unfair treatment in relation to their investment, and play a crucial role in international trade and investment. An example is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which facilitates trade and investment between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Our group recommended that the UN take a multilevel approach when gauging progress, using indicators at a national level—regulatory institutions, civil dispute resolution processes and anti-corruption processes—as well as at the international level.

The next step for our working group is to take part in further focus groups on Goal 16.3. Ank says: "This project is giving us unique insight into the processes that lead to the adoption of the complex and politically sensitive UN global development goals and the indicators used to measure progress. Many constituencies play a role. Our unique perspective and expertise allow us to provide real value to the process."

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development

1. No poverty

2. Zero hunger

3. Good health and well-being

4. Quality education

5. Gender equality

6. Clean water and sanitation

7. Affordable and clean energy

8. Decent work and economic growth

9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure

10. Reduced inequalities

11. Sustainable cities and communities

12. Responsible consumption and production

13. Climate action

14. Life below water

15. Life on land

16. Peace and justice, strong institutions

17. Partnerships for the goals


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