The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our lives in many ways – from certainty to fear of the unknown, and from sociability to loneliness, the pandemic has caused us to redefine how we live, learn and interact. Realizing the urgency to provide support as people come to navigate these unprecedented times, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has taken steps to improve life for communities while maintaining its focus on promoting the rule of law through the Doha Declaration Global Programme's four components.
To help youth adjust to the tremendous changes in their environment, from school closures to socially distancing from their friends, UNODC has continued engaging young people through sports challenges and online training sessions on sports and life skills in countries in Central Asia, Latin America and Southern and Eastern Africa. While exercise routines have undoubtedly been disrupted, young people have been encouraged to participate in creative expressions through art, video making and writing about the positive impact of sports in their lives, cultivating creativity and good mental health. Furthermore, harnessing the shift to the virtual space, UNODC organized a global webinar series to assess the impact of the pandemic on youth crime and victimization and to explore promising solutions, including through sport and sport-based programmes, promoting positive parenting, ensuring a continuity of support services, and providing alternative opportunities for social interaction and positive youth engagement. In addition, the organization focused much of its work on conducting awareness-raising campaigns on the use of sport as a tool for peace, and on delivering online training sessions with coaches and trainers, developing specific online training materials, and engaging the sports sector so they will be better equipped to support youth during and after the pandemic.
In prisons, where poor hygiene and overcrowding are all too often the norm, keeping up with recommended handwashing measures and social distancing can be near impossible. Being aware of the increased risk in this portion of the population, the Global Programme – as part of wider UNODC efforts – has been implementing rehabilitation and social reintegration initiatives for prisoners with additional interventions of curbing the spread of infection. In several countries spread across Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, South America and South-East Asia, provisions such as masks and gloves, liquid sanitizers and infrared thermometers have been supplied to prisons. As needs vary from country to country, national considerations as flagged by Prison Administrations were considered.
While the outbreak of COVID-19 has prevented big site gatherings, it has not stopped UNODC from leveraging the power of technology and utilizing online platforms where concerns related to the pandemic's impact on access to education could be voiced. Towards the end of 2020, the Education for Justice (E4J) initiative hosted a virtual Global Dialogue Series. Held over the space of four days, with over 30 sessions in multiple languages and nearly 180 external speakers, the online event addressed a range of contemporary education and rule of law-related issues. One such item that has presented major difficulties in COVID-19 is a lack of access to technology, which prevents youth in many parts of the world from distance learning. Overall, a critical global challenge has been finding new ways of providing education that instills the values of integrity, respect, equality, and justice that will effectively promote the rule of law. To adapt to the virtual environment during COVID, E4J launched the Lockdown Learners series of interactive online dialogues on promoting SDGs and youth action with students and educators in New Delhi and Mumbai, India, where educational materials were disseminated to 598 schools.
In Lebanon, E4J provided The Zorbs kits to 700 children in two orphanages featuring a Zorbs storybook in Arabic, an accompanying colouring book with pencils and stickers, and, appropriately, educational material on hygiene practices and COVID preventive measures. The Zorbs is an animated video series that tells the story of an imaginary planet and its inhabitants who overcome a range of challenges thanks to those values. In March 2021, E4J was recognized by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and awarded the 2020 Secretary-General Award in the category ‘Innovation.’ Speaking on this, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly noted that, “this Award reminds us of the value of thinking creatively about how we deliver, in the current crisis and beyond, to be agile and responsive to needs as we work to leave no one behind.”
On the judicial front, addressing challenges that COVID-19 is exacerbating means recognizing the need to support judges and judiciaries in adjusting to necessary changes. Through a series of webinars, UNODC has been disseminating good practices and promoting experience-sharing among judicial sector stakeholders worldwide in various areas, including judicial independence, organized crime, artificial intelligence, judicial transparency and gender biases. The Global Judicial Integrity Network serves as a unique platform of judges, for judges, and aims to strengthen judicial integrity and preventing corruption within judiciaries. The Network has developed several valuable resources in a wide range of languages that have already been used by judiciaries worldwide, including a practical Judicial Ethics Training Package, comprising an E-Learning course, a Self-Directed course, and a Trainers’ Manual, which has been implemented in 67 jurisdictions so far.
The Global Programme is constantly exploring new creative ways of restoring health and bringing societies closer together by promoting the rule of law. And with the pandemic still here, and its effects felt worldwide, UNODC’s initiatives and commitment to creating thriving communities are more vital than ever.