Strengthening the rule of law and accountability for human rights violations

The rule of law and accountability for human rights violations are critical for prevention of violations, conflict, and violence, the building and sustaining of peace, and achievement of inclusive development. The costs of lawlessness are starkly evident across the world: in failures of justice and impunity for crimes, conflict over unaddressed grievances, and oppressive, unaccountable rule. We need governance systems in which all duty bearers, institutions and entities, public or private, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, independently adjudicated, and consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

All countries face challenges in meeting these standards. There are persistent gaps in access to justice, especially for those subjected to discrimination, while much still needs to be done to ensure the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights. Many public decision-making processes remain opaque and non-participatory, hindering people’s ability to demand and secure accountability. Much still needs to be done to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights can be legally claimed and adjudicated. Corruption is a key risk across the board, including in judiciary and law enforcement institutions. The need for vigilance is heightened further by the decision of some States to combat insecurity or terrorism by measures that violate human rights and challenge international standards, including the absolute prohibition of torture and restrictions on use of the death penalty. These measures have proved to be counter-productive and need to be countered.

We will continue to work with our partners to strengthen the rule of law and accountability for human rights violations in the context of law enforcement and justice systems, and will pay added attention to those violations which have been traditionally disregarded, such as those relating to economic, social and cultural rights and gender-related crimes. We will move beyond traditional judicial accountability and seek to create conditions in which people can meaningfully shape or challenge policy decisions that affect their lives, as an element of ensuring accountability and good governance. We will work within the United Nations system to ensure that its commitments to secure accountability and strengthen the rule of law are properly coordinated and supported.

Over the period 2018-2021, together with our partners, we will work so that:

Laws, policies and practices increasingly address, prevent and reduce human rights violations in the context of law enforcement and justice systems.

We will advocate for administration of justice systems to comply with international human rights law, including through amicus briefs and trial monitoring. Through monitoring, reporting, capacity building and advocacy, we will seek to strengthen institutional policy frameworks and accountability mechanisms to increase human rights protection in the context of law enforcement, specifically with regard to deprivation of liberty, use of force, and prevention of torture and ill-treatment. We will undertake strategic advocacy and develop partnerships to promote the abolition of the death penalty and, pending its abolition, we will promote moratoria and increased adherence to international human rights law. Finally, we will engage strategically to address the human rights implications of responses to transnational crimes, such as drug crimes, terrorism, and human trafficking, including through research, technical support and advocacy.

Strengthened national mechanisms provide redress to victims and accountability for human rights violations, including for economic and social rights.

We will provide support to strengthen independent judicial authorities and oversight mechanisms, as well as legal aid and witness protection programmes; train judicial institutions and administrative authorities; advocate for the establishment of individual complaints mechanisms in national human rights institutions; and promote ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We will help civil society and independent monitoring bodies to seek justice in cases relating to economic, social and cultural rights.

Justice systems investigate and prosecute gender-related crimes more effectively.

We will assist judicial officials to improve their understanding of international standards on gender-based crimes, and their capacity to investigate and prosecute such crimes and implement survivor-centred reparation programmes; and encourage the adoption of gender-sensitive procedures to enhance participation of victims in justice processes. We will support the investigation and reporting of such crimes and strategic litigation before national and regional courts. We will build civil society’s capacity to advocate for accountability for gender-related crimes; and support the development, promotion, and application of normative guidance.

States take measures to ensure that their decision-making, policies and actions are more transparent and the public has access to information for accountability purposes.

We will undertake research, policy development and strategic communications to increase understanding of the importance of transparency and access to information as key components of accountability; strengthen the capacity of national human rights institutions and oversight bodies to adjudicate and enforce transparency and freedom of information standards; and work within the UN system to reinforce its policies in this area.

UN efforts for the rule of law, justice, counter-terrorism and accountability put human rights at the core.

We will support UN programmes that strengthen countries’ rule of law systems, including through law reform and support to justice and security policies and institutions, and ensure they are anchored in human rights law. We will contribute to the development of policies and guidance for human rights and justice mechanisms that United Nations intergovernmental bodies have established to collect, analyse and preserve evidence for use in judicial processes. We will assist the Office of Counter-Terrorism to integrate human rights, including gender perspectives, in its policies and programmes. We will increase partnerships and develop practical guidance on human rights and drug policies. We will strengthen UN accountability mechanisms, including mechanisms and processes to prevent and address violations committed by or attributed to staff members.

Work under all six pillars covers the core components of our mandate, enabling universal but strategic coverage (given resource limits) of human rights in all countries. The thematic pillars are indivisible, interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

Through four major Shifts to our approach, we will better adapt our work to the changing external context.

These shifts will help us focus on key threats to rights and key opportunities for leveraging support to better protect and promote rights. The shifts we will make across our six pillars are to:

i.  Support prevention of conflict, violence and insecurity.
ii.  Protect and expand civic space.
iii. Support and further develop the global constituency for human rights.
iv. Deliver human rights in the context of emerging global concerns (‘frontier issues’).

These Shifts’ will further unify our efforts as one Office; driving coherence, scale and measurable human rights impact in an uncertain world.

Our work will be ‘people-centred’. Across everything we do, including when we focus on the human rights of other population groups, we will shine a spotlighton the human rights of women, young people and persons with disabilities. In support of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda’s human rights-based commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, we will highlight the human rights concerns of women, young people and persons with disabilities, including as defenders of rights.