June 7, 2021


Defending the Rule of Law Through a Pandemic: A Guest Blog by the World Justice Project

By The World Justice Project, Washington, D.C., USA

The World Justice Project, founded in 2006, is an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to create knowledge, build awareness and stimulate action to advance the rule of law worldwide.  The World Justice Project is committed to collecting, analyzing and publishing data on access to justice and justice needs, along with supporting the adoption of 16.3.3 indicator on access to justice and identifying and promoting best practices and successful solutions to address the justice gap. Through its events, partnerships and research, WJP organizes campaigns and drives actions on SDG16+ through its global network.  WJP has been a TAP Network Partner since 2019.

The World Justice Challenge 2021: Advancing the Rule of Law in a Time of Crisis is a global competition organized by the World Justice Project to identify, recognize, and promote good practices and high-impact projects and policies that protect and advance the rule of law amidst an unprecedented global health crisis.

When the COVID-19 virus began crossing borders in early 2020, it did so amidst a continuing, global downturn in the rule of law—as reported in the latest WJP Rule of Law Index. Given the exceptional nature of these twin crises of public health and rule of law, the 2021 World Justice Challenge competition focused on how changemakers on the ground have responded to these crises and highlighted their essential role in defending and promoting the rule of law.

WJP received a remarkable global response, with 425 applications from 114 countries. Africa and the Middle East led regional applications, which were otherwise spread fairly evenly across the globe. Of all applications, 72% were submitted by civil society and/or non-profit organizations, a clear example of the role CSOs continue to play in upholding and strengthening the rule of law around the world. Applications were also submitted by local and national governments and judiciaries; social business entrepreneurs; law firms; multilateral organizations, and academic institutions.

Four Themes and Two Special Awards:

The World Justice Challenge 2021 was organized around four central themes, with one project being awarded $20,000 USD in recognition of their results and impact under each thematic category. The themes of the competition were:

1)      Access to Justice for All

2)      Accountable Governance

3)      Anti-Corruption and Open Government

4)      Fundamental Rights and Non-Discrimination

To set the context, WJP convened leading experts and practitioners in four webinar events focused on COVID-19 and its effects. In collaboration with its eight thematic partners, WJP’s webinars covered the problems and promising solutions for each of the four themes described above. Featured speakers also discussed recommendations for actions needed to address the crisis’ underlying challenges, support an effective recovery process, and build back better rule-of-law-based societies. You can find a summary of each event here.

A fifth, cross cutting prize was also added, focusing on the fight against inequality and gender-based discrimination. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Legacy Prize was created to recognize former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg’s lifelong work in service to the causes of justice, equality, and the rule of law, and in recognition of her tremendous inspiration to WJP’s mission and work.

In March, WJP, along with the help of its thematic partners, selected 30 finalist projects and 10 honorable mentions based on their impact, sustainability, and potential for scaling and replication. Each project was prominently featured on WJP’s website, and on the World Justice Challenge Community Forum, a platform created for people to engage with finalists, share resources, and network with members of the rule of law community.

The World Justice Challenge finalists were also featured on four World Justice Challenge 2021 Regional Showcases, organized in partnership with WJP’s seven regional partners. During each showcase, WJP’s partners highlighted the efforts underway in each region to “build back better” from the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The finalists were given an opportunity to present their projects and share key insights into their objectives and impact, along with participating in informal breakout rooms to answer questions about their project.

On April 15, WJP opened up a Network Popular Vote, inviting members of its rule of law network to vote for their favorite project, through the Community Forum. The selected project went on to win the sixth prize, the Network Popular Vote prize, in recognition of its inspiration and impact on the wider rule of law community.

A high-level panel of judges led selection from around the globe, each with  decades of experience in leadership roles in the judiciary and at the United Nations, and as heads of state, lawyers and civil society campaigners.

Winning Organizations:

On May 26th, WJP held a Live Awards Presentation to announce the six winning projects. The winners, by category, are:

