Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking Canada, South Africa, and the United States for organizing this event with us on ensuring equal access to justice for all.
Today’s event comes at an important time, as this year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The very process of creating this landmark document proved that inclusion is paramount if we are to ensure equal access to justice for all.
As I’m sure you are aware, Director Rossi, the former US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, played a leading role in drafting this document in her capacity as the first Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.
As a result of her inspiring efforts, the Declaration was adopted with a clear commitment that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
This applies to everyone, everywhere, regardless of age, gender, race or religion.
Yet, 75 years on, barriers to justice endure.
Too many people worldwide lack meaningful access to justice – with women, children, and disadvantaged groups of society affected the most, including over 100 million forcibly displaced who are vulnerable to organised crime and may be unable to make their voices heard or defend their rights in court.
To truly realize equal access to justice, all those affected by the crime must be able to seek redress.
This includes fully safeguarding the rights of alleged and sentenced offenders and their humane treatment during and after criminal proceedings.
We also need to protect and assist victims impacted by crime while also ensuring that the rights and needs of particular groups are respected taking into account gender and minority groups.
Priorities must therefore center on human rights-based police reform, enhancing access to legal aid services, including for victims, and widening the use of restorative justice mechanisms.
Even when legal redress is available, obstacles and inequalities remain.
Victims of sexual and gender-based violence, for example, encounter additional hurdles as a result of stigmatization, victim-blaming and fear of testifying due to a lack of trust in the very systems that are meant to protect them.
Such crimes too often go un-reported or fail to result in a conviction.
Marginalized members of society also face specific risks and challenges when they come into contact with the justice system, particularly in detention facilities and prisons where they are at higher risk of harm, or cannot access funds to pay for a lawyer and legal services.
Access to justice serves to protect those who lack the means to protect themselves, be it victims, witnesses, or those accused of a crime.
This can only be achieved through inclusive and people-centred criminal justice systems.
Gender equality is also vital to break structural inequalities and prevent discrimination in the application of the law, because greater representation leads to better justice outcomes for all.
UNODC is committed to helping Member States increase the efficiency, accountability, and integrity of criminal justice institutions.
As the guardian of the UN standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice, including the UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid, we are supporting States in implementing accessible, sustainable and effective criminal justice systems.
Last year, we assisted over 50 countries in advancing access to justice through policy and legal assistance, institutional reform, training of justice practitioners, as well as programmes to provide people-centred and evidence-based assistance.
As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also leverage the potential of technology, including the use of virtual court hearings, to open the halls of justice to those living in remote areas or who are unable to attend court hearings in person.
Of course, we must ensure that the use of such technology is fully aligned with international legal obligations and human rights principles, and account for the digital divide which often impacts people in vulnerable situations.
In this vein, we recently launched a new pilot research project to analyse the impact of several e-justice initiatives on access to justice, which will provide greater understanding of the risks and opportunities associated with the use of technology in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice.
We have also launched and are finalising a number of innovative e-learning tools in the area of access to justice.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am encouraged by the importance that Member States attribute to enhancing equal access to justice for all, as reflected in the draft resolution tabled at this year’s session of the CCPCJ and in the several important side-events and thematic discussions taking place this week.
Equal access to justice is a key driver of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – it is foundational for building inclusive, accountable and people-centred criminal justice systems.