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Legal Power to the People

NEW DELHI – Inspired by Anna Hazare’s hunger strike, thousands of people gathered at Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi to protest governmental corruption. Protesters here and around the country pressed for a specific political change – a new institution to combat corruption– and, in principle, they won. Parliament passed a resolution accepting their demands and is now drafting a bill accordingly.

But the demonstrations were also motivated by a larger aspiration, one that is more difficult to achieve: that the day-to-day workings of government become more accountable, more tied to the citizens whom government is meant to serve.

Two of the great international movements since World War II have arrived at exactly this challenge. The human rights movement has led nearly all countries to endorse human rights norms, at least in name. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International can therefore use documentation and public advocacy to shame governments for egregious violations.

But shaming alone cannot address every breach of basic rights: a juvenile is wrongfully detained, a factory poisons a river. There must be a consistent system by which citizens can protect their rights in daily life.