General News

High-Level Meeting on Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

As prepared for delivery.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 I would like to extend a particularly warm welcome to our distinguished speakers:

•    Mr. German Garavano, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Argentina, and co-chair of the Task Force on Justice

•    Ms. Raya al-Hassan, Minister of the Interior, Lebanon

•    Judge Ricardo Pérez Manrique, Inter-American Court of Human Rights and former Chief Justice of Uruguay

•    Mr. Michel Landry Louang, President of the Special Criminal Court, Central African Republic

•    Ms. María José Segarra Crespo, Attorney-General, Spain

As we have heard from Under Secretary-General Menendez, on behalf of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General — while we have made much progress to date, we must now accelerate our efforts to reach the ambitious targets set by the 2030 Agenda.

As we discuss the rule of law, I reflect on the singular notion of justice — not only as a service or a pillar of government — but as an ethical and political concept to support the achievement of the SDGs. The pre-eminent Austrian jurist and UN legal expert, the late Hans Kelsen, understood justice to be a “Grund norm” (basic norm) of the UN System — it is an undeniable fact that we still need justice as an essential foundation for societies if we are going to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The UN’s strong, collective action to support peaceful, just and inclusive societies continues to be needed across the globe.

However, our collective work to bring about justice is facing a number of obstacles:

Injustice caused by violent conflict is on the rise.

Civic space is shrinking, and discrimination and inequality are inhibiting access to justice.

Commitments to multilateralism are being rolled back — including, in some places, the commitment to justice and human rights.

Younger generations are correctly educating the adult world and advancing the notion that the climate crisis is also an issue of justice.

In considering these threats, we know that:

Countries experiencing a lack of peace are at risk of not achieving the 2030 Agenda and they are seeing their hard-won development gains reversed;

Ongoing conflicts have resulted in more people being displaced than at any point in recent history, threatening to deteriorate quality of life for millions of people;

Mobilization around perceptions of injustice continues to pose one of the greatest risk factors for violence;

Exclusion inhibits the realization of human rights and, in turn, will also hold back human development.

Should these trends continue to remain unresolved, it is possible that more than 50 per cent of the world’s poor will live in conflict-affected contexts by the year 2030.

We simply cannot let this become the new reality. We also know:

That all people, in all situations, in all corners of the world deserve to live peaceful and prosperous lives;

That human rights and sustainable human development are mutually inclusive and reinforcing;

That, with the clock ticking towards 2030 — we must focus our rule of law and human rights efforts on where we can have the most immediate, catalytic impact;

That putting people at the centre of these efforts is, in this sense, the best place to start.

An Urgent Call to action

Therefore, my message today is simple: An unjust world cannot deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It is very clear that strengthening the rule of law and advancing human rights is a long-term investment in people, peace and the planet that pays massive dividends.

We must act now, and we must act together.

I applaud the efforts of many of you in this room who work day in, day out — sometimes at the risk of your own personal safety –to achieve peace, justice and inclusive societies.

I am personally pleased to have endorsed the recent Ministerial Declaration on Access to Justice for All alongside 19 other Member States and led by the Netherlands.

I am also very happy to support the High-Level Task Force on Justice, which has undertaken an extensive and widespread advocacy campaign for SDG 16.3 over the past 18 months to call for the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.

The work of the G7+ should also be acknowledged, having recommitted to furthering progress on access to justice in their countries under the framework of the New Deal and the Peacebuilding and State-building Goals.

Furthermore, I would take this opportunity to thank those who directly contribute to UNDP’s ability to implement comprehensive rule of law and human rights programmes: the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Japan.

UNDP response: People-centered rule of law and human rights for the 2030 Agenda

At UNDP, we are driven by trying to understand what barriers to the rule of law people face and how to best lend our support in their quest to overcome them and to receive effective justice and security.

This is the premise on which we have built our Global Programme on Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights for Sustaining Peace and Fostering Development. The programme makes varied and valued contributions to strengthen the rule of law and human rights in nearly 40 crisis-affected contexts around the world.

The support that UNDP provides through the Global Programme is demand-driven and is provided at the request of national counterparts — this principle also helps to ensure that the political environment enables transformative change

I would like to share three examples of how UNDP’s work is contributing to a people-centered approach to the rule of law, justice and human rights — in some cases, under extremely challenging conditions.

