Access to Justice
Access to justice is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable peace and development cannot be achieved without justice. Within SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), states commit to provide access to justice for all, recognizing it as a key indicator of peaceful and inclusive societies. But access to justice is also instrumental in supporting inclusion and combatting discriminative practices, in achieving access to basic services, including healthcare and education, clean water and energy.
To guarantee that every individual has meaningful access to justice, mechanisms and systems need to be available for fair resolution of disputes, redress for human rights violations and accountability for wrongdoings. People need to be aware of their rights, empowered to claim them and be free to make their own choices along the process. UNDP’s Global Programme on Rule of Law and Human Rights supports governments, civil society organizations and communities in their efforts to provide meaningful access to justice for all, especially for the most vulnerable groups.
UNDP-UNHCR Partnership: enhancing human rights of displaced populations and refugees
As a follow up to the pledges made during the Global Forum for Refugees, UNDP is committed to strengthening its partnership with UNHCR on the rule of law and local governance to advance durable solutions and address situations of protracted and recurrent displacement.
The specific objectives are to provide rule of law institutions with the adequate tools and knowledge to work across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and to improve access of refugees, displaced populations and host communities to justice, safety and security, and human rights protection systems, including access to mobile services, legal assistance, alternative dispute resolution, community policing and national human rights institutions.
While existing joint collaborations have continued in at least 15 contexts, A Rule of Law and Local Governance UNHCR-UNDP Programmatic Framework and standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been developed to advance the partnership. Within this framework, UNDP is liaising closely to identify contexts where the partnership could be leveraged through the provision of financial and technical support. These efforts have led to the development of an intervention in Mozambique, Cabo Delgado – to be rolled out in 2021 with the support of the Global Programme – to enhance protection of human rights of the displaced people.
Other initiatives to bolster joint work include the development of a Rapid Diagnostic Toolkit on Local Governance, Rule of Law and Forced Displacement to support the identification of priority areas for local programmatic interventions and advocacy, as well as a study designed to capture lessons learnt and best practices of joint programming in the spheres of the rule of law and local governance.
Access to justice in times of the COVID-19 pandemic
Promoting meaningful access to justice (A2J) is a key objective of the Global Programme on Rule of Law and Human Rights. In line with the SDG 16 and the commitment of Leaving No One Behind, UNDP has continued to improve access to justice worldwide, especially for the most vulnerable.
In 2020, the key focus was responding to the justice and human rights crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the lockdown measures severely limited the continuity of justice services, justice needs were on the rise due a surge of domestic and sexual violence; multiple issues deriving from the loss of income; unequal access to healthcare and sanitation; and closed borders affecting the rights of refugees and migrants. Emergency measures undertaken by states heavily impacted the ability of people to exercise human rights, including the right to a fair trial. The situation in prisons became and remains critical, with inmates and staff particularly at risk of virus transmission.
The justice systems and actors were unprepared for this unprecedent situation. UNDP, in partnership with UNODC and other UN entities, developed a guidance note for practitioners in these challenging times and supported national partners in addressing emergencies and mitigating negative effects of COVID-19 through tailored interventions.
UNDP’s main focus was to raise legal awareness and provide legal aid services to the most in need, including victims of domestic and gender-based violence and migrants. For example, in Kyrgyzstan, legal aid hotlines were set up to provide assistance to persons in border areas; and in Lebanon, the Bar Association delivered free legal aid services to survivors of gender-based violence and migrant workers. In Montenegro and Uzbekistan, UNDP supported the development of mobile applications to assist victims of domestic violence. In Serbia, UNDP supported public prosecutors to process cases of domestic violence. In Fiji, the civil society organization Empower Pacific was enabled to open counselling helplines for COVID-19-related emergencies. In Moldova, the introduction of new functionalities for online submission of legal aid requests and the use of electronic signature in the solicitation process, supported by UNDP, allowed 82% of legal aid requests to be received online.
UNDP also supported national partner institutions in addressing the COVID-19 crises, such as in Yemen, where UNDP supported awareness raising initiatives as well as the delivery of personal protective equipment to prisons and detention centers. In Brazil, UNDP supported the National Justice Council in developing guidelines to reduce the risk of transmission while respecting the rights of detainees. The seriousness of the situation also created opportunities to advance or speed up reforms. Thus, in Bangladesh, UNDP supported the development of the virtual court application “MyCourt”, contributing to reducing the government’s operational cost, standardized implementation, and ensured service delivery. In The Gambia, UNDP supported the establishment of virtual courts through reviewing their legislative framework and assessing the ICT needs for their operationalization. In Pakistan, UNDP is working with the Peshawar High Court to establish 14 virtual courts to ensure civil and criminal cases’ timely resolution. In Trinidad and Tobago, virtual courts were introduced at the Tobago Police Service, aiming to avoid prisoners’ physical transportation to the court.