Helen Clark: Remarks at the UNDP Annual Meeting on the Rule of Law in Crisis and Fragile Situations

May 28, 2015

UNDP is very happy to host this Annual Meeting on Rule of Law in Crisis and Fragile Settings once again.  

I welcome our guests:

Mr. Mohamed Salah Ben Aïssa, Minister of Justice of Tunisia;
Mr. Aristide Sokambi, Minister of Justice of Central African Republic;
and Mr. Bassam Talhouni, Minister of Justice of Jordan.

I thank our guests for being with us today to tell us about your dedicated efforts to advance the rule of law, justice, security and respect for human rights in your respective countries. We look forward to learning about your experiences and initiatives, and to discussing how the international community, including the UN, can most effectively support your efforts.

I also welcome the Ambassadors, delegations, and colleagues who have joined us today. Your participation signals the importance you place on the rule of law, justice, and basic human security in development, and your commitment to advancing the work of the UN to help countries in these areas. I thank you for your support and partnership.

I am pleased to be here with Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary General and Head of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations. Hervé and I are together at this annual meeting to underline the good collaboration of our two entities and their determination to work together as the UN Global Focal Point on police, justice, and corrections. Our aim is to improve continually the effectiveness of co-ordinated UN-wide support for the rule of law in crisis and post-conflict contexts.

By working to strengthen the rule of law in some of the most difficult environments in the world, we are striving to help countries to recover from conflict and violence, and to establish peace which is underpinned and reinforced by sustainable development. We recognize the rule of law to be uniquely central to all three pillars of the UN’s mandate – human rights, peace and security, and development.  

This year, the world has the opportunity to advance on all three pillars. I see 2015 as a “once in a generation” opportunity for world leaders to agree on a transformational and sustainable development agenda. We need good outcomes across the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, the Special Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Paris COP21 on climate change. The Sendai outcome in March on disaster risk reduction is also part of the equation.

The outcomes of three “peace reviews”, on peace operations, peacebuilding, and women in peace and security, will also help guide Member States’ decisions and actions to ensure that the UN’s response to conflict is “fit for purpose”.  

The successful implementation of all the 2015 outcomes will depend, in part, on efforts to strengthen and enforce the rule of law. The Global Focal Point arrangement on rule of law was established to maximize the support the UN system could provide countries in crisis or which are fragile environments.

UNDP, alongside DPKO, and working with OHCHR, UN Women and UNODC, among others, shares responsibility for making sure that UN rule of law assistance is coherent, co-ordinated, flexible, and successful in overcoming the varied and frequent challenges inherent to our work in these contexts.

I am pleased to share here a few of the highlights of our work last year, and refer to what we have learned along the way.

Rule of law achievements in 2014: Context and highlights

2014 saw both new and old threats to peace and development.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa and the impact of the Islamic State organization in several countries were among the major threats.  Violent extremism targeting civilians intensified in a number of countries. Some conflicts carried on, causing even more harm to countries which were already severely damaged – from Syria to South Sudan.

High levels of armed violence in some countries continue to undermine economic and social development. In others, the need to bring justice and redress to victims of violence and conflict remain high development priorities. We must continue to scale up our support for countries to uphold the rule of law and human rights, and to provide justice and security for citizens.   

Service provision and capable institutions.


Peaceful and resilient societies are built on institutions which can provide quality services to all, including excluded and/or victimized groups. In many countries in crisis, establishing or re-building such institutions can help lock in a positive social contract. Political support from the government and elites is essential for success.

In Central African Republic, the long-standing absence of the rule of law continues to blight peoples’ lives and the country’s development prospects. Supporting local partners to establish the presence of a state with at least a minimal capacity to deliver services is urgent.

In 2014, UNDP worked with MINUSCA and the Peacebuilding Support Office to help strengthen the justice, police, and prisons systems in Bangui. Our efforts led to the re-establishment of the Bangui District Court, the payment of police salaries, and the provision of equipment and vehicles. A joint US$15 million MINUSCA-UNDP-UNWOMEN Rule of Law programme has helped bring access to justice and redress mechanisms to local communities. These initiatives have been designed so that they support women to use the law to protect their interests.

The UN is now supporting efforts to establish a Special Court in CAR to prosecute human rights violations arising from the conflict, as agreed in the recently agreed peace “pact” (“Pacte Républicain” ).

Throughout 2014, many countries found their capacity to deliver services compromised by the displacement of people.  According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, by January 2015 there were 38 million people displaced by conflict and violence globally. For the Middle East, the figure is just under eleven million, with Iraq and Syria hosting the majority. That figure represents more than one quarter of the world’s displaced populations.  

The Syrian crisis is placing an exceptional stress on justice and security institutions - from the need to maintain positive relations between refugees and host communities, to the burden of coping with a sudden increase in prison population and court cases. Lebanon alone saw a forty per cent increase in court cases since the refugee crisis started.   

