Open Letter on “Sustainability in Development”

By: João Marinotti

To the members, advisors, partners, and alumni of the
Law and International Development Society:

Over the years, LIDS has evolved from a student group at Harvard Law School into an interdisciplinary collaborative organization combining the strengths, resources, and passions of various graduate programs in the Greater Boston metropolitan area. This collaboration has led to the formation of a thriving community of individuals who are excited about the intersection of law, policy, and development. The dedication and generosity of our community has made it possible for LIDS to: (1) further the global conversation around sustainable development by hosting a yearly Symposium, in which renowned speakers reflect on critical topics in development; (2) aid development efforts through our research projects and pro bono work with leading law firms; and (3) train the next generation of development practitioners, academics, and global leaders through our alumni network, our access to internship and career opportunities, and our career development trips to New York and Washington, DC.

Building upon this legacy is a tremendous task, but one that LIDS is eager to undertake. We hope to empower our members to embrace their passions and seek out ways to make a difference in the world. We also aim to empower our organization to grow into an even more dynamic and effective institution in the world of development law and policy. To accomplish these goals, LIDS, as the Law and International Development Society, requires a robust, unified, and explicit definition of international development. This definition should and will continue to change overtime as LIDS’ conceptualization of international development evolves. The use of such a definition will allow us to allocate our financial and intellectual resources effectively in light of our growth in recent years.

For the 2019–2020 school year, LIDS has adopted the following proposal: International development is the process through which we will end poverty, protect our planet, and ensure that everyone can live in peace and prosperity. The tripartite goals within this definition resemble the goals listed by the UNDP in its analysis of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This similarity is not accidental. International development must account for the sustainability of social, environmental, and economic systems if development solutions seek lasting results.

What, then, is the exact relationship between sustainability, including the SDGs, and international development? According to Pedro Conceição, Director of UNDP’s HDR Office, the SDGs provide a destination in the form of 17 attainable global goals while development, on the other hand, provides the tools to get there. LIDS should adopt this approach to development and use the UN’s SDGs to define our ultimate law and policy “destinations” while focusing on the development means through which we will reach them.

We look forward to working with our members, partners, and mentors to continue building upon the traditions and legacy of LIDS. We hope that the adoption this definition of international development, will empower LIDS to promote further intellectual, practical, and interdisciplinary discussions across Harvard and beyond.

About the blogger: João Marinotti is Co-President of the Law and International Development Society.

Follow Harvard Law and International Development Society on Facebook and Twitter (@HarvardLIDS).


Lex Rex vs. Rex Lex: A Hungarian Parable

By: Peter Vincze

For many of us who live far from our native lands, no day passes by without us thinking of the place we left behind. I tend not to palaver about Hungary or the challenges the country has been facing for nearly a decade. However, my approach changed forever on September 12, when the EU Parliament invoked Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union against Hungary for its contemptuous disregard of democratic norms and the rule of law. Such solemn measure could potentially lead to stripping Hungary of certain rights within the bloc including voting. Following this poignant event, I strongly attest it is the onus of every patriot to wave a warning flag and do whatever one can to halt further harm to our frangible democracy. Citing a revered poet: “On your feet, Magyar, the homeland calls! The time is here, now or never!”[1]

Following my undergraduate studies, I was eager to broaden my perspective and learn the practicalities of international relations, the focus of my academic endeavors, by enrolling in a Master’s program abroad. However, I left Hungary with the conviction that one day I would return with wisdom and prowess to serve the country that has given me so much. During those few years I studied outside Hungary, tectonic shifts occurred not only in the Middle East, the region I chose to specialize in, but also back in my homeland that altered my career aspirations once and for all.

As the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, Hungary encountered another type of maelstrom. The country was severely hit during the 2008 financial crisis resulting in an abysmal economic contraction of 6.4 percent. Subsequently, the Hungarian Socialist Party, the largest center-left force in Hungary’s political gamut, experienced its worst defeat in the history of the country’s Third Republic during the 2010 parliamentary elections, whilst nationalism and the extreme right-wing Jobbik party gained momentum. Hungarians breathed a sigh of relief when, in lieu of Jobbik, the then moderately conservative Fidesz led by Viktor Orbán seized power. Little did we know at that point that the country was headed down a darker path.

