Toespraak minister Kaag bij Task Force on Justice conferentie

Toespraak van minister Kaag (Buitenlandse Handel en Ontwikkelingssamenwerking). Zij sprak op de Task Force on Justice conferentie, bij Access to Justice in Den Haag op 7 februari 2019. Deze toespraak is alleen beschikbaar in het Engels.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to co-chair the Justice Task Force together with Sierra Leone, Argentina and The Elders. Thank you for being part of this important day. And thanks to our partner, the Secretariat of the Task Force on Justice, for working with us to organise this meeting. Welcome to The Hague, the international capital of peace and justice.

As research has shown, access to justice is a central part of our quest for stability, as well as sustainable and inclusive growth. Grievances related to exclusion, including those related to justice or  security, are direct drivers of conflict, as argued in the ground breaking United Nations and World Bank report published last year, Pathways to Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict. And while suffering from conflict, no society can prosper, let alone protect the rights of its people.

That’s why it’s so crucial that peace, justice and inclusion are  part of the SDG agenda. The SDG agenda is an agenda of prevention. The realisation of SDG 16 forms a pathway to peace.  For the Netherlands, SDG16 is fundamental, and is closely connected to our national policy and expertise. As you know accountability, justice and the advancement of human rights are cornerstones of our international engagement.  

But all too often, ordinary individuals lack access to venues for resolving judicial problems. Around 1,5 billion people worldwide have unresolved legal problems, two billion people are working in the informal sector without the protection of the law and 2.7 billion women live in countries that impose legal restrictions on women’s employment. Around 250 million people have no access to justice at all, because they live in countries in conflict, are stateless or live in conditions of bonded labour.

What’s more, these hard-to-reach people often live in hard-to-reach places. But not only there, as cities also expand and metropoles emerge.

The challenge is considerable.

Access to justice is a right and a precondition for legitimate stability and development.  It allows people to participate in society and the economy to reach their potential.

The absence of access to justice affects many countries, not just those in conflict. It destroys the lives of ordinary people.

But the good news is that we live in an age of opportunity. We have more tools for finding solutions than ever before. These include big data, research findings, innovation and technology, new skills in mediation, new forms of finance, and the list goes on.

In order to achieve SDG16 we need to be willing to question our basic assumptions about the justice system and how it is to function.

In the past, all too often our interventions centred on buildings, courses for the judiciary and workshops of the capacity building. Instead, we need to put people at the centre of our efforts. It’s not availability that makes the difference but the accessibility of justice.

Data holds the key to understanding the justice needs of ordinary people and identifying their legal needs. For instance, the World Justice Project has gathered detailed data on legal needs and public access to civil justice in over 100 countries, the first such comparative study of its kind. Data can highlight the specifics that need to be addressed. Surveys conducted in 13 countries by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law show that women experience significantly more legal problems related to domestic violence, obtaining child support and accusations of adultery.

It’s also important to know what is practically possible in terms of access to reliable justice based on people’s expectations. And on what people need, given the circumstances of the moment. In the aftermath of conflict or massive human rights violations, for example, it might be necessary to take a different or innovative approach temporarily in order to achieve justice and restore public trust in a country’s legal system.

What else do we need? We need innovation. Because innovations make justice more accessible.

Transitional justice mechanisms can be an important part of redefining the social contract and preventing further human rights violations.

The use of technology offers new opportunities for accessible justice. Such as online platforms to provide the public with easy access to legal information and assistance. And technology offers new opportunities for innovative financing.

We also need to solve problems at the front end of the process by embracing prevention, including mediation, and resolving conflicts before judicial proceedings are necessary, and of course continue to strengthen traditional mechanisms

We need to open up the justice sector. There should be different service providers for different needs. It isn’t necessary for the state to be the only provider of justice services. Let other actors in! I see an important role for civil society in many countries. And for the private sector as well.

There should be ways of involving people in the immediate environment, those closest to the disputing parties. Formal legal proceedings aren’t always the answer.

Today, justice systems are often formal and institutionalised. But surveys of very diverse settings indicate that most of the problems people face occur very close to home: issues with family members, their neighbours, their landlord, the local authorities or their employer. Even when people are affected by crime, the offenders tend to be people they know.

Legal empowerment programmes are particularly helpful in this regard too. Justice for everyone, by everyone.

And it’s essential to monitor the quality and functioning of processes. To check whether the rule of law is respected in practice. It is also important to ensure legal systems are transparent and accountable in terms of delivering outcomes.

Access to justice is a precondition for other goals, like access to healthcare, education and equality for women. As I’ve said: we live in an age of opportunity. But it’s up to us to turn opportunity into action. To actually build more peaceful and inclusive societies. To make sure we reach our goal by 2030.

Access to justice is already an important part of Dutch development policy. We even set quantitative targets for our efforts in this field. I’m pleased to announce that the Netherlands has doubled that target for the coming year.

What we hope to achieve through this conference is inspiration,  partnerships and strategies to expand and strengthen support for access to justice.  After all, this is the year of the the High Level Political Forum and the SDG summit  We need countries, civil society and private sector to commit to makingaccess to justice for all a reality.   Ideally this conference will result in a group of frontrunners that will seek to make this happen.

Over lunch, I will report back on the discussion of the Ministerial Roundtable that is about to start.  I will share with you a declaration highlighting a vision of access to justice which can form the basis of our action going forward.

So join us in finding ways to strengthen this agenda. Help us take a fresh look at the possibilities and develop new measures that will allow us to deliver better access to justice for everyone. And by everyone. Because, as Martin Luther King once said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’

Thank you.