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Three ways the Paris Declaration can advance Goal 16

Stacey Cram |

Last December, during the 4th Open Government Summit in Paris, more than 20 contributors from governments, civil society organizations and multilateral organizations endorsed commitment 13 of the Paris Declaration, prioritizing improved access to justice through a focus on measurement and data collection.  We see three key ways these efforts will advance member state progress towards access to justice for all, as envisioned by Goal 16 and target 16.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

1. Increase commitment to access to justice

The 2030 Agenda envisages “a just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met.” With SDG16.3, governments are challenged to  promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and to ensure equal access to justice for all. Two years into the agenda, little progress has been made towards turning the rhetoric of Goal 16 into concrete actions.  An estimated four billion poor and marginalized people continue to live outside the protection of the law. Without increased political will, there is a real risk that the SDGs will fail to deliver on their justice promises.

OGP is well placed to build political will and drive vital justice reforms. The Paris Declaration acknowledges the fundamental links between access to justice, open government and the SDGs. The Paris Declaration is a catalyst for OGP governments and civil society organizations to develop shared justice commitments in National Action Plans. We believe that to have the greatest impact, National Action Plans should have concrete commitments on legal empowerment and access to justice. South Africa’s recent action plan is a great example, as it seeks to contribute to the development and sustainability of the paralegal movement by ensuring that community based paralegals are trained and equipped to effectively respond to the needs of marginalized groups.  

2. Identify indicators which measure access to justice

The 2030 Agenda calls for the creation of international, regional, and national indicators for all of its goals to help track their progress. At a global level, there is little data to estimate how many people are denied access to justice.

The official indicators selected for measuring SDG 16.3 are deeply limiting. The two selected by the UN’s Inter Agency Expert Group (IAEG) focus on criminal justice systems, including pre-trial detention times and crime reporting rates. Those numbers matter, but justice is bigger than police and prisons. For the majority of people, the injustices they face fall outside of official court proceedings.

The international community and the IAEG recognize the limitations of these indicators and are looking for new ideas to track Goal 16. We need indicators which are able to monitor the scope and nature of people’s legal needs, the collective injustices that communities face, and the mechanisms which provide redress. Having this data will help governments better design and target policies and strengthen efforts to promote access to justice and open government.

The Paris Declaration provides an opportunity for OGP members to  test new methods that more holistically track access to justice. OGP is also uniquely placed to encourage governments and civil society to co-develop national access to justice indicators. The United States has begun developing new national justice indicators in partnership with civil society as part of its commitment to the SDGs and the Paris declaration. OGP civil society have also begun collaborating around new ways to measure access to justice globally, through the SDG 16 Data Initiative. OGP can support members to learn from these efforts.

3. Foster partnership and collaboration on access to justice

The SDGs commit to revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development. They call on governments, civil society and the private sector to work together to deliver on the scale and ambition required for sustainable development. However, in the years since their adoption, civil society has increasingly come under threat in countries around the world. Last year, CIVICUS tracked serious threats to one or more civic freedoms in over 100 countries, with a growing culture of impunity for those who carry out injustices.

The Open Government Partnership is a welcome tool to push back against this trend. The Paris Declaration promotes inclusion, participation and partnership between governments and civil society to accelerate implementation of Goal 16. The Paris Declaration can also help create a ‘race to the top’ for access to justice. Through the OGP platform, countries can learn and build on each others’ justice efforts and collaborate on new methods and innovations. The Global Legal Empowerment Network facilitates an open group for individuals and organizations to share best practices and openly discuss challenges. We encourage those interested in advancing access to justice in the OGP to continue this discussion here.