Mr. Orbán, buttressed by an unprecedented two-third majority in parliament, took no respite to reshape Hungary on his and his party’s whim, which led to the meteoric decimation of democratic checks and balances and defilement of the rule of law. According to the Worldwide Governance Indicators, a joint World Bank Group and Natural Resource Governance Institute endeavor, Hungary’s rule of law index plummeted by approximately 10 percent between 2012 and 2017.[2] Findings of the World Justice Project’s (WJP) Rule of Law Index showcase a similar trend between 2017-2018 and 2012-2013. Consequently, according to WJP, Hungary now ranks lowest among high-income countries vis-à-vis the status of the rule of law. [3] Among the eight dimensions measured in WJP’s Index, Hungary shows alarming tendencies with regards to constraints on government powers, open government, regulatory enforcement, and civil justice.[4] Such findings alas come as no surprise.

Since Fidesz’s ascendancy to power, Hungary has experienced disquieting developments regarding the expansion of executive puissance, crippling of democratic checks and balances, political intrusion into disparate branches of the government, and suppression of the press and civil society as well as their subordination to the executive branch. Moreover, fast-tracked legislative solutions have circumvented democratic processes, and curtailed stakeholder participation and parliamentary and public deliberations, thereby debilitating governmental transparency and citizen empowerment.

Furthermore, regulations have been ineffectively or unfairly enacted or enforced. Hungary’s new constitution, for instance, was ratified with major lacunae on issues crucial to safeguarding the rule of law following a nine-day parliamentary debate. These legal gaps were purposefully filled with the so-called cardinal laws that require two-third parliamentarian majority to be adopted or amended. With such enactments, the Fidesz Government made it unattainable for any simple parliamentary majority to transmute any of the provisions encapsulated in these statutes. As the government passed these cardinal laws to regulate the key dimensions of a democratic society, such as freedom of the press, electoral legislations, and minority rights, Fidesz ascertained that the party’s values are cemented into the society for years if not for decades to come.

Finally, Hungary’s civil justice system has become crippled by protracted delays in the resolution of court cases, stymies in enforcing court adjudications, political interference with judicial appointments and decision-making, discriminatory practices targeting marginalized groups, and the paucity of accessibility, probity, and efficacy vis-à-vis alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The mandate of Hungary’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, has been significantly encumbered by the newly-adopted constitution as well as ensuing amendments. An expansion of Constitutional Court membership from 11 to 15 judges has rendered an idiosyncratic opportunity for Fidesz to appoint four new justices to the high court, thereby tilting its neutrality for years to come.

I like to believe, the rule of law is the sine qua non of progress and development. The prevalence of the rule of law forfends, mitigates, and disincentivizes conflict, malfeasance, and violence. At the same time, it creates societal inclusion, fortifies public accountability, ascertains a just allocation of resources, safeguards public goods, and reduces corruption, inter alia. Conversely, once the rudimentary tenet of “lex rex” is assailed or infringed, social cohesion suffers, leading to grave abuses by certain interest groups that are not representative of the will of the majority.

Hungary has historically been prone to such political hijacking, and recent experiences point to a similar tendency: Approximately fifteen years in the twentieth century were ruled by democratically elected leaders. Who however thought recidivism would occur following strenuous efforts by the political leadership in the 1990s to lay the bricks of a democracy that successfully functioned for over a score of years? The Global Financial Crisis is unequivocally one of the culprits that paved the way in a frail democracy for one strongman at the helm of a coterie to “come, see, and conquer.” To avert such hijacking, we need a mature democracy grounded in a robust rule of law. What Hungary needs is the herculean effort to foster a rule of law, and this effort ought to come directly from its political elite.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Orbán, the opposite however seems to be materializing. Unassailable by political opponents, Mr. Orbán seemingly believes “rex lex.” The unfortunate part is that Mr. Orbán used to be a vanguard of democracy and his, and his comrades’ efforts, through the establishment of Fidesz, significantly contributed to the fall of communism and Hungary’s transition to market economy. As one of the champions of nascent democratizing movements in Eastern Europe, he was even awarded a scholarship to pursue education in the UK, thanks to one of the loudest democratizing voices back then: Mr. George Soros. Mr. Orbán has apparently chosen to diverge from some of the lessons he learned about democracy earlier in his lifetime, something that became clear even during his first premiership in the late 1990s. Since the inception of his second premiership, this trend has just regressed. The liberal opposition has entirely been asphyxiated, critics have been silenced, freedom of speech has been curbed, and Mr. Soros has been declared one of the foremost personae non gratae of Hungary. Now, after Fidesz’ third consecutive election victory and the disintegration of the mere remaining considerable opposition force, Jobbik, the sole question remains: Hungary, quo vadis? While “lex rex” is in absentia, the answer cannot rest in the hands of one person. Those of us who care for Hungary must stand up to defend its democracy and future.

[1] Excerpt from the National Song [Nemzeti Dal] composed by Sándor Petőfi in 1848 prior to the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution against the Habsburg Empire. Translated by László Kőrössy in 2004. Available at: [Accessed 16 October 2018].

