Organisation Internationale de Droit du Développement

High-level Debate on “Equal Access to Justice for all: Advancing reforms for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies”

Statement by International Development Law Organization (IDLO)

High-level Debate on “Equal Access to Justice for all: Advancing reforms for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies”
15 June 2023
United Nations, Headquarters, New York

Mr President, Excellencies,

As the only international organization exclusively devoted to the rule of law and access to justice for peace and sustainable development, IDLO greatly appreciates this opportunity to share some of its observations and lessons learned from its three decades of experience in almost a hundred countries.

Access to justice is a key component of SDG16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Ensuring that all are able to seek justice, including through formal and informal justice systems, is vital to increasing trust in institutions, strengthening the social contract, promoting human rights and resolving disputes that could descend into violence.

IDLO’s work on access to justice is guided by the understanding that people around the world use diverse pathways to seek redress for wrongs and resolve their disputes. We empower justice seekers and emphasize that justice systems must be built around a better understanding of people’s needs and their human rights. This people-centred approach to justice prioritizes reforms and innovations that lead to greater access and inclusion and produce fairer and more satisfactory outcomes for the rights-holder.

I would like to make three observations, in this regard:

First, access to justice requires working from the top-down to improve the effectiveness and accountability of justice institutions and making them more accessible and responsive to justice seekers’ needs. In Kenya for example, IDLO has supported the judiciary in the establishment of small claims courts that offer individuals and small businesses, simpler, faster and cheaper means of resolving minor disputes. With almost 17,000 cases resolved, over a one-year period these small claims courts are increasing access to economic justice, reducing case backlogs and promoting economic development in Kenya.

Second, legal empowerment is key to achieving SDG16 and delivering equal access to justice for all. This entails a bottom-up approach that supports justice seekers to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to engage with laws and institutions, including those that have difficulty accessing formal judicial mechanisms. Customary and informal justice systems in this respect, often have greater perceived legitimacy and are more accessible to rural and marginalized communities. In Somalia, for example, IDLO has worked with alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to ensure that the traditional Xeer system works for all justice seekers through the capacity building of justice providers.

Third, women and girls face specific barriers in accessing justice. Systems and processes should therefore cater to their specific challenges and needs. One such example is the multitude of obstacles that survivors of gender-based violence face. IDLO through its evidenced-based research has identified several recommended actions to increase survivors’ access to justice and close their justice gap. This includes reforming legislation; increasing essential services for survivors, including legal aid; community-based prevention and economic empowerment programmes; and training justice providers that specialize in the investigation and prosecution of gender-based violence.

Let me conclude by saying that people-centered access to justice is key to addressing the intersecting crises we currently face and that have greatly impeded the 2030 Agenda, which is one of the main conclusions of the recent SDG 16 Conference, organized by IDLO, UNDESA and the ministry of foreign affairs of Italy. From Afghanistan to Ukraine, IDLO for its part will continue to empower people to reform laws and strengthen institutions to promote peace, justice, inclusion and sustainable development.