In such settings, UNDP supports national and local authorities to respond to the needs of communities and vulnerable groups for security and human rights protection. Last year, together with UNAMI, we supported the establishment of Iraq’s first Independent High Commission for Human Rights

UNDP also set up a protection network for Iraqi women, supported by sixteen Family Protection Units and 39 assistance desks. These served 6000 people, more than two-thirds of which were women.

In Pakistan, in 2014, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (“KP”) provincial government finalized an ambitious development plan for peace and prosperity which included a strong focus on the rule of law. Sadly, the appalling bombing of a school in December, leaving more than 130 children dead, demonstrated the persistently high levels of insecurity in KP.  Despite this, the Provincial Government and UNDP are undeterred in their efforts to establish the rule of law, justice, and security.

Last year, we jointly delivered legal aid clinics to more than 31,000 citizens in the area, established a police training centre, and equipped police stations and District Public Prosecutor’s offices in the hard-hit Malakand division. These efforts aim to help enhance people’s trust in the state, reduce violence, and help lay the ground for development.  

Ensuring women’s security and access to justice

In many crisis and post-crisis contexts, we continue to see high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).  This requires a concerted response from the international community.

In Burundi, a woman named Gloriose told UNDP: “Without the help I received from a (male) volunteer at the legal aid clinic, I wouldn’t be alive today.”  

Gloriose needed legal aid to deal with a violent husband and family after she refused to leave her home when her husband demanded a divorce.  For Gloriose, the UNDP-supported legal aid centre was her only recourse for justice.  Using a dispute resolution approach, the Centre also helped her to repair her relationships with her extended family.  

In 2014, these clinics aided 4,500 Burundians, half of whom were women. Sadly these services are now impaired by the deteriorating political and security conditions in the country – a situation which requires the full attention of the international community to prevent the crisis from derailing and rolling back hard-won development gains.

In UNDP, we have recognized the needs of women like Gloriose, in our Strategic Plan. We have an explicit focus on preventing and responding to SGBV, and this priority is fully integrated within our rule of law assistance.

Promoting citizen security and countering armed violence

In 2014, large-scale armed violence continued to cause significant damage to economic activity and human development in many countries.

Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2014, it experienced 68 deaths by homicide per 100,000 people; globally the average is just eight per 100,000. Almost eighty per cent of the homicides were inflicted by firearms.   

The World Bank estimates the annual costs of violence in Honduras to be ten per cent of the country’s GDP – or approximately $900 million. To help roll back this scourge, UNDP assisted the government to implement its Integrated Policy on Coexistence and Citizen Security. Since 2012 homicide rates have started to drop.  

In Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria - among others, we saw in 2014 how peace, stability and development were compromised by violent extremists and warlords who operate seamlessly across territorial borders. This is having devastating effects on people’s lives, families, and communities, and depleting natural resources and biodiversity.

This challenge demands that we seek to counter the magnetic effect of violent extremism, including by promoting the UN’s ideals of tolerance, inclusion, human rights, and the rule of law.  It is important that we help countries expand the freedoms and opportunities available to burgeoning populations of young people, and root out the exclusion, injustice, and discrimination which drives people to violence and extremism.

What we have learned from practice is that establishing the rule of law is not purely a technical endeavor. Whilst we work to strengthen governing and justice institutions, much depends on the political will of governments, ruling elites, and traditional leaders to respect human rights and the rule of law, and be inclusive in decision making processes.  

The participation of victims of conflict in Colombia, for example, in the peace talks has helped to ensure recognition and realization of their rights.  The Tunisian Government’s National Truth and Dignity Commission is another example of leadership. Since opening last December, the Commission has received an average of 100 cases per day from complainants, seeking the investigation of human rights violations committed from 1955 to 2013 - helping to heal wounds and bring an end to injustice and impunity.  

Turning a corner in 2015

As the UN works to improve its peace and peacebuilding support, it is important to recognize the development dimensions of this challenge. The real cost of peacebuilding over a generation includes the cost of the slow and difficult work needed to build consensus and trust, weave together a social contract, and heal wounds from injustices. At UNDP, we have seen what works, and believe that the costs of bringing these efforts to scale should be recognized and financed. I thank all present for being champions of this cause.  

Our recommendation to the various peacebuilding review panels is to deliver findings which support the UN system to function more effectively and collaboratively to deliver peace for the longer term. Building on the example of the Global Focal Point, we should aim for ever better co-ordination on improving our work on governance, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding.  

By the end of 2015, the new global development agenda should be in place. Embedded in the proposed SDG Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies are targets which aim to strengthen and reinforce the rule of law.  Goal 16 and its targets will be transformative: a target to reduce rates of lethal violence, for example, would provide a new impetus to the direction of development assistance.

UNDP is committed to supporting Member States to implement Goal 16, and to establishing appropriate monitoring systems for measuring progress.  

At UNDP, we look forward to working with all Member States on the implementation of the new global development agenda. Backed by our partnership with Member States on the next phase of UNDP’s Global Programme on Rule of Law, we will work hard to advance respect for the rule of law and human rights as essential for achieving a more peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable world.

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