Speech by Minister Sigrid Kaag at g7+ conference (Access to Justice)

Speech by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag at the g7+ conference (Access to Justice, The Hague) on 20 June 2019.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Hague: the international city of peace and justice: a highly appropriate place to hold this meeting.

I’m delighted to see you all here. A warm welcome back to those of you who were here in February, especially to Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and High Commissioner for Human Rights. In February she, as esteemed chair of the Elders launched a new strategy on Access to Justice. A special welcome to Minister Priscilla Schwartz from Sierra Leone, chairing country of the g7+ and highly appreciated co-chair of the Task Force on Justice. And I applaud the g7+ for taking the initiative to organise this meeting. I also want to thank the Rule of Law Collaborative and the Pathfinders, as well as other partners present for their efforts.

I am very pleased to see the high turn-out of high level g7+ delegations. It demonstrates the importance of making the case for access to justice and shows how passionate we all feel about achieving access to justice for all. It also highlights the fact that there is a close link between SDG16 and the g7+, countries that are facing active conflict or have recent experience of conflict and fragility. This goal has a special meaning in this group.

Access to justice can help to prevent countries from spiralling into or re-experiencing conflict. Access to justice offers people safe and healthy places to live and work. Access to justice offers people prospects for the future.  It will help to eliminate grievances, reduce poverty, and tackle other root causes of conflict.  SDG16 therefore has an important preventive function.

The Netherlands’ commitment to access to justice led us to join the Task Force on Justice with Argentina, Sierra Leone and the Elders. This task force was created to promote access to justice as part of the SDG Agenda. It has produced a groundbreaking report that reveals the challenging global justice gap:

At least 253 million people live in extreme conditions of injustice, either because they are modern slaves, stateless or live in insecure conditions, for instance in conflict countries. 1.5 billion people cannot resolve their everyday justice problems. 2.7 billion women live in countries that impose legal restrictions on women’s employment. And 4.5 billion people are excluded from the opportunities the law provides to secure their rights.

This is a universal challenge which concerns all countries. Our countries. Challenges remain in the Netherlands too, when it comes to dispute resolution and accessibility of justice. And in all of our countries, but particularly in the g7+ countries, we have rich and varied experiences with community-level or traditional forms of justice. Many of you have mentioned this in your interventions.  These may be an important part of the picture.

Particularly in post-conflict countries or countries affected by violence, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Solomon Islands and Central African Republic, there are also important experiences with transitional justice bodies, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, which sought to hear victims of massive human rights violations.

It’s important to be aware of that: we can all learn from each other, in terms of finding the most context and culturally appropriate way to deliver justice to the people – children, women and men. Because they should be at the centre of our efforts at all times.

Take the fact that one in every three women will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime. This is regardless of age, socioeconomic status or cultural background, and it happens across the world. Women who experience violence at home may face various barriers to accessing justice. For instance, they may rely on those same partners for financial support, or fear retaliation against themselves or their children. What are we going to do to help those women claim their rights? To be healthy spouses and parents, and fully productive members of their society?

The report also makes clear that investing in justice will translate into economic benefits. In low-income countries, everyday justice problems may cost more than two per cent of GDP. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that conflicts cost the world 12.4 per cent of its annual GDP: almost 2,000 US dollars per person per year. Conflicts destroy lives and infrastructure, and can set countries back for generations. Many of you have first-hand experience of the devastation caused by conflict. With relatively small investments in accessible basic justice services in low-income countries, a significant difference could be made.

For instance, in Tanzania, the High-level Group on Justice for Women showed that women earned in excess of four times more if they lived in an area that provided them with land rights.

The report also gives us a lot of pointers on how to make international assistance to justice efforts more effective. Only 1.5 per cent of international development assistance has gone to the justice sector in fragile and conflict-affected states. Too often in the past, lots of money was spent on courthouses, prisons, and training courses or salaries for judges and lawyers. Some of you have mentioned the lack of coordination among donors, which can lead to fragmentation and unequal distribution.  This approach is not people-centred, and so in many cases it’s ultimately not effective. It’s not the availability of justice that makes the difference but the accessibility of justice for people.

So what should be our response in the light of these findings? Here again, the report provides us with crucial insights on how we can address these issues.

First, we need to understand the justice needs of ordinary people and identify their legal needs. This is about data and evidence, an issue that you have discussed at this conference.

 Justice needs surveys in a wide variety of countries show us that most people do not resolve their justice problems in formal courts, but most often solve them outside of court, through informal channels. Data like this highlights a specific problem that needs to be resolved.

Second, we have to embrace creative and innovative solutions that are responsive to people’s expectations and needs, given the circumstances of the moment. This may require practical solutions outside the confines of the courtroom.  A number of innovations from g7+ countries are highlighted in the conference booklet, including Liberia’s Peace Huts that are used by women to mediate local disputes, Guinee’s Maisons de la Justice, or Sierra Leone’s Police Case TV show, an educational program to teach women and girls their legal rights.  Innovations can also be technology-based.  Every year, through our partner, The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, we host an Innovation Forum that seeks to identify and scale up such innovations.

Third, we need partnerships, at all levels. I’m proud of the way the task force, and this meeting, fosters these partnerships. I can see that a movement is being built to keep access to justice high on the international agenda. The Netherlands wants to keep investing in this movement.  

To this end, in February we hosted 20 ministers from around the world, including some of you, as well as other leaders in matters of justice. The adoption of the Hague Declaration on Equal Access to Justice for All by 2030 is an important tool to further consolidate this movement. The Declaration summarises in one page what the report says in more than 100. I hope that the g7+ will also be able to endorse this Declaration and build on  it.

We have all committed ourselves to the UN’s Sustainable Developments Goals. For the Netherlands, SDG 16 is fundamental. It’s clear why it’s so crucial that peace, justice and inclusion are part of the SDG agenda. And at the same time, this agenda allows us to set a timeframe for achieving concrete and tangible results on improving access to justice by 2030.

Having said that, it’s important to make concrete commitments to foster access to justice for all. Not only at the review of SDG 16 during the High-level Political Forum, but also at the SDG Summit in September.

The Netherlands has already made a concrete commitment to double our target for the number of people who will obtain access to justice through our development assistance by 2020. And half of them will be women.

In many of your countries, there are already efforts under way that will help achieve these commitments, for instance efforts to strengthen legal aid, expand the reach of justice to remote areas through mobile courts, provide access to justice to women and other target groups such as refugees or IDPs, fund paralegals and grassroots human rights defenders, set up transitional justice mechanisms, expand informal forms of justice or establish Maisons de la Justice.  We hope these efforts will result in concrete commitments to promote SDG16.3  at the High Level Political Forum.

We are committed to working together after the Forum too, and we look forward to continued collaboration with the g7+ and with all of you. Because, as Albert Einstein once said, ‘In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same’.  

Thank you.