On World Social Justice Day last year, I watched three strong, incredible women share a moment of solidarity around social justice. Their stories could not have had been more different: one was the former Head of State of Ireland, the other a Pakistani human rights lawyer and former United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, and the last, a grassroots justice defender living in a slum in Argentina. While their experiences may have been worlds apart, what these three women shared was a deep-seated aversion to injustice and a commitment to challenge the status quo; to push for what was right, not what was the norm in their communities.
As I and over a hundred others walked alongside them from the community justice clinic in the Buenos Aires slum to the steps of Argentine parliament, where they delivered a petition to the Vice President demanding justice for all, I knew I was witnessing the start of a new movement.
Last week I listened to Mary Robinson, the former Head of State of Ireland, and Hina Jilani, the Pakistani human rights lawyer, recall how meeting Claudia, the grassroots justice defender, in Buenos Aries was one of the inspirations for The Elders taking up justice as a central theme of their new strategy. I was reminded that while inequality, authoritarianism, and xenophobia are on the rise, creating connections between those who fight for social justice can spark hope and the momentum needed to curb these worrisome trends. The demand from our community to come together and fight for social justice around the world is why we launched Justice For All, a bold campaign calling on world leaders to fund and protect grassroots justice defenders.
The theme of this year’s World Social Justice Day is “If You Want Peace & Development, Work for Social Justice”. All over the world, dedicated grassroots justice defenders are working with, and empowering communities to take on justice problems that are fueling conflict, damaging livelihoods, and undermining the relationship between governments and their citizens. Grassroots justice defenders help bring the law onto the side of the people. By working to make institutions more equitable and responsive and to expand opportunity and reduce poverty they help secure peace and sustainable development.
However, in spite of a growing body of evidence that recognizes the vital role grassroots justice defenders play in sustainable development, they face increasing threats and remain under-resourced. Grassroots justice defenders are routinely harassed and even killed during the course of their work by private individuals, companies, and governments. In a recent survey, two-thirds of members of the Global Legal Empowerment Network reported that carrying out their work is difficult due to political or social conditions. Half say that the political environment in their country has worsened in the last year. The same survey found that 67% of members would have to make cuts or would not be able to operate in the coming year due to funding sustainability concerns. And despite this mounting need, aid funding for justice has decreased by 40% in the past 4 years.
In July, world leaders will convene in New York at the United Nations High Level Political Forum to report on how they are empowering people to create more peaceful and just societies. This is a unique opportunity for governments, and those working to secure peace and sustainable development to show they are serious about supporting the people at the heart of the social justice movement. Since Justice For All launched last year we have seen some promising developments including the recent Hague Declaration signed by Ministers from 21 countries which promises to “empower people to understand, use and shape the law”. We have 200 days to build on this momentum and ensure that government and donors come to the High-Level Political Forum armed with commitments on how they are going to fund and protect grassroots justice defenders.
Today, on World Social Justice Day, lend your voice and call on world leaders to fund and protect grassroots justice defenders. Let’s follow the examples set by Mary, Hina, and Claudia and push for what is right – let’s be the movement that creates a new norm that ensures all people have equal access to justice.
 Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP), ‘Making the Law Work for Everyone’, World Bank, ‘World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development’; Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson, ‘Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty’.
 Justice For All, The Case to Fund and Protect Grassroots Justice Defenders.
SIGN THE PETITION
Access to Justice is critical to ending inequality. Call on world leaders to fund & protect those working at the grassroots to make this a reality! Sign & share the petition to #TipTheScales towards #JusticeForAll!
TELL WORLD LEADERS TO FUND AND PROTECT JUSTICE DEFENDERS.
We, the world’s justice defenders and citizens, call on world leaders to keep their promise, made at the United Nations, to ensure all people have equal access to justice. Only by funding and protecting grassroots justice defenders can we make justice, not injustice, the norm. The moment is now. It is time to tip the scales towards #JusticeForAll.
The number of signatures will be shared with governments during the UN General Assembly in September 2018.