28 May 2016
Nobel Laureate and pioneer of microcredit, Professor Muhammad Yunus has been appointed to IDLO’s International Advisory Council. Following an event to mark his joining this select body of eminent thought leaders who provide high-level counsel to the organization, Professor Yunus spoke to IDLO.
IDLO - You won the Nobel Peace Prize ten years ago, would you say the world is a safer or more dangerous place a decade on?
YUNUS - In some areas it’s safer, in some more dangerous. For example, on the environment, now that we finally came to agree the Paris deal, that is the beginning of creating a safer world. We are very happy that step was taken and by universal consensus, the world was waiting for that. So this is very important.
In other areas, the world is becoming more dangerous because the wealth of the world is getting concentrated in only a few hands. Today 1% of the total population of the world owns 99% of the wealth of the entire world. The problem is increasing, concentration is not just staying at one level, it is getting worse. In the US election campaign, they were saying that 0.1 % of the US population own 90% of the wealth of the United States. That’s not a good thing to hear.
This is becoming a dangerous trend. We have to address it, otherwise it becomes a kind of ticking bomb. It ticks, you’re not paying attention to it, suddenly it explodes.
So we have to simultaneously do the same thing we did for the environment, mobilize world opinion and come to an agreement that we have to contain this trend of concentration, keep it how it is so it doesn’t get worse, then think how to reduce it so that more people can participate. The more wealth that is in the people’s hands, the more active the population becomes.
IDLO - You were recently appointed by the UN Secretary-General as an SDG champion. What do you think is the biggest challenge in implementing the SDGs and what can IDLO do to overcome this?
YUNUS - It is very important that we have a list of things to be done, this list that we created globally, these are the things we have to achieve. We have to bring poverty to an end, we have to bring hunger to an end, we have to create opportunities for young people, healthcare for all people and so on.
So this list is now very easy to refer to, governments can make decisions within the framework that we agreed globally, so it becomes easier for them and we can check whether we’re achieving them.
And there’s a timeframe by 2030. So year by year we can count, we can figure how far we have come time-wise, and how much accomplishment we have made, how far we have to go.
Awareness is the most important thing. Just making a list and putting it in the UN newspaper doesn’t end the whole thing. I have to, as a citizen of the world, be aware of what I have to do. So it should not just be heard in the political speeches of our leaders, it should be something that families will be talking about at the breakfast and dining table – what is happening, what can we do, how much do we have to do?
Everybody has a role to play. Citizen’s awareness is very important. I think it’s a very important aspect of the whole thing.
IDLO - As a non-lawyer, someone working outside of the justice sector, what do you think is the role of rule of law, and goal 16, in the achievement of the SDGs?
YUNUS – The rule of law gives me a framework, defines the space where I am, gives me my right where I stand.
How to ensure rule of law exists is not the interpretation of one person, it is the consensus of society on what we mean by the rule of law, a system that allows us to implement it and makes sure we feel safe with that rule of law.
That’s a very important aspect and IDLO can play an important role in that. IDLO talks about justice, ensuring justice.
What is justice, what does it mean to me, who ensures this, does justice go across the income levels or is it only justice for people at the top because they can buy justice?
Sometimes justice, the rule of law, can become a purchasable commodity, you have to buy this otherwise you don’t get it. In the legal system, you have to hire the lawyers, you have to go to the court, pay the fee, and then you get the justice. But if I don’t have anything, am I included in it?
If I’m not included, then that’s not rule of law, that’s not justice, because it’s something you have to buy.
We have to go to the fundamental issue – how to ensure justice for everyone, rich or poor, you should get as much justice as anyone else.
Just because you’re powerful, you get away without being subjected to justice. But because I’m at the lower end, all the wrong things come to me and I get pinpointed for things I haven’t done.
So that’s the kind of question we have to raise.
IDLO – You are joining IDLO’s International Advisory Council – what can you bring to it?
I’m very happy that I am included in the group and I will bring questions to the table, the questions I have kept raising in the past.
IDLO is an organization dedicated to ensuring justice to the whole world. So how do we ensure that? How does it work? How can rule of law be ensured?
IDLO – Why should the rule of law matter to ordinary people?
YUNUS – Rule of law is a fundamental right for every citizen. I feel safe, I don’t have to be subjected to unexpected violation, I know laws will protect me, I know the system will protect me, I have entitlement to this and I get it, I feel safe.
So for personal safety, for society’s sake, we need rule of law. And we need somebody, some organization like IDLO, to oversee that the system works.