In June 2019, the Rule of Law Collaborative partnered with the Secretariat of the g7+ (a voluntary alliance of 20 countries that are engaged in or recently emerged from conflict) to host an international conference on Access to Justice for All in Conflict-Affected Countries. The ministers of justice or attorneys general from most g7+ member states were in attendance, including those from Afghanistan, Liberia, South Sudan, Timor Leste and Yemen. The two-day conference, held in The Hague, Netherlands, provided the first forum for g7+ ministers of justice to share country-specific progress and goals toward achieving improved access to justice.
With more than five billion people worldwide estimated to live outside the protection
of the law, the challenge of ensuring justice for all is one of the world’s most pressing
needs. Across the globe, efforts to provide access to justice are slow to take shape
and often face funding challenges as other priorities take precedence for governments.
The challenge is particularly acute in countries currently experiencing or recently
emerging from conflict.
“The member states of the g7+ are among the most fragile in the world and often have been or are at the center of instability regionally and globally,” notes ROLC Director and Professor of Law Joel Samuels. “Providing help to these states on fundamental issues of access to justice will provide concrete benefit both in those countries and around the world. We must not wait any longer to tackle the basic questions that drive citizens to lose faith in their governments and hope for their own lives.”
“Providing help to these states on fundamental issues of access to justice will provide concrete benefit both in those countries and around the world. We must not wait any longer to tackle the basic questions that drive citizens to lose faith in their governments and hope for their own lives.”
- Joel Samuels, ROLC Director and Professor of Law
Highlighting the importance of the event, the Honorable Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, provided opening remarks, noting: “We say that justice is blind, but we cannot be blind to the challenges of ensuring adequate access to justice in conflict-riven countries, nor to the moral imperative of protecting the rights of vulnerable civilians in times of war.”
Although it is unusual for a university to play such an important role on the international stage, ROLC developed the concept and organized all aspects of the event. “The Rule of Law Collaborative has become a recognized thought leader on developing and advancing solutions to complex rule of law challenges,” explains Priscilla Schwartz, Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone, who chaired the meeting. “Indeed, the Government of Sierra Leone sees the Collaborative as an important partner not only in its own work at home but in achieving an agenda that captures the attention of countries around the world facing similar problems.”
The meeting outcome – a Declaration and Joint Action Plan on Access to Justice for All in Conflict-Affected Countries – is a symbol of unity as well as a significant international commitment to ensuring access to justice in g7+ member states. It recognizes the role of access to justice as a fundamental pillar for sustainable peace, stability, and development, and outlines g7+ member state commitments to take concrete steps toward achieving more inclusive and people-centered justice. It also recognizes that conflict-affected countries are best positioned to learn from one another and collectively advocate for development policies for their countries. The document was presented at the United Nations High Level Political Form in July.
This agreement is not only an historic landmark for the member states, but it also represents a significant international achievement for ROLC. Anthony Triolo, ROLC Senior External Relations Officer, led all aspects of the program, providing the vision and leadership in developing the meeting agenda, concept notes, and drafts of outcome documents while assembling the ministers, civil society actors, development partners and international donors.
Triolo, who worked for several international criminal tribunals affiliated with the United Nations before joining UofSC, saw the forum as an opportunity for g7+ member states to meaningfully address Sustainable Development Goal 16, which focuses on access to justice: “The [conference] provided a concrete step in the process of operationalizing Goal 16. The commitments made by all the g7+ countries provide us with an ambitious road map, and ROLC is excited to work with members states to actualize the commitments made in The Hague.”
ROLC is now working with the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and other donors to secure funding to implement components of the conference Action Plan. “Recognizing that the transition phase for many of these countries is fraught with danger, ROLC is focusing on realistic, short and medium-term goals. Attention is also being paid to fragile political realities in the g7+ regions. This means that the starting point is not the replication of Western-style justice systems, but something more locally appropriate given the political, historical, and economic conditions,” explains Triolo.
Using pre-conference surveys developed by ROLC and conference commitments as a starting point, ROLC is working with g7+ member states to develop strategies that will elevate people and their practical legal needs to the center of justice system goals. The ultimate objective is for Member States to address their unique justice problems and improve the quality of their justice journeys, especially for women, youth, and marginalized groups.
“ROLC has been a pioneer in the development of concepts where access to justice is not a reaction-oriented activity, but rather a forward-looking, prevention-oriented process,” points out Samuels. “In this way, conflict-affected countries can reduce violent disputes, prevent human rights atrocities, and ultimately create a more just society.”
View the Declaration, Access to Justice Ministerial Meeting information and photos of the event.