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UN agencies call on States to act urgently to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people
by United Natiions agencies
United Nations entities call on States to act urgently to end violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) adults, adolescents and children
All people have an equal right to live free from violence, persecution, discrimination and stigma. International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights. While welcoming increasing efforts in many countries to protect the rights of LGBTI people, we remain seriously concerned that around the world, millions of LGBTI individuals, those perceived as LGBTI and their families face widespread human rights violations. This is cause for alarm – and action.
Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them against abuses such as violence and discriminatory laws and practices, constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society – contributing to increased vulnerability to ill health including HIV infection, social and economic exclusion, putting strain on families and communities, and impacting negatively on economic growth, decent work and progress towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
States bear the primary duty under international law to protect everyone from discrimination and violence. These violations therefore require an urgent response by governments, parliaments, judiciaries and national human rights institutions.
Community, religious and political leaders, workers’ organizations, the private sector, health providers, civil society organizations and the media also have important roles to play. Human rights are universal – cultural, religious and moral practices and beliefs and social attitudes cannot be invoked to justify human rights violations against any group, including LGBTI persons.
States should protect LGBTI persons from violence, torture and ill-treatment, including by:
• Investigating, prosecuting and providing remedy for acts of violence, torture and ill-treatment against LGBTI adults, adolescents and children, and those who defend their human rights;
• Strengthening efforts to prevent, monitor and report such violence;
• Incorporating homophobia and transphobia as aggravating factors in laws against hate crime and hate speech;
• Recognizing that persecution of people because they are (or are perceived to be) LGBTI may constitute a valid ground for asylum, and not returning such refugees to a place where their life or freedom might be threatened.
The United Nations and others have documented widespread physical and psychological violence against LGBTI persons in all regions - including murder, assault, kidnapping, rape, sexual violence, as well as torture and ill treatment in institutional and other setting.
LGBTI youth and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are at particular risk of physical, psychological and sexual violence in family and community settings. LGBTI persons often face violence and discrimination when seeking refuge from persecution and in humanitarian emergencies.
They may also face abuse in medical settings, including unethical and harmful so-called “therapies” to change sexual orientation, forced or coercive sterilization, forced genital and anal examinations, and unnecessary surgery and treatment on intersex children without their consent.
In many countries, the response to these violations is inadequate, they are underreported and often not properly investigated and prosecuted, leading to widespread impunity and lack of justice, remedies and support for victims.
Human rights defenders combatting these violations are frequently persecuted and face discriminatory restrictions on their activities.
LGBTI youth rejected by their families experience disproportionate levels of suicide, homelessness and food insecurity. Discrimination and violence contribute to the marginalization of LGBTI people and their vulnerability to ill health including HIV infection, yet they face denial of care, discriminatory attitudes and pathologization in medical and other settings.
The exclusion of LGBTI people from the design, implementation and monitoring of laws and policies that affect them perpetuates their social and economic marginalization.

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Four billion people around the world do not enjoy the protections afforded by the law
by Open Society Justice Initiative, agencies
It is estimated that four billion people around the world do not enjoy the protections afforded by law. The poorest and most vulnerable instead live at risk of losing their homes or the land upon which they depend for survival.
They are exploited by corrupt government officials or local power-brokers, who use money or force to take what they want. When poor communities cannot seek justice for their grievances, the resulting anger can spill over into violence.
If serious progress is ever going to be achieved in overcoming extreme poverty, the poor must enjoy the rule of law and functioning institutions of justice, otherwise money will continue to flow towards the powerful.
Goal 16 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals includes “access to justice” and ensuring that everyone has access to legal identity, such as birth registration. Goal 16 also includes targets addressing corruption, tackling violence, promoting accountability and transparency, and calling for access to justice and information and the promotion of the rule of law at all levels.
The importance of equal access to justice and participatory and inclusive approaches to development are recognized throughout the Sustainable Development Goals agreement in the framing preamble, and in the other goals, targets and review mechanisms.
Imagine a vibrant, modern economy sustaining itself where there is no respect for the sanctity of a contract, where a deed of ownership is not worth the paper it is written on, or where all disputes are resolved in a trial of strength, rather than by weighing the justice of competing claims. The rule of law is a basic precondition for sustainable economic development. In societies with some legal protections, those who lack the resources for or access to the legal system are often denied these safeguards.
