Report Back: The 2019 UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF)

Justice For All


This July, for the first time ever, Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) was reviewed at the 2019 High Level Political Forum, an annual moment hosted by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations in New York to review progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In addition to SDG16 being reviewed officially for the first time, which includes the commitment made by all governments to ensure “equal access to justice for all” by 2030, forty-seven countries reported on their progress of SDG16 through presentations of their voluntary national reviews (VNRs). 

In the lead up to the HLPF, Justice For All focused on ensuring that themes of grassroots justice, legal empowerment, financing and protection for grassroots justice defenders, and a call for accelerated action featured strongly throughout this big global moment. Additionally, Justice For All focused on ensuring that grassroots voices and perspectives featured strongly, and that grassroots justice defenders had a seat and a voice at the table alongside governments, the private sector, and other civil society representatives. 

The HLPF presented a good opportunity for Justice For All and partners to highlight the work of civil society, continue to push for financing and protection of grassroots justice defenders, and call on countries and donors to establish commitments to closing the justice gap. 

The Key Takeaways 

1. Justice For All was a major theme throughout the HLPF. 

The themes of grassroots justice, legal empowerment, and the need for greater financing and protection for grassroots justice defenders were featured throughout the HLPF, ranging from policy products to key discussions to high level remarks from The Elders. The hashtag #JusticeForAll was trending throughout the week

2. The voices of grassroots justice defenders were heard.

During the HLPF, numerous events featured the perspectives of grassroots justice defenders. The winners of the 2019 Grassroots Justice Prize were announced at a high level access to justice event alongside high level delegates from the government, private sector, and civil society. 

Task Force on Justice Members stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Grassroots Justice Prize Winners during ‘Justice For All’ Event

3. Regional access to justice priorities were promoted and featured.

During the HLPF, an official side event on the Escazú Agreement was convened calling on governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to sign and ratify the first binding human rights agreement calling for the protection of environmental justice defenders in the region. To-date, 15 governments have signed onto the Agreement and 3 have taken steps to ratify.  

4. National progress on access to justice was reported on.

Of the forty-seven countries that presented VNR reports, a number of them included specific references to access to justice and grassroots approaches to justice. Additionally, several grassroots justice and legal empowerment organizations prepared and submitted complementary reports to the government reports, highlighting challenges, gaps, and opportunities for accelerating access to justice in their contexts. 

5. The case for more commitments and greater localization of SDG16 was made.

2020 will mark 5 years since the adoption of the SDGs, and the 2019 HLPF focused on forward-looking needs and capacity gaps, and specifically called out the need to accelerate progress on this agenda at the local levels. Grassroots approaches to justice are vital towards achieving this goal. This is also reflected in the Task Force on Justice report entitled “Justice For All”, which specifically calls for accelerated action on people-centered approaches to justice. 

Speakers and organizers of the ‘Voices of SDG16+’ event, which focused on grassroots changemakers working to put peace, justice, and inclusion into action

Snapshot of Events 

The following events were particularly relevant in their discussion and advancement of the Justice For All campaign goals. Click on the links provided to read more complete event notes and key takeaways.

July 8: The Critical Role of Non-Official Data in Monitoring and Implementing SDG16. SDG16 is particularly challenging for open data collection; this session discussed how non-official data can help address gaps in data availability. It provided an overview of data collected and shared through as well as highlighted results from the Data Initiative 2019 Global Report. Finally, it advocated for the adoption of the Access to Civil Justice Indicator Proposal for SDG Target 16.3.3.

July 10: Showcasing Best Practices: Civil Society Driving Progress on SDG16+. This event provided a platform for civil society working at the national and local levels to showcase their work to advance SDG16+ in their own contexts. Additionally, it featured an opportunity for participants to share reflections on where some of the gaps in implementation or capacities might be around SDG16, and where additional support may be needed. Global Legal Empowerment Network member Dalile Antune from ACIJ spoke about her work on Argentina’s Access to Justice Agreement.

‘Showcasing Best Practices’ event featuring Global Legal Empowerment Member Dalile Antune from La Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) in Argentina

July 11: Voices of SDG16+: Stories for Global Action (event livestream found here). This event had at its core a campaign that collected almost 200 video submissions of activists and changemakers working to put peace, justice, and inclusion into action, including submissions from Global Legal Empowerment Network members Namati Mozambique, La Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) (Argentina), and The Women’s Justice Initiative (Guatemala). The creators of 13 of the submissions were invited to speak, hailing from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Canada, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Somaliland, and Uganda. The Women’s Justice Initiative was selected as a finalist for the campaign and was invited to speak to their experiences at two events during the HLPF. Kate Flatley represented the organization and shared how grassroots justice defenders in Guatemala help indigenous women access justice.  

