Communities around the world are reeling from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain it. In informal settlements, lockdowns threaten livelihoods and access to basic services. In quarantined homes, domestic violence is surging. In prisons, the virus is spreading unchecked. Meanwhile restrictions on information and expression are hampering civil society’s ability to shape government response and defend fundamental freedoms. Left unaddressed, the repercussions will endure far beyond the current crisis.
Findings from the COVID-19 Justice Challenge indicate that 91% of grassroots groups surveyed are devising ways to support vulnerable populations and push back against those attempting to exploit the pandemic to reduce freedoms and undermine rights. But adapting to the evolving emergency is a monumental challenge. Prior to the pandemic, the Justice For All campaign identified that grassroots justice defenders were facing two key challenges: financing and protection. COVID-19 exacerbates these concerns.
In response, the Justice For All campaign has come together with The Elders, the Legal Empowerment Network, Namati, Pathfinders, and the Fund for Global Human Rights to launch the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund.
The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund aims to mobilize US$1 million to support 100 grassroots justice groups worldwide within 12-18 months. The fully flexible, rapid-response grants will bolster both immediate response and long-term rebuilding efforts, including providing public health and humanitarian support to vulnerable populations, tackling injustices caused or exacerbated by lockdown measures, and advocating for equitable recovery plans.
Ban Ki-moon, Deputy-Chair of The Elders and former UN Secretary-General, said:
“We need to ensure that justice is at the heart of the COVID-19 response and long-term recovery plans. The Elders welcome initiatives such as this COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund and the efforts of governments and the private sector to help the 5.1 billion people who lack meaningful access to justice.”
In order for the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund to respond quickly, the first round of grants will be open to applications from the 500 groups from across the globe that participated in the Legal Empowerment Network’s COVID-19 Justice Challenge and other COVID-19 activities. If more funds are available in the future, we hope to open up the call to the wider community of grassroots justice organizations.
The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was the first to contribute to the COVID-19 Justice Fund, becoming the anchor donor. Its president, Lee Mikyung, had this to say:
“KOICA welcomes this timely launch of the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund to support grassroots justice defenders to adapt to the new circumstance and address the entangled justice, social and health crisis of our time. KOICA believes this fund will build a momentum for us to join in solidarity towards peace and hope for all to ensure that truly no one is left behind.”
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