During the negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals we at Open Society Foundations and our partners stressed the importance of including new targets on violence reduction, access to justice and the provision of legal identity, as well as the creation of more ways to enable citizens to take an active part in decisions that effect their well-being.
We continue to work with our partners around the world to present clear, concrete examples of access to justice is a fundamental human right and how it can support more inclusive global development.
March 2018
How do we measure Access to Justice? A global survey of legal needs shows the Way, by Peter Chapman & Alejandro Ponce.
When was the last time you had a legal problem? Not just a problem in court, but an issue that involved recourse to law? If your answer is within the last two years, you are not alone. An important new survey by the World Justice Project (WJP) found that more than half of the people they interviewed, in 45 countries around the world, said the same.
The survey, Global Insights on Access to Justice, is the first of its kind to try to understand global access to civil, rather than criminal, justice. The survey covered 1,000 people in the three largest cities of the 45 countries involved, ranging from Canada and Mongolia to Nicaragua and Vietnam. Specific legal problems varied by country, but consumer and land disputes were among the most commonly reported, with an average incidence of 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
The survey is an important step in advancing global conversations around the critical role access to civil justice plays in securing inclusive, sustainable development.
To combat poverty, policymakers and governments need to better understand civil justice problems, which disproportionally affect the poor and marginalized. There is currently no global policy framework for doing this for civil law, unlike in criminal law, where the right to counsel, for instance, is asserted in a range of international and national principles.
While the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for access to justice for all by 2030, the two global measures agreed to so far maintain a global focus on criminal justice (crime-victim reporting rates and pretrial detention rates). The WJP data highlights the importance of legal needs–based survey measures that explore civil justice.
The WJP data confirms widespread findings from national surveys: that when people are faced with civil justice problems, most do not turn to courts and lawyers for assistance or resolution. More than half of those who sought legal help or advice turned to a family member or friend, and less than one-third turned to a lawyer for assistance.
When seeking resolution, 13 percent turned to a third-party institution or individual for resolution, with the rest either resolving their problem through negotiation, direct agreement, or not resolving the problem at all.
More than one in six respondents reported that although their legal problem persists, they have given up all attempts to resolve it further.
More than half of those surveyed reported that it was difficult or nearly impossible to pay the costs incurred to resolve their legal problem.
What’s more, among respondents whose legal problem was not yet settled, fewer than half reported that they were able to get all the expert help they wanted.
These issues have tangible developmental and social impacts. The WJP survey found that justice issues impact people’s financial, social, and physical well-being. Slightly more than one in four respondents reported having experienced a stress-related illness due to their legal problem. More than one in five respondents reported the loss of employment or need to relocate because of their legal problem.
WJP’s survey findings have important implications for global policy debates that extend well beyond access to justice practitioners:
We need to increase our focus on access to civil justice and integrate access to justice into other development and poverty debates. It is important to discuss the role of access to justice for ensuring decent work and economic growth, protecting land rights, and guaranteeing safe and adequate housing, among many other development priorities.
We must challenge the misconception that courts and lawyers are the solution to access-to-justice issues. We should support flexible systems of legal assistance that meet people where they are, to help secure outcomes that are more just. Nonlawyers and community-based paralegals can play a critical role.
We need to build on the WJP survey to develop more robust measures of civil justice. It is exciting to see national governments—in Colombia, South Africa, and Indonesia, among others—exploring how to incorporate legal needs survey measures into their development frameworks through concrete, contextual indicators. Understanding access to justice in a developmental paradigm can help to offer opportunities for new partnerships, financing models, and, ultimately, more effective programs.
If we are to build a more inclusive society, we need to better understand and account for the justice problems that people actually experience. This new data from WJP represents an important step in that direction. Members of the United Nations body evaluating indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals should take note.
How Small Data Can Improve Access to Justice for the Poor, by Matthew Burnett & Tom Walker.
A tenant becomes homeless because she or he doesn’t understand how to challenge a landlord’s eviction order. A farmer lacks the ability to prove the legal ownership of traditional lands. A young woman can’t get access to state sponsored medical care because she lacks the right documentation.
These are all examples of how barriers to justice are both a cause and a consequence of poverty and inequality. Without meaningful access to justice, people are more likely to face problems with health, employment, housing, and education.
