“There are silver threads which the international community has woven into a tapestry known as the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” remarked IDLO’s Director-General Irene Khan at the opening of IDLO’s 2018 Partnership Forum. “At the heart of this tapestry is access to justice and the rule of law.”
Held annually on the occasion of the organization’s Assembly of Parties, IDLO’s highest decision-making governance body, the Partnership Forum took place from November 20 – 21 in Rome to inspire and stimulate dialogue between key actors around the obstacles and opportunities for the rule of law.
This year, leading policymakers, national justice actors, academics and international development practitioners convened to discuss how Goal 16 – which seeks to promote peace, justice and strong institutions – serves as a catalyst for achieving the entirety of the 2030 Agenda but also for sustaining peace in turbulent times.
Goal 16 in turbulent times
The Forum was convened at a moment when the rule of law is under unprecedented strain, and multilateralism and respect for human rights have come under threat. Growing inequality, climate change, conflict, migration and social exclusion are provoking the erosion of confidence in the justice sector and institutions.
IDLO has long championed the rule of law as an outcome and enabler of sustainable development, and its experience has shown that the Goal 16 is a critical driver of for the achievement of all other sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Calling the 2030 Agenda “the most ambitious sustainable development agenda to date” and anticipating the upcoming review of SDG progress in 2019, Ambassador Inga King the President of the UN Economic and Social Council and the 2019 High-Level Political Forum reaffirmed this notion stating, “There is no peace without development and no development without peace.”
Against this backdrop, the Forum facilitated timely and relevant discussions on how Goal 16 plays a catalyst role through the pillars of public trust in institutions, economic development and closing the justice gap for women.
At the heart of this tapestry is access to justice and the rule of law. - IDLO Director-General Irene Khan
Building institutions and advancing sustainable economic development
Discussants agreed that public trust in institutions is waning in many contexts around the world due to corruption, lack of transparency and moves that advance the interests of the powerful.
While grassroots movements have ignited the voice of civil society to advocate for the most vulnerable and marginalized, Jean Marie Guéhenno, Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, reaffirmed the critical importance of strong institutions to anchor these waves of change: “Things move with individuals, but the staying power is with institutions.”
With contributions from UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, the session also examined different approaches to strengthen judicial independence and build public confidence in institutions by increasing interaction with the people they aim to serve.
“The key component [of independence] is not the rights of judges and lawyers – it’s the rights of society to have access to the justice system to solve cases independently with neutrality,” Sayan stated. “Independence of judges and lawyers does not refer to their privilege, but to the rights of society.”
The tension between the poor and the powerful also surfaced during discussions about economic empowerment. While millions have been lifted out of poverty, economic gains have been concentrated in the hands of a few.
Disruptive changes to traditional economies have posed threats to citizens, but innovative solutions through strong legal frameworks can promote social inclusion and opportunity. Marie-Anne Birken, General Counsel of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, commented: “Technology is a disrupter, and where there’s a disruption we need the rule of law.”
“Things move with individuals, but the staying power is with institutions.” - Jean Marie Guéhenno, Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations
Access to justice for women, for all
In the context of the 2030 Agenda and global access to justice needs, justice for women and girls remains priority area for many development practitioners, and closing the justice “gap” for women is essential to achieving Goal 16 and also Goal 5 on gender equality.
Forum discussions focused on a range of gender justice issues from domestic and sexual and gender-based violence to gender parity in parliament and women’s professional participation in the justice sector. Examples presented from Afghanistan, Mongolia, Kenya and other national contexts illustrated that women and girls continue to face significant structural barriers when accessing justice. Even when there are laws in place, women often experience gaps in education or lack of access to information that prevent them from pursuing redress.
Participants urged for laws to be translated into practice, and that progress should be accelerated through meaningful investment in justice for women. “Poor women are often left behind, and their justice needs are not heard,” commented Ambassador Molokomme, Member of the Task Force on Justice and Permanent Representative of Botswana to the UN in Geneva. “We need to begin to walk the talk.”
Continuing the conversation around access to justice, Gerald Abila, founder of Barefoot Law, an organization that has piloted approaches using technology to provide free legal information to justice seekers in Uganda. “What does access to justice mean in an age of innovation?” he asked as he spoke about the leveraging power of technology and big data to reach the disempowered and disenfranchised.
While cautioning the risks of delving into innovative solutions to access to justice, Abila urged, “Disempowerment starts because people don’t have access to knowledge about the laws and their rights. By providing [this], we can help them. Without it, we have disaster and turbulent times.”
Dignity at the heart of the rule of law
A collective focus emerged during the Forum: at the heart of the rule of law lies the mission to advance dignity for all. “We know how human beings hunger for food, how we all thirst when parched. But it is just as true that we all long for justice,” voiced Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“IDLO’s work is a pathfinder,” she continued, echoing the enduring relevance of IDLO’s mission as it marks its 30th anniversary in 2018 as an intergovernmental organization.
The outcome of the Forum’s dialogues will feed into the global Task Force on Justice deliberations and the United Nations High-Level Political Forum in July 2019, where IDLO and other key actors will continue to advocate for accelerated progress and stronger commitments to the 2030 Agenda, especially SDG 16.
“The rule of law is in the heart of every human being,” remarked Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moavero Milanesi, adding a call to action in turbulent times: “Invest in justice and invest in peace.”
The spirit of this shared mission was captured by Gerald Abilia in concluding remarks: “The ultimate law is humanity, and we shouldn’t forget that.”