5.1bn people lack meaningful access to justice

Updated April 30, 2019

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As many as 5.1 billion people around the globe — two-thirds of the world’s population — lack meaningful access to justice, a global report reveals. — Reuters/File
As many as 5.1 billion people around the globe — two-thirds of the world’s population — lack meaningful access to justice, a global report reveals. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: As many as 5.1 billion people around the globe — two-thirds of the world’s population — lack meaningful access to justice, a global report reveals.

According to a communication received here, the report by the Task Force on Justice was released at the World Justice Forum in The Hague on Monday.

Pointing to a hidden epidemic of injustice that affects all countries but hits the poorest hardest, the report finds that justice systems fail to resolve problems for 5.1bn people.

Whether they are victims of violence, seeking a divorce, facing harassment at work, dealing with debt or in need of a business permit, people have nowhere to turn. They are deterred by cost and complicated procedures, a lack of trust that they will be treated fairly, or a lack of justice services that are able to meet their needs.

The Task Force on Justice is chaired by ministers from Argentina, the Netherlands, and Sierra Leone, and by the Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights.

According to a global report, this discrepancy is stopping countries from reaching their economic and social potential

An initiative of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies — a global partnership hosted by New York University’s Centre on International Cooperation — it works to accelerate delivery of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and their commitment to provide justice for all by 2030.

It brings together a distinguished group of justice leaders and experts from civil society, governments and the private sector, providing knowledge and experience that can increase justice around the globe.

The report says at least 253 million people live in extreme conditions of injustice — they are modern slaves, are stateless, or their countries or communities are engulfed in conflict, violence, and lawlessness. It says 4.5bn people are excluded from the opportunities the law provides — they lack legal identity or other documentation related to employment, family, or property, and are therefore unable to access economic opportunities and public services, or the protection of the law.

“The justice gap is both a reflection of structural inequalities and disparities in power, and a contributor to these inequalities,” says Hina Jilani, a pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner who is an Elder and a co-chair of the Task Force. “The burden of injustice falls all too heavily on women, children and other vulnerable groups who face the hardest struggle to access the justice system and exercise their rights.”

Pointing to the huge cost of failure to provide justice, the report mentions that people with unresolved justice problems face a deterioration of their health and financial situation. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that countries lose between 0.5 and three per cent of their GDP due to the costs of seeking justice, lost income, and stress-related illnesses and other health problems.

At a global level, conflict costs the world around $2,000 per person each year, while countries may lose up to a fifth of their GDP when levels of non-conflict violence are very high.

“Lack of justice is stopping countries from reaching their economic and social potential,” says Priscilla Schwartz, LL.D, 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,” she says.

“Access to justice is a responsibility of the state. And it needs many different players and actors to render justice truly effectively. People and justice need to go hand in hand,” says Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation, the Netherlands and co-chair of the Task Force on Justice. “Society benefits if its citizens have a better understanding of the law and know how justice is served.”

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019