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Measuring justice and rule of law

The UN has launched two reports on rule of law indicators and women’s access to justice.

Signing of agreement to hand-over responsibilities to Police in Timor-Leste © UN Photo/Martine PerretThe United Nations Rule of Law Indicators, developed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, is a tool for assessing the rule of law in post-conflict situations.

“The rule of law is a pre-condition for achieving the three pillars of the United Nations – peace and security, development and human rights,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, at the launch of the report.

He added that the indicators would be most useful when applied over time, not only helping governments to monitor their own performance, but also creating awareness among civil society organisations and the media about the state of the rule of law in the country.

Based on surveys of public and expert perceptions, administrative data and document review, the indicators assess the transparency, integrity and accountability of the police, judiciary and prisons. They also consider how these institutions treat vulnerable groups such as minorities and refugees; and their capacity to fulfil their duties.

They are presently being applied in Haiti and Liberia, whose representatives attended the launch, along with the representative of Finland as one of the financiers of the project, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

“We hope that in the future, the indicators will cover more areas, such the balance of power between the three branches of government, and that they will be used in many more countries,” said Šimonović.

Access to justice, including response to gender-based violence, is one of the areas the rule of law indicators will assess, and the subject of the second report launched by the UN.

“Justice is still out of reach for millions of women,” asserts Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, a flagship report of UN Women, the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women.

The report recognizes the progress that has been made in this regard, but also shows that women continue to experience injustice, violence and inequality at home and at work.

“Although equality between women and men is guaranteed in the constitutions of 139 countries and territories, inadequate laws and implementation gaps make these guarantees hollow promises, having little impact on the day-to-day lives of women,” it observes.

Gender injustice still exists through domestic violence, unequal pay, and the under-representation of women in the parliaments of many countries.

The report highlights the windows of opportunity to fight gender injustice. When changes in the law are properly enforced, it can “lay the groundwork for changing attitudes and improving women’s position in society.”

However, justice systems are still affected by customs and traditions that are often difficult to navigate and to change. The key, the report says, is women’s economic and political empowerment through legal change, such as guaranteeing equal pay, introducing parliamentary quotas, and ensuring that women know their rights and are able to access the justice system.

“With half the world’s population at stake, the findings of this report are a powerful call to action… We must pass now from document to reality,” said Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women.

The two reports were launched in New York on 6 July.

8 July 2011