In achieving common goals for people and planet, UNDP relies on and supports the ability of state institutions to uphold the rule of law, guarantee inclusion and equal access to human rights. In 2020, institutions around the globe faced unprecedented challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated systemic drawbacks. In many places, violence, corruption, and gaps in human rights protection disrupted access to justice and security services, and undermined institutions tasked with upholding the rule of law. UNDP was determined to provide timely and tailored support, ensuring protection and remedy for the most vulnerable, and managed to sustain its holistic approach to support the mid- and long-term implementation of justice and functioning security services even in times of emergency.
Support to institutions for sustainable reforms
Well-functioning and transparent government institutions are vital foundations to allow for a healthy rule of law system. In 2020, UNDP provided support to justice and security institutions in more than 40 contexts throughout the world, both to support the governments in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to strengthen the capacity of institutions implementing long- and mid-term reforms.
In the context of the pandemic, digitalization proved to be one of the most effective ways to increase the level of accessibility and quality of justice services, allowing to significantly speed up legal proceedings, reduce legal costs, and enhance data management. Therefore, UNDP actively supported the modernization and digitalization of judiciaries, contributing to the increase of the overall transparency and accountability of justice institutions. This support enabled the development of the national e-justice system for civil courts in Uzbekistan; the enhanced case management and tracking system for the courts of all levels in Indonesia, Sierra-Leone, and the State of Palestine; the establishment of electronic case management and e-filing system in Fiji courts, and the e-data exchange between courts and other institutions in Montenegro.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and the imposition of related restrictions further accelerated the demand for remotely accessible justice services. As a matter of urgency, many states shifted their court systems to online mode, often lacking sufficient training and resources. Throughout 2020, UNDP assisted governments to establish virtual courts. This not only enabled many to access justice in lockdown circumstances, but led to decongesting of prisons and the use of alternatives to detention, in line with human rights standards.
Given the important role of the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in monitoring and addressing the pandemic’s human rights impact, UNDP helped the institutions ensure their continuous functioning. For example, in Moldova, UNDP supported the Ombudsperson’s Office in setting up a system of protection of the whistle-blowers reporting on the irregularities in the health system in the COVID-19 context. In Armenia, UNDP supported the Human Rights Defender’s Office to develop a chatbot, known as a “legal consultant for detained individuals,” which enabled interaction with the online users on the legal regulations on criminal procedures and provision of information and guidance on the National Preventive Mechanism.
While the global health emergency did have an impact on the reform progress, UNDP managed to sustain its operations to strengthen the capacity of justice and security institutions even and especially in the times of the crisis. In Liberia, UNDP’s support to legislative reforms enabled the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary to decongest prisons and courts’ dockets. In South Sudan, three interrelated reforms – the constitution-making process, transitional justice, and judicial reforms – were initiated with UNDP’s technical support. In Nepal, law-making support was provided to sub-national governments, with nearly 25 bills drafted with the help of UNDP’s technical expertise. Finally, in Kazakhstan, following a comprehensive analysis of the workload of all the courts in the country over the past six years, UNDP’s expert team made recommendations on how to increase the overall efficiency of the court system by changing the allocation of judges and merging certain courts to ensure better access to justice for all in the country.