Best practices on access to justice in Latin America

Promoting access to justice for all is one of the pillars of the recently- approved SDG 16. Access to equal opportunities for people to exercise their human rights and ensure their welfare without discrimination and with respect for diversity has been recognized as one of the fundamental goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Social cohesion, indeed, is often defined as the ‘glue’ that holds societies together.

So, as we move towards SDG implementation, what better way to help define what access to justice actually means on the ground than bringing together experts from different national contexts to share their experiences and best practices?

In Latin America, the ‘One hundred Brasilia Regulations regarding Access to Justice for Vulnerable People’ set common access-to-justice principles. But how are these principles interpreted and applied in countries across the region? What do they really mean for, say, women suffering violence in Central America, indigenous peoples in Peru, or the urban poor in Brazil and Paraguay?

Since 2012, IDLO has been convening experts from the Ministries of Justice and Judiciaries of nine Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru – plus France, to try and extract a common denominator from their national access-to-justice efforts.

This work resulted in the elaboration of the ‘Modelo para la prestación de servicios de accesoal derecho y buenas prácticas en su implementación en América Latina’. Based on national and international best practices, the model intends to facilitate the design and implementation of all the necessary steps to effectively deliver access to justice, highlighting how appropriate mechanisms and efficient procedures are key to reach final beneficiaries and ensure substantive justice.

While local answers can take different forms to respond to specific needs, the unifying paradigm is that justice and rights must be brought closer to vulnerable communities.

To be successful, efforts must include three key actors: national governments and authorities, responsible for the full implementation of rights and delivery of justice; communities, who must become aware of their rights and take ownership of mechanisms to claim them; and civil society organizations, which can help bridge the gap. Crucially, these efforts must spring from strong political and institutional will: only if firmly rooted in public policy can access-to-justice mechanisms be truly sustainable.

IDLO’s model on access to justice has echoed widely in international fora, including the 10th Meeting of Ministers of Justice of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Bogotá, Colombia in October 2015. Referring to the drafting process of the model, Colombian Minister of Justice Yesid Reyes Alvarado said he hoped that “this exchange of good practices and the setting of standards [would] contribute to strengthening each country’s mechanisms, respecting the specificities of each.”

In the same month, IDLO’s work to enhance access to justice in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras and Paraguay was also highlighted by Spanish Minister of Justice Rafael Catalá at the closing meeting of the current phase of the EU’s EUROsociAL program, dedicated to social cohesion in Latin America.

Elena Incisa di Camerana, IDLO Regional Manager, Latin America and the Caribbean