Accelerating action to provide Justice for All: From the High-Level Political Forum to the SDG Summit


‘Playing safe’ or doing ‘business as usual’ will not deliver the results the world needs,” Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current Chair of the Elders, said in her opening address at High-Level Political Forum in July.

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was an important bridge to next week’s SDG Summit. Both events are opportunities to energize and further strengthen a growing movement for Justice for all that is coming together to change business as usual in the justice sector.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, the ministries of Justice of Sierra Leone and Argentina, The Elders, Namati, Open Society Justice Initiative, the Task Force on Justice and other partners came together for an exciting evening on Justice for All on the eve of the HLPF’s high-level week.

(Photos: Meredith Lawrence)

The co-chairs of the Task Force on Justice presented the report Justice for All , and invited participants to create partnerships around its agenda for action and continue to build momentum. The event:

  • presented the agenda for action of the Justice for All Report, which emphasizes the need: to place justice at the heart of sustainable development; to create people-centered justice; and to transform systems that only provide justice for the few to systems that are capable of providing justice for all;
  • provided a platform for Member States and other actors leading on SDG 16’s justice agenda to push for action;
  • profiled the contribution by civil society actors already taking action through on-the-ground change;
  • brought interested members of the HLPF country delegations, civil society representatives and justice partners together to generate alignment for the implementation of SDG 16.3 as part of advancing a movement that will drive action for SDG16.3;

The event included the 2019 prize ceremony for Namati’s Grassroots Justice Award. The award recognizes the contribution of civil society champions . Four organizations were recognized for their courage, innovation, scale and sustainability: Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), City Live/Vida Urbana, NIRMAN and This Life Cambodia.

(Mary Robinson presents the Namati Grassroots Justice Prize to Mr. Prasant Mohanty, Executive Director of NIRMAN. Photo: Meredith Lawrence)

Sara Hossain, Task Force member and Supreme Court of Bangladesh Advocate, in her keynote address, had this core message:

“…there is much to be done if we are to reach our goal of justice for all. We cannot simply resign ourselves to the fact that justice systems still only protect the few. The justice gap of 5 billion — people who do not have meaningful access to justice — is vast and unacceptable… In finding practical solutions, we need to put people front and center. We call on countries, North and South, to step forward to show leadership to ensure justice for all…The SDG Summit in September is an opportunity to make clear the world’s commitments.”

After the event The Elders hosted a high-level dinner, with support from The Netherlands, on providing access to justice for all. The dinner included senior Member State representatives, members of the Task Force on Justice and civil society leaders. The guest of honor was UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed.

Fair and efficient justice systems, so critical to inclusive development, remain beyond the reach of some 5 billion people.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres (UN Photo)

The findings of the Justice for All report and its call to action were echoed throughout the HLPF week. UN Secretary General Guterres drew from the Report at the opening session of the HLPF calling attention to the fact that “fair and efficient justice systems, so critical to inclusive development remain beyond the reach of some 5 billion people”.

Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders, noted how justice undergirds the 2030 Agenda in her keynote address:

“Justice is the thread that runs through each of the 17 SDGs. Without equal access to justice for all, at every level in society, we stand little chance of achieving the wider goals….Too often, the justice systems that are supposed to prevent and resolve people’s problems cater for the few rather than the many…The chasm between the haves and have-nots should shame us all.”

She concluded with a forward looking call to action: “[t]he HLPF provides an opportunity to take an honest look at what all states have achieved and what more we need to do on the SDGs, so that when world leaders convene in New York in September for the SDG Summit, they can come with more than just words.”

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

The HLPF is a launching pad for a successful SDG Summit.

In the 2030 Agenda, Member States are asked to use the Summit as a means to “mobilize further actions to accelerate implementation” of the SDGs and to respond to the Deputy Secretary General’s call for a “decade of action”. The President of the General Assembly specifically encouraged Heads of State and Government to come to New York in September with concrete commitments and plans for implementation.

In preparation of the SDG Summit, UN DESA has established a global registry for countries and other actors to register their acceleration actions to achieve SDG goals, including on justice.

The HLPF showed there is a growing movement for justice around the world through partners coming together to highlight achievements and advocate for change. If we work together to find solutions and deliver on the promise of Justice for All we have a chance to make real progress in the coming years.