Visual Map produced by ImageThink of key insights from the ‘Voices of SDG16+’ event at the HLPF

July 12: Empowering Civil Society for Reporting and Action on SDG16. This event launched the “Empowering Civil Society” report, which provides a range of approaches and methodologies utilized by civil society for the implementation and monitoring of SDG16, featuring country-specific case studies. Namati’s Stacey Cram, Coco Lammers, and Kaitlin Hansen co-authored the chapter “Opportunities for Achieving Justice for All.”

July 15: Establishing Environmental Rights for the Most Vulnerable. Event participants explored how the ratification and implementation of the Escazú Agreement holds a promise to allow the fulfillment of SDGs 10, 13, and 16. Speakers included Global Legal Empowerment Network Member Gabriela Burdiles Perucci, Project Director at Fiscalia Del Medio Ambiente (FIMA). During the HLPF, organizations also sent letters to the UN missions of 12 countries in the region calling for the adoption and ratification of the Agreement.

‘Establishing Environmental Rights for the Most Vulnerable’ Event at the HLPF, featuring Global Legal Empowerment Member Gabriela Burdiles Perucci, Project Director at Fiscalia Del Medio Ambiente (FIMA)

July 15: Justice For All Event featuring the Grassroots Justice Prize Ceremony. This event kicked off with the launch of Justice for All, a report by the Task Force on Justice. Then, Mary Robinson and Hina Jilani of The Elders awarded the 2019 Grassroots Justice Prize to four winners: BLAST, City Life/Vida Urbana, NIRMAN, and This Life Cambodia. The winners were invited to share their experiences increasing access to justice in their respective communities in Bangladesh, the United States, and India. 

July 16: SDG16+ and the Future We Want. This event highlighted the importance of SDG16+ and its interlinkages to all SDGs, as well as demonstrated how it enables the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The event also celebrated successful national experiences of SDG16+ in action, as highlighted in the Voluntary National Reviews.

Minister of Planning Sierra Leone at the ‘SDG16+ and the Future We Want’ event emphasizing the importance of advancing access to justice to achieve all other SDGs

July 17: How Legal Empowerment Advances the SDGs: A Conversation with the 2019 Grassroots Justice Prize Winners. This conversation opened with remarks by the winners of the 2019 Grassroots Justice Prize on how their work advances legal empowerment and extends access to justice in the communities they serve. The winners were then joined by a group of access to justice thought leaders to discuss global processes and upcoming opportunities to advance legal empowerment through the SDGs.

Campaign Launched: Help Crack the Case 

Justice For All 'Missing poster' on red brick wall

While access to justice was a strong theme throughout the HLPF and financing and protection were called out as important to achieving this goal, we still lack concrete commitments from governments and donors. To gather ideas for commitments, Justice For All launched our new campaign – Help Crack the Case – in-person and over social media during the HLPF.

We know that for 5.1 billion people around the world, meaningful access to justice is still missing. While recent sightings of Justice For All have been reported in declarations and convenings in The Hague, Rome, Ottawa, and Buenos Aires, the case remains unsolved. The ‘Crack The Case’ campaign calls on the public, civil society, the private sector, governments, and justice partners to submit ideas for how to secure Justice For All via the virtual Tip Line.

When unveiled at the HLPF, the campaign sparked curiosity and conversation amongst participants. The number of submissions to the Tip Line continued to grow as more and more people submitted ideas throughout the week for how to secure Justice For All. The exhibit is interactive and encourages participants – fellow justice champions – to “connect the dots” through examining the evidence board, which displays recent sightings of justice around the world. It visualizes the exciting accomplishments our community has made over the past two years toward achieving Justice For All – accomplishments that deserve to be celebrated. But at the same time, and perhaps more crucially, it is a striking display of the gap – the Justice Gap – that remains. 

Fellow Justice Champions examining the evidence and submitting ideas and commitments for achieving Justice For All to the Tip Line at the HLPF in July

To help crack this case, we encourage you to contribute to the Tip Line and help get the word out over social media. Any country that solves this case nationally will be rewarded with peace, equality, and sustainable development.