Justice for Peace: Closing the Global Justice Gap to Prevent Conflict and Instability

29. Mai 2019   ·   ​Maaike de Langen

Over 5.1 billion people worldwide do not have meaningful access to justice. Preventive approaches in justice strategies are an effective way to tackle this global justice gap. Germany should invest in justice data and innovation as well as smarter justice financing. Successful examples should be showcased at the UN’s High-level Political Forum in July.

Two-thirds of the world’s population, over 5.1 billion people do not have meaningful access to justice. This global justice gap, presented in the report “Justice for All” of the Task Force on Justice, is a far cry from the goal of providing equal access to justice for all by 2030 (SDG16).

From justice for the few to justice for all

The global justice gap encompasses three categories of people, who lack meaningful access to justice in some way. Globally 1.5 billion people have justice problems they cannot resolve. A total of 4.5 billion people is effectively excluded, because they do not have the papers they need to enforce their rights. A further 253 million people live in situations of extreme injustice, because they are caught in modern slavery, are stateless or live in countries where they face the highest risks of violence. Around the world, women, children and marginalized groups find it hardest to access justice.

The reality is that current justice systems only provide justice for the few, while we need systems that provide justice for all. This requires a transformation to people-centered justice systems that focus on resolving people’s justice problems on the one hand and strengthen the preventative role of justice on the other.

Solving justice problems starts with a better understanding of the justice problems people face and a structured investment in creating better justice journeys. The report by the Task Force on Justice gives examples of what works, including investing in legal empowerment and providing legal aid to those excluded, simplification of processes and tailoring services to specific needs. Fair outcomes require the respect for human rights and the offer of the right remedy.

Resolving people’s justice problems is urgent, according to Dr. Priscilla Schwartz, Task Force co-chair and Sierra Leone’s first female Attorney General and Minister of Justice: “Injustice feeds further injustice. It creates conditions for populist and extremist movements to prosper. Formal legal institutions are important, but they are too slow and too expensive to slake the thirst for justice felt by countries such as my own that have young and growing populations.”

Preventive approaches to justice strategies are more cost-effective

The Justice for All report recalls an old fable that asks “why, when people keep falling off a dangerous cliff, we spend money not to put up a fence along the cliff edge but to station an ambulance in the valley. The world’s justice systems traditionally play the role of ambulance. The police react to reports of crime. Lawyers wait for clients to seek their assistance – who are often in distress by the time they turn to them. Courts pass judgement on the cases that appear before them.”

Preventive approaches in justice strategies are often more cost-effective. They are also indispensable given the scale of the justice gap. There is simply no way that current systems can address all unresolved problems through a business-as-usual approach. By analyzing patterns in the cases that appear before them, justice providers can identify structural and systemic factors that underpin them and address the root causes of injustice.

The Task Force asks countries to go a step further in adopting a positive approach, and envisages justice systems that promote fairness, peace, social cohesion, and prosperity. Justice systems and institutions can increase the resilience of societies, help tackle exclusion and deliver positive change. The most important thing, perhaps, is to develop the ability of justice systems and actors to effectively respond to grievances while de-escalating underlying tensions and conflicts. This is a core function of the justice system. Yet here, systems often fall short.

A background paper on “Justice as Prevention” prepared for the Task Force by New York University’s Center on International Cooperation analyzes innovations in justice systems across the world. It identifies approaches that focus on de-escalating disputes, preventing criminal, organized and interpersonal violence, promoting inclusion and advancing human rights.

Finding the paths to deliver SDG16+

The Task Force on Justice is an initiative of the Pathfinders for peaceful, just and inclusive societies. The Pathfinders are a group of countries and organizations working together on the basis of a shared vision for how SDG16+ can be delivered. In addition to the work on justice for all, the Pathfinders are also setting up workstreams to address the grand challenge on inequality and exclusion and to halve global violence.

The strength of the Pathfinders is the fact that UN Member States are driving the progress on the 2030 Agenda. With its report, the Task Force has developed an agenda for action that will help deliver the goals and targets that promise justice for all. Argentina, the Netherlands and Sierra Leone have led the development of this agenda and are now driving its implementation.

  • Minister Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands hosted a meeting in February of over 20 ministers of justice and rallied them around a people-centered approach to justice, as set out in the Hague declaration.
  • Minister Germán Garavano of Argentina invited his Latin American colleagues to Buenos Aires to share national experiences and endorsed these same principles.
  • In June, a first ever meeting of the Ministers of Justice of the g7+ countries will be held under the leadership of Minister Priscilla Schwartz of Sierra Leone, to be hosted in the Netherlands.

Germany as a new Pathfinder: Help to push for people-centered justice

Germany has recently joined the Pathfinders and is starting to shape its contribution. The German government can help drive the change to people-centered justice. Domestically the Ministry of Justice and other justice sector leaders can support and invest in people-centered justice, in justice data and innovation and in smarter justice financing. In collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, examples of approaches that work can be showcased at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in July, where SDG16 will be reviewed for the first time since its adoption. At the HLPF, Germany can also join other Pathfinders countries in making a joint statement on SDG16+. 

On Justice as Prevention specifically, Germany can provide financial as well as political support to those countries that make justice a central component of their country’s national development plan. As the Task Force report makes clear, low-income countries, including the g7+ countries, will need to mobilize external resources, if they are to make the investments required. Germany can take an active role in the June meeting of the Ministers of Justice of the g7+ countries. Lastly, the German government can promote a focus on people-centered justice systems in the World Bank Group’s new Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence. These actions to support stronger and smarter investments in justice would be valuable contributions from Germany as a new Pathfinder for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies.

Vereinte Nationen Rechtsstaatsförderung

​Maaike de Langen

Maaike de Langen is the head of research for the Pathfinders’ Task Force on Justice at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. Twitter: @MaaikedeLangen