The importance of safety, security and justice

Priorities for citizens

A number of studies, notably the World Bank’s Voices of the Poor report (a survey of poor people in 23 low and middle-income countries conducted over a period of years; Narayan et al., 2000), show that safety, security and justice are major concerns for citizens. Safety and security represent many things, including a stable income, consistent housing, clothing, and food supplies as part of the predictability of daily life, protection from crime, and psychological security.

There is a sense among poor people that insecurity and instability affect them more than the well off, whether through crime and violence, conflict, or through unresponsive, corrupt and abusive security actors such as the police. Poor people live in insecure areas, have the most insecure assets and rights, have fewer resources to protect themselves, and suffer the most from crime (Narayan et al., 2000; Ismail & Hendrickson, 2009). The recent A Million Voices report, on findings from the post-2015 development agenda consultation process, highlights security and justice as key elements missing from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (UNDG, 2013).

Women, men, girls and boys often have different safety, security and justice perceptions, experiences and needs that require targeted responses. For example, insecurity and injustice contribute to gender-based discrimination and social exclusion as a result of women’s inadequate property rights, unequal access to assets, and discriminatory social norms and power structures (Narayan et al., 2000; DFID, 2007).

Contributions to development outcomes

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that shortfalls in safety, security and justice contribute to both poverty and underdevelopment (Ismail and Hendrickson, 2009). Conversely, the presence of safety, security and justice can contribute to development outcomes including virtuous cycles of security and development, ‘with high levels of security leading to development and development further promoting security’ (Stewart, 2004, pp. 278-279). However, while evidence suggests that safety, security and justice are associated with development, establishing direct causality is complex (Cox, 2008; Roseveare, 2013).

Safety, security and justice are seen as moral rights and intrinsic to development (OECD-DAC, 2007a; AusAID, 2012). Amartya Sen’s theory of ‘development as freedom’ includes protective security, political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, and transparency guarantees as elements of freedom, each of which contribute to individual and collective agency (Roseveare, 2013). Reviews of the impacts of access to justice or legal empowerment programmes make a strong case that insecurity and injustice are part of poverty, increasing the vulnerability of communities and reinforcing local power structures (Cox, 2008). Stewart (2004, p.266) notes that insecurity has an impact on human well-being through ‘entitlement failures’: conflict impacts upon individual or household command over resources, and extreme human suffering results when this falls below what is needed for subsistence.

The prevention of violent conflict and post-conflict reconstruction: Twenty-two of the 34 countries furthest from attaining the MDGs are in or emerging from conflict, which suggests that conflict and instability are barriers to development (DFID, 2010a). The World Development Report 2011 highlights that strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to provide security, justice, and jobs is crucial in breaking cycles of violence (WB, 2011). Econometric evidence on violence and development suggests that ‘the correlations between insecurity and underdevelopment are much stronger than correlations between peace and development’ (Denney, 2013, p. 3) and ‘goods’ perceived as entrenching peace, such as good governance, accountability and strong state-society relations, ‘are not linked to stronger development outcomes in the same way that the absence of violence is’ (p. 4).

Effective and accountable states: Accountability in safety, security and justice provision is related to protection from human rights abuses, the ability for citizens to seek redress and hold providers accountable, and to the responsiveness and accessibility of provision itself (OECD-DAC, 2007a). Security and justice institutions can be abused by elites protecting their vested interests and preventing transparent and accountable governance. Security and justice institutions that are democratically controlled, alongside an independent judiciary that can check the power of the legislature and executive, including security institutions, contributes to establishing the rule of law. The equitable provision of safety, security and justice to all citizens is important for legitimacy and effectiveness (DFID, 2007). It helps build the confidence needed to overcome societal mistrust in violence-affected countries. Creating trust and providing services in local communities contributes to ‘virtuous cycles’ of institutional transformation and national developmental progress (WB, 2011).

Economic growth and private sector development: Much of the research on the relationship between security and justice and development has been on the economic costs of crime and violence (Cox, 2008; Denney, 2013). According to Cox, the literature robustly explains the causal links between crime and development, demonstrating how crime diverts financial, physical, social and human capital from households and businesses.