  1.       Access to Justice for All: Increasing Access to Justice and Providing Legal Education Through Online Learning Platforms and Virtual CourtsJustice Defenders (Kenya/Uganda/Gambia) – This project aims to make justice and fair trial accessible to prisoners in Africa through legal education, training, and practice. Justice Defenders has trained prisoners and prison staff to become paralegals and lawyers in 46 prisons across Kenya and Uganda. They are currently expanding their programs virtually, and notably have piloted a virtual paralegal training program in prisons in the Gambia.  The judges selected this project as an impressive example of empowering prisoners and prison staff through legal training, education, and facilitating access to the courts during the pandemic.
  2.       Accountable Governance: Tella – Horizontal (US/Global/Myanmar/Belarus) – Tella is a documentation app that ensures easier, safer, and more secure documentation of events such as human rights violations, corruption, and electoral fraud. Due to its configuration as an open-source application, Tella can be easily replicated and adapted by activists and CSO organizations across the world. Tella was launched in early 2019 to support election observation during the Nigerian generaleElections, and has since been used in other electoral contests, including two elections in Belarus. Tella has also been used to collect data on gender-based violence in Cuba, on human rights violations in Myanmar and West Papua, and on attacks on indigenous defenders in Brazil.  The judges selected this project as a versatile, secure and customizable tool to document government abuses, including violence, human rights violations, corruption, and electoral fraud, effectively holding governments accountable.
  3.       Anti-Corruption and Open Government: Constructing Transparency: Promoting Justice in Honduras Through Good Governance and Strong Public Management – Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) (Honduras) – This project combats systemic corruption in Honduras by evaluating government institutions’ human resources, purchases, and results. During COVID-19, the project used its innovative methodology to audit $80 million of national emergency purchases. Its findings helped fuel an outcry for transparency and sparked changes in national decision-making that continue to benefit public health.  The judges selected this project as a strong example of an investigation into a healthcare system that produced specific, concrete results with government agencies, widespread media coverage, and prosecutions of corrupt actors. The project’s ability to work across multiple stakeholders and get investigations covered by the media to raise pressure for accountability was an impressive method of producing a strong, tangible impact.
  4.       Fundamental Rights and Non-Discrimination: COVID-19 Project: Demanding Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination for the Arab Minority Through the Israeli Legal System – Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Israel) – This project uses legal action before Israeli courts and state authorities, together with media outreach, to obtain remedies for discrimination faced by the Arab minority in Israel. Adalah has undertaken over 40 legal actions, including 15 Supreme Court petitions, and achieved positive legal results, including the provision of COVID-19 testing, more equitable allocation of public funds for Arab towns, and civil liberties protections.  The judges selected this project for its effectiveness in using legal remedies to address the discriminatory effects of the pandemic crisis, leading to significant results in the struggle for fundamental human rights and non-discrimination of Arab minorities in Israel.
  5.       Ruth Bader Ginsburg Legacy Prize: Inua Mama Fua – Dhobi Women Network (Kenya) – This project defends the rights of women domestic workers in the suburbs of Nairobi. During the pandemic, many women working in the informal sector in Kenya lost their jobs and saw a rise in harassment and detainment by law enforcement officials. The Inua Mama Fua project linked many of these workers with social services during the crisis, including psychosocial services, training on skills and stress management, and legal counseling. The Dhobi Women Network also provided food and personal protective equipment for the women, and facilitated workshops to educate and sensitize the local police officers on the hardships many of the female domestic workers are facing.  The judges selected this project as an important example of a multifaceted approach to the fight against inequality and gender-based discrimination through provision of emergency social services and raising awareness of these women’s rights to decent work. The judges also felt that Justice Ginsburg would have appreciated this project in the context of workplace discrimination, as these workers are outside of the formal employment sector, were directly affected by the pandemic, and therefore test the notion of equal protection under the law in intriguing ways.
  6.       WJP Network Popular Vote: Accelerate Release of Children; Protect Children from COVID-19 – Terre des Hommes Foundation (Switzerland/Global) – This project is dedicated to building rapid knowledge and mobilizing interdisciplinary partnerships to foster a global advocacy campaign with a swift, targeted, and effective impact for children deprived of liberty. Terre des Hommes’ project has led to the emergency release and reintegration care of hundreds of children worldwide. It has also boosted concrete child justice sector reform measures to make systems more resilient when facing crises and supported the empowerment of child justice actors, including children.

What Comes Next?:

As described by Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of the World Justice Project: “The promising approaches shown by these six winning projects, and indeed by all 30 Challenge finalists, serve as a guiding light to changemakers the world over. We are honored to recognize their work and pleased to welcome them to the WJP network.”

Looking beyond the success of the World Justice Challenge 2021, WJP seeks to engage its rule of law network even further. To that end, WJP is pleased to announce that its next World Justice Forum, the premier international event for the rule of law, will be held in The Hague, Netherlands from May 30-June 2, 2022.

The Forum will be organized around the theme of “Building more just communities: A rule of law agenda for a post-COVID world.” WJP is also pleased to announce that the next edition of the World Justice Challenge will be incorporated into the 2022 World Justice Forum and encourages all members of the TAP Network to mark their calendars for this important event!

Don’t miss the announcement for the World Justice Forum and World Justice Challenge 2022—sign up for the World Justice Project’s newsletter here! 

About TAP Storytelling: In 2021, TAP Network is launching the TAP Storytelling Initiative, which will aim to closely and frequently highlight the work of our Network through working directly with them to produce quality online content about their endeavors. Together in this initiative, we will aim to intimately spotlight the work of our Members and Partners and the challenges, successes, failures, processes and problem solving that comes with it, while also offering the chance for wide promotion through TAP’s outreach channels. We hope that these opportunities will not only offer heightened visibility of the work of our Network, but will also inspire and educate more commitments to SDG16 and transparency and accountability for the 2030 Agenda as a whole. If you are interested in spearheading this work with us, head to our TAP Membership Engagement Portal where you can find the Storytelling Form to submit your interest.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on the TAP Network Blog Platform are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the TAP Network. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion.

Photo by World Justice Project

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