On the morning of Thursday May 1st, I attended a breakfast discussion held in the Commonwealth room on Parliament Hill. Among a small group of my peers, I listened to Victor Boutros speak on the book he and Gary Haugen wrote, titled The Locust Effect. The impact of this talk is what I wish to share with you today. I am a child of Africa, born in Uganda. My family was forced to leave when the dictator Idi Amin forced us out of our country. My family and I were fortunate to be welcomed by such a wonderful country like Canada. I do not take this opportunity I was afforded lightly. Therefore, I am inherently drawn to support efforts that work to effectively and efficiently reduce instability in the world. My story rooted in instability has a happy ending, but so many others are not afforded the same good fortune. With this in mind, I listened intently to Victor’s remarks on how criminal justice systems are failing our world’s most vulnerable.A large cause of this type of instability is poverty. Leaders in many developing countries can take advantage of their populations because of their desperation to simply survive, whether it falls within the law or not. Unfortunately, violence becomes an everyday norm in this environment, thus becoming a major barrier to breaking the cycle of poverty.
The criminal justice system in North America affords a greater advantage than those in other countries. As citizens, we can generally trust our police – in the developing world the inverse is true. Most people in the developing world fear the law enforcement officers in their country. Instead of standing as symbols of justice and fairness, they are synonymous with corruption and crime. Police in these countries can often be bought off, and usually give out tickets sporadically for personal gain, hoping for the “offender” to bribe them so they can go on their way. The interesting part of all of this is that in most (not all) of the developing countries that this refers to, there are laws in place that are supposed to act as safeguards against things like this from happening. This means that the disconnect is typically between the law and its enforcement, and not in the law itself.
After explaining this situation quite vividly, Victor talked about International Justice Mission and their efforts to rectify this situation. Their approach is systematic, rigorous, and (encouragingly) effective. They work from the ground up in countries around the world, going through the intricate steps of working through the local criminal justice system so that they can examine every step that is corrupt. Then they put pressure on the local institutions to implement change. Many times, they do it in a way so that the local system takes the credit for this work, using it as a positive motivator after they have built a reputation for having integrity.
What this truly means is that the discrimination against those that live below the poverty line is an issue that needs to be dealt with, and we have a model that appears to be working. The issues that the marginalized are facing can be fixed, but support mechanisms need to be in place because the resources and human capital necessary to implement the mechanisms are not easily available.
Yet there is tangible hope; Consider that within the last century, New York City was home to a criminal justice system that many in the city did not trust. Change can occur, and now that we know how to make it happen we can protect others from having to wait to achieve the security they need. This will break the cycle of violence and ultimately break the cycle of poverty. This is our generation’s mission, and I commend IJM and Victor Boutros for their efforts in this regard.
What should the model look like from injustice to justice?
What does the current justice system look like in many developing countries?