In 2015, 193 countries agreed to make “access to justice for all” one of the goals for achieving sustainable development by 2030. This marked a huge shift in global thinking. But that thinking has not been matched by action.

When the 17 goals were announced, most were accompanied by major financial commitments: $956 million from the Gates Foundation and the UK government for nutrition; $25 billion in public and private financing for a global strategy to improve healthcare for women and children. Not a single penny was pledged to access to justice.

Grassroots approaches to justice remain chronically underfunded. Between 2005 and 2013, only 1.8% of global aid was dedicated to the justice sector [i] and only a handful of governments and donors recognize or fund grassroots justice defenders. In some of the world’s strongest economies, legal aid budgets are being cut.

Declines in democracy are further undermining the fight for justice in many societies. As authoritarianism grows and civil society space shrinks, the efforts and safety of grassroots justice defenders come increasingly under threat. [ii]

This World Social Justice Day grassroots justice defenders from around the world came together in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to call on world leaders to deliver on their promise of ensuring access to justice for all.

Mary Robinson and Hina Jilani of The Elders joined hundreds of civil society organizations for a public walk from the Cabildo to the Congress to demonstrate their shared commitment to realizing access to justice for all. The event is part of #WalkTogether, a year-long campaign leading up to Nelson Mandela’s 100th anniversary to inspire hope in the world by celebrating courageous moral leadership for “Mandela’s freedoms”: Peace, Health, Justice, and Equality.

The walk coincided with the first convening of a new global Task Force on Justice. Ministers from Argentina (host of the G20), the Netherlands (host of The Hague’s justice institutions) and Sierra Leone (chair of the G7+) have joined Hina Jilani as chairs of this new body. They have been tasked with accelerating the delivery of the SDGs that increase justice for people and communities living outside the protection of the law.

Civil society from across the world presented the members of the justice task force with the Declaration Villa Inflamable and called on them to implement its recommendations. The Declaration outlines practical steps for governments, the private sector, and civil society to increase access to justice by working together and supporting community-led efforts.

We know, however, that the biggest issues facing the justice community cannot be solved by a single walk or declaration. That is why Namati and the Global Legal Empowerment Network is taking the momentum generated by this event forward into a new three-year global campaign: Justice For All. The campaign will advocate for governments to improve funding and protections for grassroots justice defenders. Only when the work of those who help people to know, use and shape the law is secured will we be able to achieve access to justice for all.

Check out more photos and highlights from the day’s events on Twitter. 


[i] 2011 World Development Report
[ii] The Economist Intelligence Unit (2017), ‘Democracy Index 2017,’ available at Country analysis, industry analysis – Market risk assessment and The Economist Intelligence Unit (2017), Democracy Index 2017 – Free speech under attack. London: The Economist, available at Democracy Index 2017