Meeting the Challenges of Delivering Justice on the Ground

The rule of law is like the laws of gravity: It holds our world and our societies together and ensures that order prevails over chaos. This is how the Secretary-General summarized the concept at the General Assembly's High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law in September 2012.

A month before that meeting, the Secretary-General and I visited Timor-Leste and had the privilege of seeing at first hand how the United Nations work to advance the rule of law has taken centre stage in building peace, security and development there. Supporting Timor-Leste's Prosecutor-General in completing hundreds of investigations of serious human rights violations committed during the crisis in 1999; assisting prison authorities in improving conditions of detention by developing standard operating procedures for prison officers; developing a roadmap to guide future support to the justice sector—these are just a few examples of how the United Nations has worked to strengthen the rule of law in Timor-Leste.

Around the world in the past decade, there has been a growing understanding of the importance of strong justice and security institutions in building stability and sustained economic development in conflict and post-conflict societies. As a result, we have seen rising demand for United Nations efforts to strengthen the rule of law in post-conflict and crisis situations. A critical factor in that work is national ownership and participation. As the Secretary-General has stressed on several occasions, identifying, developing and using national capacities must be a priority in the aftermath of conflict. When credible, capable national stakeholders are visibly in the lead in the national peacebuilding process, it bodes well for the sustainability of our endeavours.

United Nations efforts in this area are wide-ranging, and cover every stage of any scenario after conflict. To address immediate gaps in justice and corrections that might threaten to derail or disrupt a peace process, the UN can assist in setting up emergency mobile courts, support measures to address inhumane prison conditions and arbitrary or prolonged detention, and help strengthen national capacity to fight conflict-related crime. We work to address the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls, combating gender inequality through greater access to justice, targeting conflict-related sexual violence, and advancing women's representation and participation in national rule of law institutions and decision-making bodies. Throughout the rule of law process, the UN must do its utmost to ensure that all international partners, including bilateral actors and non-governmental organizations, operate in a well-coordinated fashion to achieve a common set of objectives. Ultimately, these objectives are defined by each host country's national rule of law strategy, underpinned by both national and international standards.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN has supported the Government in prosecuting more than 150 military officers accused of committing serious crimes against civilians. In Côte d'Ivoire, following the 2011 post-election crisis, the UN helped to reopen all 37 courts and rehabilitate 22 prisons across the country, while providing a prisons data management system. In Darfur, the African Union-United Nations Mission has supported national authorities in reopening courts in West and North Darfur. In South Sudan, the UN provides the Government with technical and logistical support to establish mobile courts. In Afghanistan, we have strengthened coordination and improved the delivery of justice assistance at the provincial level. In Haiti, we have provided logistical support to establish and manage some 20 legal aid offices throughout the country.

Our efforts do not make for an unblemished success story. In some places, I have been appalled at how prisoners still live in inhumane conditions without any possibility of challenging the grounds for their detention. Starvation in prison is not uncommon, and can sometimes even be a cause of death. We continue to grapple with an unacceptably high incidence of conflict-related sexual violence, with national authorities often unable to bring those responsible to justice. Yet in the face of these challenges, I am invariably impressed with the outstanding dedication of UN police, justice, corrections, human rights, gender, child protection and other specialist personnel around the world, who sometimes risk their lives to help countries emerging from conflict strengthen their legal and judicial institutions and build humane and secure prisons. These officers come from a broad range of countries and legal systems and possess an impressive depth of experience working in conflict and post-conflict settings. For example, Patience Sai, a corrections expert from Ghana, after previously serving as the head of corrections team in the Mission in the DRC, recently joined our Standing Capacity and, in July, was deployed for three months to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria alongside her colleagues Mireya Pena Guzman, a Judicial Officer from Colombia and Mohamed Ibrahim, an Egyptian judge and Judicial Officer with long experience with the UN in Afghanistan and Sudan. Likewise, Djibril Ly, a lawyer from Mauritania with strong experience working in the UN system, was deployed earlier this year to the Mission in Darfur as the head of the Mission's rule of law team.

For them to succeed, they need strong and effective Headquarters support. This is why, in 2007, the Secretary-General enhanced the capacity of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) by establishing the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, and since then strengthened the UN Police and the Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service in New York, and established the Standing Police Capacity and the Justice and Corrections Standing Capacity at the UN Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy.

The Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service has developed a growing body of policy and guidance materials to support staff in the field. It built a set of United Nations Rule of Law Indicators, in partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and with input from multiple UN partners and the World Bank. This tool, which assesses the efficiency and shortcomings of rule of law institutions and can be employed to monitor developments over time, has been implemented in Liberia, Haiti and South Sudan. In training, DPKO has developed the first UN course in rule of law for judicial officers, drawing on participants and instructors from a full range of entities and Member States, and the Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service is soon due to publish a comprehensive Handbook for Judicial Affairs Officers in Peacekeeping Operations. The Service has established strong partnerships with Governments, in particular in the Global South, to tap into their expertise. It helps to deploy judges, prosecutors, military justice experts, police investigators and corrections officers to assist and advise their peers in post-conflict settings as part of the process to reform and strengthen rule of law institutions.

Peacekeepers cannot and do not work alone. The UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, has advocated an integrated approach pulling together different disciplines—prosecutors and lawyers, social workers, human rights professionals and development experts—all under the banner of the rule of law. To succeed, we need close partnerships with a range of UN entities—agencies, funds and programmes and the World Bank—and key partners such as the African Union, the European Union and others, throughout the life cycle of a mission, from planning to drawdown and transition.

The partnership between DPKO and the United Nations Development Programme, in particular, has been gaining strength on the basis of increased cooperation both at Headquarters and in the field. Our teams are working together to respond to the Secretary-General's call for the UN to deliver as one, building on our respective comparative advantages and complementing each other's work in implementing rule of law activities. This culminated the Secretary-General's decision in September 2012 to establish a joint DPKO-UNDP Global Focal Point for police, justice and corrections in post-conflict and other crisis situations. The new arrangement, which includes co-locating relevant staff at UN Headquarters, will allow us to respond faster and more effectively to the needs of colleagues in the field. It positions the United Nations as a central platform for international approaches to strengthen the rule of law in conflict-affected countries.

The September 2012 General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law played an important role in reinvigorating global attention on the need to establish and preserve strong legal institutional frameworks. The final declaration (A/RES/67/1) emphasized that the rule of law is one of the key elements of conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. It stressed that justice, including transitional justice, is a fundamental building block of sustainable peace in countries in conflict and post-conflict situations, and highlighted the importance of supporting national civilian capacity development and institution-building in the aftermath of conflict, including through peacekeeping operations.

We need to build on the impetus of the General Assembly meeting, and continue to improve how peacekeeping operations undertake this essential work, together with our partners. There is much to do. While there is increasing focus on the importance of rule of law assistance, global financial constraints continue to restrict the resources available. Justice and corrections personnel make up a small share of peacekeeping personnel, and access to programmatic funds remains limited. Greater scrutiny is required to ensure that our efforts lead to measurable results, not just measurable expenditures.

We need to develop inclusive sector-wide programmes at the country level; we need a greater focus on the rule of law in both assessed and voluntary funding; we need post-crisis countries to pay more political attention to rule of law matters; and we need to deploy joint work units, bringing together all relevant United Nations entities and programmes in the field.

If we achieve all of that, and if we are provided with the resources required, the United Nations will be well equipped to meet the growing demand for rule of law assistance, and the future challenges of delivering justice on the ground in the twenty-first century.