Access to justice for displaced populations

Firstly: According to UNHCR, we are experiencing the highest number of forcibly displaced people on record — over 70 million people, and among those are the most likely to be left behind. Working closely with UNHCR, UNDP supports people to access their rights and entitlements and aim to bridge humanitarian and development efforts.

For example, in Jordan, UNDP has supported legal clinics in communities hosting refugees to raise awareness of legal rights among vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls. In Lebanon, we work closely with authorities to develop a people-centered culture with the aim of reducing tensions between communities and the refugees that they host.

Supporting Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

Secondly: More countries are experiencing violent conflict than at any time in nearly 30 years. With the rise in conflict and violence, we also see a rise in the rates of conflict-related sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence require access to comprehensive services to recover from this particularly cruel form of violence. UNDP strives to support survivors of this violence, to address impunity and to ensure they have full access to justice. We also support community networks, legal clinics, and awareness-raising campaigns to this end.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, UNDP, together with MONUSCO and the Team of Experts on Sexual Violence in Conflict, supported eight mobile court hearings on sexual and gender-based violence and we worked with civil society to provide legal services as well as comprehensive support for survivors.

Promoting people-centered processes to sustain peace

Thirdly: In many cases, utilizing a people-centered approach is critical for sustaining peace and preventing the roots of conflict and fragility from taking hold in a society.

Zimbabwe is a unique example of this as it finds itself at critical juncture in its political and economic history. In the wake of its first change to Head of State in 37 years, the government adopted a Transitional Stabilization Programme, prioritizing fiscal consolidation, economic stabilization and growth. This plan also includes people-centered provisions, such as increasing access to justice and respect of human rights.

Mobilizing partnerships for effective action

Our work is sustainable only when it is grounded in dynamic, multi-stakeholder, and cross-sectoral partnerships.

Across the UN System, we are working together to integrate the political and development dimensions of these efforts.

One of the key mechanisms for this is the Global Focal Point for Rule of Law — which brings peacekeeping, development, political, and humanitarian actors together in order to effectively respond to requests.

For example, in the Central African Republic, UNDP has been working with MINUSCA and other UN entities through the Global Focal Point to operationalize the Special Criminal Court over the past three years. The Special Criminal Court held its inaugural session in 2018, commencing the investigation phase of serious crimes committed in the country since 2003.

Another flagship system-wide mechanism is the Tripartite Partnership to Support National Human Rights Institutions. UNDP, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions come together to empower these national institutions to review and monitor the human rights situation on the ground and to put in place early-warning mechanisms — to prevent violence, to check abuse of authority, and to ensure that everyone can access their rights.

The SDGs also provide an extremely strong framework for innovative partnerships — for example with the private sector to set the conditions to enable businesses to contribute to the promotion of the rule of law and human rights. Over the last four years, the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies has brought together Member States, the UN System and private sector champions. For instance, LexisNexis, a platform which provides computer-assisted legal research, is assisting in the exchange of knowledge and experience and leverage the respective strengths of different entities to further progress on SDG 16+.

UNDP also has a strong partnership in the Asia-Pacific region that convenes governments, the private sector actors, civil society and national human rights institutions to mobilize action on human rights within the business community.

UNDP is also committed to prioritizing innovation including the use of technology in the rule of law and human rights arenas. For example, an accessible, straightforward mobile application known as Your Rights is helping displaced people and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Ukraine to access comprehensive tools to seek the restoration of their rights.


In conclusion, the 2030 Agenda lays out a clear pathway with set targets for all countries to aim for in order to realise peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

However, the SDGs simply cannot be delivered in an unjust world.

We must take heed of the multiple and often complex trends that place the 2030 Agenda at risk.

What is very clear is that strengthening the rule of law and advancing human rights is an extremely worthwhile and long-term investment in people, peace and the planet.

This is something that we at UNDP are extremely proud to be a part of.

UNDP will continue to offer our partners demand-driven support which is provided at the request of national counterparts — this principle also helps to ensure that the political environment enables the necessary transformative change.