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Law & Order: Poverty alleviation unit

Gary Haugen
Gary Haugen

(New York) – Movement inside of the Sheraton Hotel, location of the Clinton Global Initiative meeting, came to a standstill as President Obama exited the building.

Press and meeting attendees left at once, flooding the lobby of the hotel. A swarm formed in front of the elevators as people tried to predict which door would open first and ensure that they would board to head upward.

I made it up to the fifth floor when the elevator behind me arrived at the lobby. After being cleared by the Clinton Foundation volunteer gatekeepers, wearing white shirts and adorned in CGI branded scarves or ties, I was escorted to one of the conference rooms.

Gary Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM), jumped up to greet me as I apologized for my tardiness. He offered his forgiveness with a flash of his gap-toothed smile. A former Department of Justice lawyer, Haugen wears his grey hair in a flat-top style that taunts gravity’s pull.

He led the UN investigation following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The research and his human rights work led to the founding of the International Justice Mission (IJM) in 1997. He discovered that violence is one of the core problems related to poverty.

“The thing you notice is this massive level of violence against the poor in the developing world and the way it undermines their development and opportunity to get out of poverty,” he explains.

Haugen used his legal know-how to develop an organization that combats problems like trafficking, land seizures and police abuse by supporting legal systems. The reason for the violence experienced by the poor is due to a lack of law enforcement, says Haugen. Countries have laws that protect women and children against abuse, but are meaningless if they are not enforced.

“Our experience is that the average poor person lives in a state of lawlessness,” he says in an articulate, slow California drawl.

People know about the problem of violence and the lack of law and order, but little is actually done. A parallel system of protection exists for the wealthy and powerful in developing countries. Haugen says this is evidence of the fact that the state-led system is not working and that the impetus for actual reform is overridden by bypassing the problems altogether.

global-burden-of-violenceKenya, recent site of the terror attack on a popular mall, is an example where people turn to private security firms. Homes in more affluent parts of town feature gated entrances and personal, sometime armed, security guards. The protection that does not work is what is left for the poor who are equally abandoned by the justice system. That is why, says Haugen, that alternative justice mechanisms are sought. Thieves caught by community members are beaten by a mob as punishment rather than turned over to the police.

He argues that the court system in Kenya, and India too, is the same one that the British created during colonialism. The laws have changed over the years, but the law enforcement system remains the same.

“It’s a policing system that was never set up to fight crime against the common person. The colonial police made sure that the common person did not overthrow the regime,” he says.

By not addressing the underlying violence, development progress and programs aimed at improving areas like girls education are at risk. The high-profile assassination attempt on Pakistani girl education advocate Malala Yousafzai galvanized international support for girls education. For Haugen, the girls need to be able to travel safely to the classroom if they are to reap the benefits of that education.

“If you value education then you want to make sure your being realistic about what is keeping people from getting that education,” he says. “Violence is a tremendous factor. What people have trouble coming up with is what we are going to do about it.”

The problem is recognized in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the DR Congo. The United States has invested heavily in supporting the training and deployment of Afghan police. Haugen sees this investment as evidence that the US recognizes that security central to ensuring that advances are not lost. However that work has struggled. Green on blue crimes, when an Afghan soldier kills the American soldier training him, claimed the lives of 64 international coalition forces in 2012.

Haugen is in part promoting his book that comes out in February, The Locust Effect, but he is careful to say that he does not necessarily have the answers. He makes the case that it is largely a problem of the state, but one that takes investment. Times Square, he points out, was not such a great place to visit only a few decades ago. It thrives today in part because of security.

He is buoyed by historical gains in other parts of the world. It is in part based on a working theory that police force are divided by 15% who are in it to exploit power, 70% in the middle and another 15% who want to serve and protect a country’s citizens. He believes that widespread police corruption exists when the bad 15% gain control and the middle 70% fall into place. Rooting out corruption and holding people accountable to their actions can swing the pendulum the other way, he says.

“We need to do a lot more experimentation,” he says. We need to have a lot more investment in this work, because its undermining the other investments we are making.”

He hopes that by sounding the alarm to the problem of violence, the investments and pledges made at the Clinton Global Initiative can reach their full potential.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]