Former UN Secretary-General and former South Korean Foreign Minister, Ban-ki Moon, delivered the keynote address to the International Bar Association annual conference on November 2. Moon inspired listeners and reflected many of the themes and messages our community advocates for. As Deputy Chair of the Elders, Moon emphasized to the virtual audience that financing justice efforts and supporting legal empowerment are crucial to building back better. The Elders have expressed a deep concern that our global leadership is not doing enough to respond to the inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic like disputes over housing and land, conflict at work, problems with debt, disputes within families, or trouble obtaining access to public services. Take a look at a few direct quotes from Ban-ki’s address that speak directly to our work and encourage others to join the collective front.
1. # The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund is integral to responding to the pandemic.
“Financing for access to justice is also central to closing the justice gap. Funding for access to justice has declined by 40% in the last 4 years and the economic downturn puts even greater pressure on financing. The IBA frontline legal aid fund is an innovative example of how different actors can come together to increase funding for access to justice. The Elders were also proud to support the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund which launched on Nelson Mandela Day and is delivering urgent funding to grassroots actors on the frontline of the pandemic.”
The COVID-19 Justice Fund is a collective initiative that helps fill the funding gap for grassroots organizations providing innovative solutions to the shadow justice crisis. So far, The Fund is in full swing. The first round of funding will be dispersed very soon. So, stay tuned for more information on the organizations that will be better able to achieve their mission with our support.
2. Governments must ensure the protection of lawyers to affirm commitments to “building back better.”
“In this regard, I am deeply concerned at the increasing attacks on lawyers around the world, sometimes from the highest levels of government. Legal professionals are being harassed, threatened or in some instances killed simply for doing their job. Attacks on lawyers undermine the rule of law. Labelling lawyers who are simply doing their jobs as ‘activists’ is both disingenuous and dangerous. Where lawyers are afraid to do their jobs due to fear and intimidation, the rule of law and the independence of the legal profession is weakened which weakens the very fabric of our societies. If governments are genuine in their commitment to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic, then they must uphold their international human rights obligations and refrain from turning lawyers into political scapegoats.”
The principle, Building Back Better, is understood to encourage a resilient and sustainable response to the pandemic. Moon iterates the crucial role of legal systems in upholding governments’ commitments. And, that is why Namati’s work with the Legal Empowerment Network and projects like the Legal Empowerment Leadership Course are important tools in the global response.
3. Innovation, adaptation, and reform of the legal profession are paramount in responding to the shadow justice crisis.
“Justice actors face daunting responsibilities as they design, implement, and enforce new measures to prevent the spread of infection. Measures that heighten the risk of human rights abuses can undermine trust, at a time when the justice system most needs to maintain the public’s confidence.”
“The legal profession needs to adapt, and the disruption caused by the pandemic should be harnessed and deployed as a catalyst to longer-term, progressive reforms. One possibility is to embrace paralegals, who represent a cost-effective way of expanding legal empowerment services, particularly in resource-poor countries without large numbers of lawyers.”
Legal Empowerment is Namati’s mission. In collaboration with our global partners, we have developed and otherwise supported several programs to innovate legal systems making justice more accessible at the grassroots level. For instance, our Community Paralegals and National Navigator Programs are delivering tangible results to those in need.
Moving forward, the Elders have called on world leaders to “tackl[e] racial and gender discrimination, violence against women, the pernicious legacy of colonialism, inadequate social security nets and workers’ rights, and chronic indebtedness across the nations of the Global South.” While Namati and other collaborators in the Legal Empowerment Network continue to address these concerns at a grassroots level, it feels good to be recognized and have the support of Ban-Ki Moon and the Elders.
For more information on the IBA Annual conference and events, check out this website.