Week 9: Citizen Engagement

Date: 09/10/2018     By: Justice For All


This post is part of 10 Weeks of Action: Demanding funding and protection for grassroots justice defenders by calling on our community to sign the #JusticeForAll petition. Each week, we will spotlight how access to justice is critical to the advancement of different thematic issues.

“Legal empowerment is about strengthening the capacity of all people to exercise their rights, either as individuals or as members of a community. It’s about grassroots justice—about ensuring that law is not confined to books or courtrooms, but rather is available and meaningful to ordinary people.” – (OSF)

Grassroots justice and legal empowerment happen at the community level, at the space where laws and practice often differ, especially for the most marginalized in society. The United Nations Secretary General has defined legal empowerment as “the process of systemic change through which the poor are protected and enabled to use the law to advance their rights and their interests as citizens and economic actors.” Legally empowered communities who are able to know, use, and shape the laws are more empowered and engaged citizens, which in turn can help governments achieve their aims of sustainable development, peace, equality, human rights, and democracy.

Grassroots justice and legal empowerment promote citizen engagement, which has been shown to help improve social accountability for basic services. In India, a program that shared materials with the communities about the roles of village education committees, right to information and complaint procedures, and student benefits resulted in higher participation of parents in educational oversight, which in turn lead to improvements of educational services and learning outcomes for students in the community. (SourceWhen individuals are empowered to know, use, and shape the law, they are better able to participate in society, and ensure government accountability for their rights.


Grassroots justice defenders work with communities to help them exercise their rights, which in turn promotes citizen engagement and instills a deeper sense of democracy. Unfortunately, funding for the work of grassroots justice defenders is on the decline, and defenders themselves are at-risk of harassment because they are working so closely with communities. This is unacceptable, and it’s time for governments to act and fund and protect grassroots justice defenders working to promote citizen engagement. Tell governments it’s time to #TipTheScales towards #JusticeForAll by signing and sharing the petition below.

Sign the Petition

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.


More About the Issue

At the global level, there are a number of promising initiatives where governments are taking the issue of access to justice, and specifically grassroots justice and legal empowerment, quite seriously; the most notable of these are the Pathfinders Task Force on Justice and the Open Government Partnership.

Earlier this year, the Pathfinders on Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies, a government and civil society initiative working to advance the SDG 16+ agenda, launched a new Task Force on Justice in Buenos Aires, Argentina a high-level expert group to do collective research and advocacy to respond to the “grand challenge of providing justice for all” and the ambitions of the SDGs by 2030. (Source) This group will reconvene throughout the year and early into next year to develop research, make the case for investment, develop groups to exploring what works to deliver justice for all, and mobilize commitments ahead of the 2019 High-Level Political Forum at the United Nations. (Source)

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral partnership between governments to promote open government through enhanced transparency, accountability, and participation. OGP Member countries commit to taking steps to promote and improve open government within their borders through commitments and accompanying National Action Plans (NAP). Access to justice is a critical pillar of open government because true access to justice should promote transparency, accountability, and participation, key areas which in turn lead to greater government promotion of justice for all. In the past few years, the OGP process has seen an uptake of engagement and prioritization of the access to justice issue, and specifically grassroots approaches to access to justice, such as legal empowerment. This promising focus goes beyond improving courts to the entire legal system for the world’s most marginalized through access to justice and legal empowerment. (Source).

Earlier this year, in July, the 2018 OGP Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia became a momentous occasion for justice, as for the first time ever, a group of 6 ministers of justice from different OGP countries agreed to take on the issue of justice within the OGP system. [LINK] Throughout 2018, 176 OGP countries are rewriting National Action Plans, roadmaps for how they will improve open government within their countries for the next few years. Getting specific access to justice and legal empowerment commitments into the NAPs are key opportunities to ensure that governments and their citizens promoting transparency, accountability, and participation. The last NAP process, less than 10% of countries included justice commitments in their NAPs. This year, the hope is to get hundreds of new commitments into the remaining NAPs, an important step towards advancing justice for all, especially for the most marginalized. Learn how to get involved in your country’s NAP in this post.


How justice defenders are tackling the issue

  • More than 1 billion people around the world lack legal identity, excluding them from basic services. In Argentina, people without ID cards are basically invisible. Grassroots justice defenders from Micro Justicia work with communities in Argentina to help them get ID cards. Watch their video here.
  • In Mozambique, grassroots justice defenders in the form of community paralegals at Namati, work to promote the right to health and improve the quality of and access to basic health services through legal empowerment, by promoting health policy literacy, facilitating community-clinic dialogue, and pursuing legal and administrative remedies for breaches of rights. Last year, Namati’s health advocates, together with government partners, have supported the creation and revitalization of dozens of village health committees and over 1500  resolutions of service delivery failures, while working hand in hand with Mozambique’s Ministry of Health at the central level to develop the new five-year national strategy for Quality and Humanization of Health Services. Read more.
  • The Florence Project provides free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody in Arizona. Although the government assists all other defendants through public defenders and legal aid attorneys, it does not provide attorneys for immigrants fighting their cases. As a result, an estimated 86% of detainees go unrepresented, unable to source or afford a lawyer. Read their story here.


Additional resources