The COVID-19 pandemic has interfered in all spheres of life and affected every household in the world. Responding to this global challenge required taking unprecedented risks and bold experimentation. Promotion and implementation of innovative justice solutions, including digital case management systems, mobile courts and apps for access to services, was rooted in UNDP operations long before the pandemic. In 2020, more than ever, governments and communities became receptive to digital solutions designed to uphold the rule of law and ensure uninterrupted access to justice for all, especially for the most vulnerable. In multiple contexts, even where innovations had been long resisted, states and civil society created space for UNDP’s support in operationalizing virtual court hearings, launching mobile applications for violence survivors or for individuals seeking legal aid, and developing online platforms for information exchange between the contexts. In parallel, UNDP ensured a rapid response to mitigate new risks for privacy and data protection triggered by digitalization, especially in authoritarian settings where lockdown measures were often used to strengthen the state control over its citizens and limit the rights.

Innovation, Business and Human Rights

UNDP has supported the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights since 2016 when a regional programme was launched with a focus on Asia and the Pacific. In 2020, this initiative became global scaling up its operations in four more regions.

In close partnership with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, UNDP a) supported governments in devising policies for Responsible Business based on the UNGPs (National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (NAPs); b) advised corporations on how to assess and address human rights risks in their supply chains; c)  strengthened access to justice and access to adequate remedies for victims of business-related human rights abuses by working with NHRIs, judiciaries and civil society organizations (CSOs); d) built peace by working with states, companies, and CSOs to eliminate human rights abuses that are often the root causes of conflict and displacement. Five regional and fifteen UNDP country offices were engaged in dedicated business and human rights programming in 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and with the purpose of helping companies in managing the specific human rights risks connected to the health crisis, in March 2020 UNDP developed Human Rights Due Diligence and COVID-19: A Rapid Self-Assessment for Business. The checklist, indicating 54 risks and related actions to be taken, rapidly became very popular among companies in Asia, where it was first launched, and subsequently in the rest of the world. Other UN actors, business associations, multinational enterprises and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) approached UNDP to use and disseminate the toolkit which was subsequently translated into 11 languages and downloaded 7,800+ times from UNDP’s website only.

In 2020, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights asked UNDP to partner on a 12-month process to inform the development of a Road Map for the next decade of implementation of the UNGPs, which will be launched in June 2021. For this purpose, between March and December, UNDP engaged in: (i) the drafting of baseline studies on the status of the BHR discourse in Asia, Africa and Arab States; (ii) the organization of 4 regional consultations in 3 different continents, and (iii) the development of a corporate input to the public debate inclusive of 36 recommendations for the content of the Road Map.

In 2021, UNDP will continue to focus on the COVID-19 related impact of companies on human rights. It will also study the interlinks between business, human rights and conflict, and promote dialogues on the corporate responsibilities towards the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment.

Human Rights Due Diligence and Covid-19 cover

A woman with a child in one of Sri Lanka’s free trade zones. UNDP Business and Human Rights Asia and Women’s Centre raised concerns of women workers withemployers and state authorities over rights abuses during the pandemic ©️ UNDP Sri Lanka

Meeting of Innovations Council

A meeting of the Innovations Council of the police in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, in the Open Police Hub, a creative space opened with the support from UN Recovery & Peacebuilding Programme. ©️ UNDP Ukraine, Oleksii Kozlov.

Innovations for Justice and Data Protection

Along with many other ways to describe the year 2020, it was a year of digitalization. In partnership with governments, communities and civil society, UNDP introduced multiple digital tools for supporting justice and security institutions; established mobile and virtual courts; and designed apps for violence survivors, migrants and other vulnerable groups. In addition, UNDP provided technical expertise, information and computer equipment to courts, law enforcement bodies, prisons, National Human Rights Institutions, and education facilitates to enhance accessible online services and management systems of high quality.

While digitalization advantages are undeniable, it has also opened the floodgates for new risks. The quick shift of almost all public services to the online modality has raised serious concerns regarding privacy and data protection and has exposed the long-standing issue of a deep digital divide within societies. To minimize these potential dangers, UNDP supported Kenya’s government in finding a way to ensure digital inclusion for people working in all sectors of the economy. In Ukraine, by applying a human-centered approach, UNDP helped the Ministry of Digital Transformation analyze the digital exclusion of the elder population and is currently testing new methods to close the digital divide. UNDP also has been working with the Ukrainian government and private sector to ensure that the rapid digitalization being experienced also comes with personal data protection standards and has been raising public awareness on the issue.

2020 was also a year that allowed UNDP’s further experimentation with the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in the justice sector and beyond. For example, in Brazil, UNDP partnered with the National Council of Justice in developing an AI solution to analyze courts’ data and identify causes of gaps in the judicial process, thus contributing to improving efficiency and resource allocation within the country’s justice system. In Egypt, UNDP applied AI and chatbot technologies to develop COVID-19 automated testing service for hard-hearing and deaf people. Finally, in Tanzania, AI was used to understand the extent of COVID-19-related misinformation spread.

Moving forward, UNDP will continue to support governments in integrating e-justice technology and other innovations within their justice systems. It will entail support for assessing potential risks, developing regulatory frameworks, and capacity-building. An additional identified area of support will be facilitating e-justice connections to and between national systems, thereby contributing to the improvement of their interoperability. Furthermore, UNDP will continue to develop global guidance and knowledge products to contribute to the advanced learning and increased understanding about the overall process of digitalization of the judiciary, its potential risks, and benefits.