Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic we were living in a state of profound fragility and inequality.
Around the world, the social contract between people and governments was fraying as frustrations with corruption, inequality and inaction on pressing concerns undermined trust in public institutions. An estimated 1.5 billion people were unable to resolve their justice problems, and 4.5 billion people excluded from equitably accessing opportunities that they are entitled to under the law.
A growing number of countries were moving away from the principles of multilateralism and solidarity. Open societies came under increasing pressure as civic space was diminished, human rights were curtailed or ignored, and the rule of law undermined.
The pandemic is aggravating these trends dramatically, fueling instability and conflict, reinforcing inequalities, and undermining trust in governance.
Poverty is expected to rise for the first time in over 20 years, with up to 150 million people pushed into extreme poverty by 2021. COVID-19 is exacerbating existing fault lines in societies and generating grievances that if not addressed could lead to greater fragility, instability, and violence. 2020 was the fifth year in a row in which more countries declined than improved in overall rule of law performance.
Those already living at the margins of society, in conditions of inequality, insecurity and injustice, have been the hardest hit.
The impact on women and girls has been particularly severe, threatening to roll back decades of hard-won gains on gender equality. Rising intimate partner violence, growing human rights violations of women workers, and discriminatory laws pose significant and ongoing risks to women’s lives and livelihoods.
At times like the present, when the ability to access services and the fair distribution of public resources can make a difference between life and death, justice institutions must be available to protect the rights of the least powerful among us.
It is therefore particularly concerning that restrictions on movement and assembly have limited access to courts and tribunals, threatening to widen the justice gap.
Collectively, these developments represent a profound challenge to humanity’s shared aspirations for a better future expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals.
At the same time, the crisis also represents a unique opportunity for achieving the transformative vision of the 2030 Agenda.
By disrupting life as we know it, by accelerating the pace of technological change and by shining a merciless light on our shared fragility, COVID-19 has decisively shattered the status quo. We now face fundamental choices as individuals, as societies, and collectively as one human family, about the kind of future we want to build.
In many ways, the pandemic is a wake-up call.
It has revealed, in the clearest terms possible, that unless we act to tackle the insecurity, inequality, and injustice that are at the core of this fragility, our societies will continue to be vulnerable to shocks and crises, and our common future insecure.
The 2030 Agenda – especially SDG 16, with its emphasis on the rule of law and access to justice – is central to a more peaceful, just and inclusive recovery.
Justice systems can help tackle inequalities by constraining the arbitrary and unfair exercise of power and ensuring everyone is able to enjoy their human rights, including persons in marginalized or vulnerable situations. They are also essential for upholding democratic principles, and challenging the discriminatory laws, policies, social norms and stereotypes that hold people back from realizing their development potential.
Rule of law can play a key role in sustaining peace by helping to address the root causes of conflict and insecurity, which often lie in issues such as discrimination and marginalization, lack of respect for human rights, unequal distribution of public goods and services, corruption, impunity, and lack of accountability.
Effective laws and institutions can promote inclusive economic recovery, strengthen preparedness for future crises, and help us transition to a greener and more climate-resilient development model.
IDLO’s Policy Brief on Rule of Law and COVID-19 identifies eight priority actions that collectively set out such a Roadmap for a Rule of Law-Based Recovery:
1. Foster participation, involve and empower people in decision-making processes
2. Ensure that emergency restrictions are anchored in the rule of law
3. Promote fair laws and policies for recovery
4. Invest in justice services and expand legal aid
5. Foster equitable justice innovation
6. Engage with alternative dispute resolution and customary and informal justice in line with international standards
7. Enhance justice for women and girls
8. Promote a renewed spirit of multilateralism in alignment with the SDGs