The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global emergency. It is not only a health crisis but also a human rights crisis. Justice actors face daunting responsibilities as they design, implement, and enforce new measures to prevent the spread of infection. Measures that heighten the risk of human rights abuses can undermine trust, at a time when the justice system most needs to maintain the public’s confidence.
For better or for worse, justice systems and justice workers are on the frontline of this pandemic. If we get our response right, societies will be better able to confront the pandemic effectively and fairly. That will build the foundations for reset and recovery. If we get it wrong, it is no exaggeration to say that people will die unnecessarily.
In the Justice for All report released last year, the Task Force on Justice noted that 1.5 billion people had a justice problem that they could not resolve. Now as well as before the pandemic, marginalized communities – already poorly served by justice systems – face the highest risks, as do vulnerable groups. The pandemic is widening the justice gap, with a sharp increase in the problems that many people face and the ability of justice actors to respond declining.
This briefing – Justice for All and the Public Health Emergency – discusses the most pressing priorities that the public health emergency poses for justice leaders and proposes seven areas for urgent action as the tide of infections continues to rise. It will soon be followed by a second briefing to cover the role justice plays in the economic crisis and recovery, and in building cohesion and hope for a better world.
In the health sector we are seeing a massive global effort, with people coming together in response to the pandemic. This includes unprecedented international cooperation, a global drive to find treatment and a vaccine, and intensive international sharing and learning among health professionals as they battle the pandemic.
This briefing too has been a collective effort, but it is only the beginning. It is also a call to action for the justice community to rally to help countries under extraordinary pressure to get it right.
We call on everyone working for justice – globally, nationally, locally; in government, civil society, community organizations or the private sector – to pull together to resolve the justice problems the pandemic is creating, to prevent injustices from occurring, and to use justice as a platform for people to play the fullest possible role in their economies and societies.