Justice out of reach for two in three, report says

A statue holding the scales of justice is seen on top of the Old Bailey criminal court in London, 2003. REUTERS/Stephen Hird SH/ASA/AA

More than five billion people fall into a "justice gap", unable to resolve disputes from land grabs to violent crime

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK - Two in three people lack access to justice - with stateless, enslaved and war-affected people worst hit - according to research released on Monday that showed the challenge of achieving the United Nations' goal of justice for all.

More than five billion people fall into a "justice gap", unable to resolve disputes from land grabs to violent crime, said the Task Force on Justice, part of a partnership of U.N. members, civil groups and the private sector.

Providing access to justice for all is one of a slew of ambitious global goals, along with ending hunger and gender inequality, that U.N. members have set out to achieve by 2030.

The task force was a project of Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a partnership designed to promote the U.N.'s global goals.

A high-level summit meeting on the progress of the goals is slated for later this month, when countries will be asked to accelerate their plans.

The task force tallied up 5.1 billion people who lack justice, including more than one billion without legal identities and more than 2 billion working informally without contracts and labor law protection.

More than 2 billion have no legal proof of their housing or land rights, more than 40 million are trapped in modern slavery, 12 million lack national identities and more than 200 million live in societies with no rule of law, it said.

Also, 1.5 billion people have a justice problem they cannot solve because they do not know where to go or because the system is expensive or unfair, it said, noting that the categories overlapped.

As a result, people are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and miss out on economic opportunities. Violent crimes go unreported, and disputes involving land, neighbors or families go unresolved, it said.

Property might be confiscated without compensation, or a member of a minority may be denied public services.

"Justice systems are not delivering for the vast majority of people," said Maaike de Langen, head of the task force research.

"It's an issue in all countries," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. "There's work to be done everywhere."

The cost of meeting basic legal needs would be $20 a year per person in low-income countries, less than the cost of providing basic education or essential health care, it said.

Progress can be found in Argentina, where local centers provide lawyers, social workers and psychologists to help with legal problems, and in Sierra Leone, where police and civilians join forces to temper local conflict, it said.

"There's a positive political push to work on this," de Langen said. "People are asking for more justice. That's a big factor for mobilization."

Winning free and fair access to justice also underpins other global goals and helps pull people out of poverty and strife, the report said.

"Without justice, we cannot fulfill the promise of the 2030 agenda to eradicate poverty in all its forms, tackle inequality and promote shared prosperity, and protect the planet from degradation," it said.

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