Sam Muller, Mary Robinson, Minister Garavano, Hina Jilani and Sabrina Mahtani, discuss the importance of access to justice, in The Hague February 2019. (Credit: Netherlands MoFA)
Tuesday, 12 February, 2019

Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson launched The Elders' new access to justice programme at the Peace Palace in The Hague, at the culmination of a week of events on justice.


This year, 2019, is an important year for justice, as it’s the first time member States report to the United Nations on the progress they're making under the Sustainable Development Goals towards peace and justice, which is included as goal 16.

The Elders' launch was positioned alongside the final meeting of the ‘Task Force on Justice’, in which 200 justice experts from across the world came together to prepare a report on how people-centred justice must be prioritised as a central part of development. Ministers from 20 countries also gathered in the Peace Palace, at the invitation of the Dutch government, to affirm their commitment to advancing access to justice domestically. Read the declaration that was adopted at the ministerial meeting.

Mary Robinson explains why The Elders have started to work on Access to Justice. (Credit: Netherlands MoFA)

At the Elders’ launch, Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, introduced the new programme by explaining why the Elders are focusing on access to justice. In a time of rising populism and isolationism, the risks of injustice are all the greater, and despite States signing up to justice under the SDGs, all states are failing to provide equal access to all in their jurisdictions. In the last 10 years, the problem of lack of access to justice has worsened, threatening peace and stability. This is why The Elders believe that leaders must be held to their words. 

Mary Robinson went on to explain there needs to be greater and smarter investment in justice, legal systems must be reformed and modernised so they are responsive, innovative, and inclusive. The Elders will amplify grassroots voices calling for this, taking them to heads of State and other leaders, and seek to make a transformative change over these crucial next few years.

A panel discussion followed, that was moderated by the Director of HiiL, Sam Muller, which focuses on innovations in the delivery of justice services. For the discussion, Mary Robinson was joined by fellow Elder Hina Jilani, together with the Minister of Justice of Argentina, Germán Garavano, with Sabrina Mahtani, co-founder of local justice NGO AdvocAid in Sierra Leone and new Policy Advisor on Access to Justice for The Elders.

The panel discussed the nexus between human rights and access to justice, observing that often a focus on rights fails to focus on the need for access to a remedy and that this is, critically, where access to justice comes in.

Minister Garavano spoke about his Ministry’s pathbreaking work in Argentina setting up a network of 90 offices across the country who have helped 700,000 people or 1.5% of the population access solutions to their justice problems, by bringing together a range of different sectors to solve people’s problems in an holistic manner, at a comparatively low cost.

Hina Jilani spoke from her experience as a litigator, and her frustration that so often the law and administrative structures needed to protect the vulnerable aren’t in place, and about the needs that many have not just for legal relief but for holistic support and protection.

Sabrina Mahtani illustrated the discussion with practical examples of how justice services, whether formal or informal, can help some of the worlds most vulnerable women. She described AdvocAid’s recent success in winning an appeal against a death sentence for a victim of domestic violence who had killed her abuser. And proposed how informal grassroots systems can be used to solve minor infractions, relieving pressure off the formal justice system.

Hina Jilani, co-chair of the Task Force on Justice, with Task Force colleagues in the Peace Palace, The Hague February 2019.

The discussion was followed by audience questions which included discussion of how those resisting reforms can be encouraged to lead change towards people-centred justice.

Hina Jilani closed the session with a reminder that the notion of justice entails certain intrinsic values, such as equal treatment and dignity. She noted that when Nelson Mandela founded The Elders he charged them with a mandate that they help make the invisible, visible and give a voice to those without - something that will be at the heart of the Access to Justice programme. 

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