ABA International Law Section 2021 keynote heralds inequities in rule of law


WASHINGTON DC – Delivering her keynote address, for the 2021 American Bar Association (ABA) International Law Section Annual Meeting, Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and World Bank Group (WBG) General Counsel, Vice President for Compliance spoke on ‘the rule of law as an important aspect of ending poverty and bridging inequity gaps in society.’ The annual meeting, themed “America’s and Beyond, Navigating Legal Changes and Challenges” held virtually on April 14.

Sandie Okoro, a British lawyer, is the first black woman to be appointed Senior Vice-President and General Counsel at the World Bank Group. Previously, she served as General Counsel, Barings Asset Management, and Head of legal, Schroders Investment Management International, before taking up duty as the Principal Advisor and Spokesperson on all legal matters for the world’s leading development finance institution.

“To be invited as the keynote speaker is a true honour because there are so many women like me around the world who don’t have a voice. And using your voice to forward rule of law, access to justice, gender equality is so very important. I really take these opportunities to speak enormously seriously, and with passion and privilege,” her opening comments emphasized.

The keynote speaker clarified the primary roles and functions of the World Bank, as it differs greatly from that of a traditional bank. Set up after the second world war, the World Bank is focused on building stability and shared prosperity of its member countries and serves as a ‘knowledge bank’ where resources for capacity building in the facet areas of growth and development are readily available.

Speaking in line with the World Bank’s mission to end poverty and boost shared prosperity, Sandie Okoro stressed that “the rule of law is key to achieving these prime goals…these two areas are important because for prosperity to really be shared, and for poverty to be truly eradicated, we really must address effectively inequalities in all its forms.” With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating inequalities globally, poverty has moved from being a linear nature, i.e the absence of income, to being a multidimensional concept that includes justice and the rule of law as important aspects.

“Injustice can lead to poverty” she summarized.

The keynote speaker also centred the issues of SDG-5 (Gender equality and women’s empowerment) and SDG-16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) in her address, citing that inclusion is critical for the World Bank’s development interventions and that justice is a necessary tool to increase inclusion. “There are an estimated 1.5 billion people who face legal issues they cannot resolve. We also estimate that another 4.5 billion are excluded from the protections that the law provides, especially vulnerable persons such as the poor, women, displaced, migrant and minorities,” she noted. The intersectionality in this statistic which makes exclusion even double is such that, “if you’re a poor woman who is displaced, a migrant, and a minority, you really are in trouble.”

Her dissent was on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, taking a holistic approach to the SDGs and the importance of accountability and effective justice institutions in paving the way for strong, scalable development solutions.

The annual meeting is the central point of the Section year and serves as the central meeting point for worldwide audiences to hear leaders in international law. Speakers including former Legal Advisers to the United States, a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a former Prime Minister of Canada, and a General Counsel for the World Bank were lined up to speak at the event. “Panels of leading experts will address cutting edge issues and emerging conditions that drive cross border work, including, deals and the risks presented in our current environment, litigation, technology, trade, national security, human rights and the rule of law – all with a focus on the Americas” a statement from the organizers read.

The group also recognized Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice of the U.S Supreme Court with the ‘World Order Under Law Award,’ on Day 1. The award was given for his substantial contribution to the ABA’s goal to “Advance the Rule of Law in the World.”

#ABAISLAnnual is sponsored in part by BakerHostetler for “Rebuilding America’s Leadership in Rule of Law at Home and Abroad: A Conversation of Former Legal Advisers of the U.S State Department,” and will stretch over a 2-day period to end on April 16th.


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