[2] Kaufmann, D., Kraay, A., and Mastruzzi, M. (2010) The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2018].

[3] The World Justice Project (2012–2013). Rule of Law Index 2012–2013. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2018].

The World Justice Project (2018). Rule of Law Index 2017–2018. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2018].

[4] The World Justice Project (2018). Rule of Law Index 2017–2018. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2018].

About the blogger: Peter Vincze is a consultant on legal topics at the World Bank.  He aims to pursue further academic training in international development law.

Follow Harvard Law and International Development Society on Facebook and Twitter (@HarvardLIDS).

A Journey to the Hotbed of the European Migrant Crisis

By: Peter Vincze

To open the gates, or not to open the gates of their countries, that is the question. The pseudo-Hamletian query seems to resonate very well with the dilemma European policymakers face in light of the European migrant crisis.[1] Recently I have had the chance to observe the situation on the ground and how the crisis has taken a toll on the migrant population, nation states, NGOs, and other stakeholders. As co-organizer of the Harvard Humanitarian and Policy Advocacy Trip, I have travelled to Athens and the Greek island of Lesvos – the infamous locale seven kilometers away from the Anatolian shores where tens of thousands of migrants have been crossing over to the European Union since the inception of the crisis in 2015. It should not come as a surprise that the trip was arresting, yet the situation on the ground is grievous, to say the least.

As carnage exacerbated in Syria and ISIS seized new territories in the Middle East and North Africa, hundreds of thousands of migrants boarded rubber boats and other rudimentary forms of naval transportation to reach the Mediterranean shores. Greece, in the midst of its sovereign debt crisis, was inevitably caught off guard by the massive influx of migrants. Its understandable unpreparedness coupled with economic and social hardship, political instability, rise of the extreme right, and mounting security concerns created a crucible for migrants, Greeks, and all other entangled parties.

Notwithstanding the quandary, Greek authorities initially responded positively to the aforementioned Hamletian question: Both government and opposition assented that humanitarian considerations abrogate all other facets in the crisis. Reception centers and refugee camps were set up nation-wide. Multifarious bureaus at the helm of migrant matters were integrated into a single, newly-established Ministry of Migration Policy. Various legislative alterations were implemented to ameliorate migrant protection and align Greek statutes with European standards.  Clemency towards squatters was exercised. Despite all propitious measures and widespread Greek benevolence, it became apparent early on that the Greek Government could not unilaterally cope with the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis.

The humanitarian disaster in Greece precipitated UNHCR to intervene and declare emergency inside the European Union, whilst the EU deployed its own humanitarian response division, the Civil Protection Mechanism, inside the continent for the first time. Government and IGO efforts were augmented by an unprecedented number of international volunteers as well as a plethora of international and local NGOs. Regrettably, goodwill and eagerness to assist has led to a situation, I would characterize, if I may, by the hoary statement: Too many cooks spoil the stew.  Obscurity around stakeholders on the ground, their responsibilities and prowess, as well as dearth of coordination among them have been debilitating operational efficacy. Disconnect between local and international NGOs has further aggravated the crisis. On the one hand, international NGOs, with well-grounded experience and established funding channels, frequently struggle with bureaucratic hurdles, distrust, and detachment from the situation on the ground.  Smaller NGOs, on the other hand, tend to successfully secure trust among migrants and possess a rather people-centric, hands-on modus operandi. They are nonetheless prone to funding constraints and, occasionally, that of expertise.

Gargantuan levels of humanitarian aid influx have not been vulnerary either.  Pundits have denominated the situation “the most expensive humanitarian response in history” with over $800 million allocated since 2015. Accordingly, circa $14,000 per migrant could have been allotted to cover associated expenses. Mismanagement of funds has however led to an estimate by ECHO, the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, that up to $70 had been wasted out of every $100 spent.[2].

Amidst these challenges, the objective of our trip was to ameliorate the sojourn of migrants in Lesvos and potentially in other similar settings by ideating on sustainable solutions. In order to do so, we kicked off our trip with consultations with the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy, Asylum Services, Coast Guard, and Police as well as foreign dignitaries representing major stakeholders in the crisis to fathom constraints policy-makers encounter and perspectives stakeholders maintain. Subsequently, we journeyed to Lesvos to attain first-hand experiences and insights from denizens of three migrant settlements (Moria, Olive Grove, and Kara Tepe) that would facilitate our ideation process. Listening to a handful of gruesome anecdotes, our prognosis was pellucid: the cardinal challenge migrants face as they penetrate the European Union’s borders is the paucity of access to legal resources. Lack of access to legal resources debilitates migrants’ ability to learn and understand the asylum process; hence, their eventual attainment of asylum status in the European Union.