Violent conflict contributes to insecurity and can affect economic growth. In a review of the 25 countries most affected by conflict from 1960 to 1995, Stewart (2004, p.264) finds that insecurity, represented by the presence of conflict, affects economic behaviour by:

  • Reducing economic growth, with conflict-affected economies growing 1-2 per cent slower on average than peacetime economies.
  • Lowering exports, resulting from falls in production and a shift towards domestic markets.
  • Lowering consumption per head.
  • Increasing the share of government expenditure to the military and lowering the share of social expenditure.

Violent conflict can also destroy infrastructure and assets, undermine investment and can contribute to unemployment. It increases the costs of doing business, reducing the incentives for international or local investment in physical or human capital (DFID, 2007; Garrasi et al., 2009).

Econometric studies suggest that causal links between justice and economic growth are bi-directional, complex and poorly understood – economic growth may drive the development of justice systems rather than the other way around (Cox, 2008). Roseavare (2013) finds that studies of the relationship between the rule of law and economic growth demonstrate a positive correlation, but links between the protection of property rights and investment and growth are contested: some studies claim that property rights incentivise investment and productivity, whilst others suggest that a link depends on the type of property and the available markets for land, credit and other outputs.

Service delivery: A lack of safety, security and justice impedes the provision of, or people’s access to, other services such as education, health, water, sanitation and electricity (OECD-DAC, 2007a).

Donor countries’ national interests

Donor countries’ national security and other foreign policy interests affect the provision of security and justice assistance. For example, the European Union’s engagement in addressing regional conflicts, state failure and transnational crime is motivated by self-defence (EU, 2003). The UK Government’s Building Stability Overseas strategy stresses the importance of peaceful development, stability and security across the globe for the UK’s prosperity and national security (HMG, 2011a, p. 2). Conflict and instability, unaccountable and ineffective governments, human rights violations, and poor socio-economic development in other countries can affect the UK’s security through the spread of refugee flows, terrorist activity, and organised crime (HMG, 2011a). Furthermore, it is in the UK’s national interest to support and advance British values, which include the rule of law, free speech, tolerance and human rights (HMG, 2010).

      • AusAID. (2012). Building on Local Strengths: Evaluation of Australian Law and Justice Assistance. Canberra: Australian Agency for International Development.
        See document online
      • Cox, M. (2008). Security and Justice: Measuring the development returns. London: Agulhas.
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      • Denney, L. (2013). Consulting the evidence: How conflict and violence can best be included in the post-2015 development agenda. London: ODI.
        See document online
      • DFID. (2007). Explanatory Note of Security and Access to Justice for the Poor. DFID Briefing April 2007. London: DFID.
      • DFID. (2010a). Building Peaceful States and Societies: A DFID Practice Paper. London: DFID.
        See document online
      • EU. (2003). European Security Strategy: A Secure Europe in a Better World. Brussels: European Union.
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      • HMG. (2010). A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy. London: UK Government. See document online
      • HMG. (2011a). Building Stability Overseas Strategy. London: UK Government.
        See document online
      • Garrasi, D., Kuttner, S., & Egil Wam.P. (2009). The Security Sector and Poverty Reduction Strategies. Conflict, Crime and Violence Issue Note, June 2009. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
        See document online
      • Ismail, O. & Hendrickson, D. (2009). What is the case for a security and justice focus in development programming? An assessment of the existing literature and evidence. Birmingham: Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform, University of Birmingham.
        See document online
      • Narayan, D., Chambers, R., Shah, M.K. & Petesch, P. (2000). Voices of the Poor: Crying Out for Change. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
        See document online
      • OECD-DAC. (2007a). Enhancing the Delivery of Justice and Security. Paris: OECD.
        See document online
      • Roseveare, C. (2013). Rule of law and international development. London: DFID.
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      • Stewart, F. (2004). Development and security. Conflict, Security and Development, 4(3), 261-288.
        See document online
      • UNDG. (2013). A Million Voices: The World We Want. New York: United Nations Development Group.
        See document online
      • WB. (2011). World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
        See document online
      • Econometric studies on the impact of law and justice on economic performance are based on country case studies on the impact of legal uncertainty on businesses, and on cross-country data sets testing the relationship between legal institutions’ performance and national GDP.