These issues are at the heart of efforts by the Open Society Foundations and other partners to push the world’s governments to deliver on the promise made in the Sustainable Development Goals to deliver “equal access to justice for all.” But what does that look like? How do we measure it? And how do we know what works, and what doesn’t?
Thanks to the more than 50 large-scale legal needs surveys which have been conducted in over 30 countries, we now know more than ever about the prevalence of various legal problems, global inequalities in people’s experience of the law, common barriers to justice, and the social and economic costs of ineffective access to justice.
Most recently, the World Justice Project’s 2018 Global Insights on Access to Justice provided comparable data on legal needs and access to justice on a global scale. Identifying the need is one thing. But how do we create and sustain effective access to justice solutions?
For one thing, we need more and better “small data” from within justice systems. Small data is drawn from the experience of the user and offers an accessible way to understand and address specific problems. It includes, for example, the individual case data gathered by organizations serving poor and marginalized communities, which draws on the problems faced by real people.
When collected and analyzed, this data can help identify the problems that matter to a community. It can shape the best ways to address those problems, and it can help us assess the actual impact of a particular solution. Small data can also give us the information to persuade governments and private funders to invest in the provision of community-based justice systems by demonstrating how a low-cost solution can save money and, sometimes, prevent a costly crisis.
While it does not replace large-scale legal needs studies, collecting this data is less expensive because it is generated through the day-to-day provision of legal services. It also adds an important complementary picture; it reflects experiences navigating real-time legal processes, whereas surveys often rely on people’s recall or perceptions.
To explore this potential, the Open Society Justice Initiative and several of the Open Society national foundations teamed up with The Engine Room, an international organization that helps nonprofits make the most of data and technology, to research how organizations collect, manage, analyze, and share data on community-based justice provisions.
We also explored the role that case management technology plays in helping organizations to improve the quality of their advocacy and provide services to larger numbers of people in more effective and efficient ways. Our report explores the use and impact of technology in case management in Indonesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa, informed by interviews with a range of civil society organizations, technologists, and government representatives.
Here’s what we learned:
Frontline case data can help to identify, in a compelling way, problems that need fixing based on local priorities. In 2012 and 2013, for example, the South African organization Black Sash used case data from local Community Advice Offices to discover that money was systematically—and inappropriately—deducated from people’s government benefit payments. Using data from more than 120 cases, from across three provinces, Black Sash ran a campaign that successfully ended the practice.
Collecting more data on legal aid and community-based justice can demonstrate the scale and impact of access to justice interventions. For example, the National Legal Aid Council in Moldova recently introduced a system that will collect data on paralegals’ activities nationwide, helping to build the case for sustainable, long-term support.
It can also generate insights into complex issues by sharing data between organizations, as demonstrated by those organizations in the United Kingdom who collaborated to investigate common advice needs among homeless people.
Case data can demonstrate that community-based justice reduces public spending, by limiting the use of state resources. For example, a 2007–2010 analysis of 338 cases in Indonesia showed that paralegals in Indonesia often found alternative solutions that minimized the need to involve police, mediating between conflicting parties in 54 percent of cases reviewed.
The Open Society Foundations are currently working with organizations in South Africa and Sierra Leone to conduct further research into the economic benefits to government, and to make the case for expanded justice services.
Well-designed technology systems for collecting case data can make legal empowerment work more efficiently, reducing costs and time spent on administration. By replacing manual processes with a new case management system, Legal Aid South Africa reduced the number of managers required to process cases from 64 to five. Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights has said that moving to an online system has doubled the amount of money successfully reimbursed to independent legal aid organizations nationwide.
Collecting data effectively and regularly can also make organizations more responsive. Organizations we spoke to in Sierra Leone were starting to use case data both to identify paralegals’ training needs, and to shed light on questions such as the proportion of people who access local courts rather than the formal justice system.
Our research suggests that harnessing the benefits of case management systems takes time and resources; careful attention to context; and thoughtful, sustained engagement on the needs of users. But it also highlights how “small data” can have a big impact. By bringing together experiences from a wide range of national contexts to identify useful strategies and approaches, the Open Society Foundations are aiming to contribute to this process.
* The Universal Rights Network notes that in every single country in the world, Justice is accorded unequally on the basis of wealth and power relations. No country is an exception.

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