Disheartened by the plight in their home countries and bilked by smugglers, migrants embark on a treacherous journey in hopes of a better and safer life without the rudimentary understanding of the perils along the journey or the consequences of illegal border crossing. They cross over the Aegean Sea to enter the European Union on rubber or other rickety boats, if not swim across, just to be apprehended by the Hellenic Coast Guard or the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), at the helm of monitoring the EU’s external borders. Placing humanitarian considerations aside, migrants’ act is deemed illegal, as they enter a sovereign entity in violation of its immigration laws, at unofficial entry points, often times without appropriate travel documents.

Migrants entering the EU illegally are subsequently apprehended and taken into custody in immigrant detention centers like the notorious Moria camp in Lesvos, where they must await registration and an asylum interview. The asylum interview that may take weeks to be conducted endeavors to shed light on the rationale why the migrant seeks asylum status and why s/he cannot return to her/his home country. Vulnerability plays a pivotal role in the asylum process, as vulnerable cases may be expedited and such consideration may impact migrants’ living conditions as they go through the process. Vulnerable characterization is deemed to be as crucial as, in certain extreme instances, one would even engage in self-mutilation to attain such status.

Following the evaluation of the asylum request that may also take weeks if not months, upon repudiation, migrants may resort to an even more bureaucratic appeals process. Whilst success is a rarity in such instances, migrants can easily be mired in the islands for years without any determination whether they can proceed to the mainland or be deported to Turkey. The oft-praised EU-Turkey Deal of 20 March 2016 is the culprit here. The accord has not merely culminated in an abrupt stop in the massive influx of migrants to Greece but has also resulted in thousands of migrants indeterminately stranded on the Greek islands, as it stymies migrants’ further movement until their asylum applications are gauged.

While awaiting the next steps, “urban” legends and canards have been metastasizing amongst the uninformed and occasionally illiterate masses. Access to accurate and up-to-date information is paramount to foster understanding and eliminate pertinent negative externalities. Obtaining and communicating such information is nonetheless exacting for a multitude of reasons. First, it is onerous, even for pundits, to construe relevant statues owing to intricacies stemming from the autonomy of Greek regulations and that of the acquis communautaire as well as the fluidity of information.  The velocity by which information changes is drastic:  while statues are relatively immutable, procedures and practices that often fill in legal lacunae and explicate particularities could, in extreme cases, even be altered overnight. Second, there is a scarcity of legal resources i.e. lawyers and legal aid organizations, especially the ones who are able and willing to practice law in such contexts in Greece. Third, dissemination of information faces challenges due to technological as well as linguistic and cultural barriers.

Stakeholders have not been lax in stepping up their efforts in light of the atrocious situation on the ground.  The Greek Asylum Services and Ministry of Migration Policy, in collaboration with UNHCR and other IGOs, have assembled disparate websites, brochures, and other written and electronic resources for asylum-seekers. Local and international NGOs, regardless of their limited resources and constraints in operating under a foreign jurisdiction, have been coordinating with volunteer lawyers to provide pro bono legal services and translators to break down language barriers. Existing resources however are inadequate. It is evident from our sojourn that innovative approaches are needed to ascertain access to legal aid, thereby facilitating migrants’ journeys while at the same time alleviating peripatetic pressures on host countries.

Going forward, all eyes will be on the Greek Government to take action and find a much-needed remedy, as international agencies as well as local NGOs are increasingly receding from the situation.  It merely begs the question whether a government still embroiled in one of the greatest economic malaises of our time will have the much-needed resolve and resources to meet expectations and fill lacunae. There is so much at stake. As one politician has sagaciously advised on the situation: “[e]very person who comes is a human being and has the right to be treated as such.” Now, whether Greece and other European countries will see migrants as human beings, especially those in dire need, will shape the future of Greece and the European Union in the years and decades to come.

[1] For the purposes of this article, the term “migrant crisis” and “migrant” will consistently be utilized. The used terminology does not intend to differentiate between individuals who are forced to vacate their homes and those who voluntarily leave their countries in hopes of better living conditions abroad. The term “migrant,” in this context, simply refers to people who have moved or are in the process of moving from one sovereign to another.

[2] The Guardian (2017).  Where did the money go? How Greece fumbled the refugee crisis.  [online]  Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2018].


About the blogger: Peter Vincze is a consultant on corporate governance-related topics at the World Bank.  He aims to pursue further academic training in international development law.

Follow Harvard Law and International Development Society on Facebook and Twitter (@HarvardLIDS).