November 28, 2016

Justice Works: New Program Seeks to Stop Violence Against the LGBTI Community

In June 2016, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights (CHR) launched the first joint program between the two entities: Justice Works. Over the course of two years, Justice Works will use the approaches of ABA ROLI and CHR in a coordinated effort to address the impunity that surrounds bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Around the world, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is often perpetrated without documentation, investigation or prosecution. Although any use of violence against an individual is criminal regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, advocates document rampant impunity when the victim is a member of the LGBTI community. Offenders are often not held accountable within the justice system due to the stigma that goes hand in hand with the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The stigma associated with nonconventional sexual orientation or gender identity is deeply entrenched in societies across the world. It is evident that justice system actors — those who are sworn to uphold the rule of law and the right to be free from violence for all people — also respond to that stigma by failing to act on behalf of LGBTI victims. That inaction on the part of the government sends a dangerous message that those in power condone or encourage violence against LGBTI people.

Using approaches that have proven successful in both ABA ROLI and the CHR, Justice Works seeks to reduce violence against the LGBTI community by empowering civil society organizations (CSOs) and governments to bring perpetrators to justice. Through the course of the program, Justice Works will build off of the CHR’s Justice Defenders program, which coordinates pro bono legal assistance and supports strategic litigation for at risk human rights defenders. Justice Works responds to requests for technical assistance from civil society, law enforcement and prosecutorial offices in cases of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Through the ABA’s extensive pro bono network, the program will field request for assistance from across the world to support the documentation, investigation and litigation of this particular type of crime.

In its second year, Justice Works will implement an in-country program that complements the case-by-case approach, utilizing ABA ROLI’s strength in building the capacity of justice sector actors and government officials. Working with leaders from the LGBTI advocacy community, Justice Works will identify a country where key stakeholders possess the political will to take a coordinated approach to reduce violence against LGBTI people. Working with key actors from civil society, law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices, the program will establish why a breakdown in addressing that violence exists in the country and how impunity can most effectively be addressed through short-term intervention and longer-term advocacy. It is envisioned that the model of intervention developed through the pilot program will serve as a basis for similar programming in other countries.

An important aim of Justice Works is to build bridges between stakeholders that have historically experienced a high level of antagonism. In many countries, LGBTI people and the CSOs that represent their interests have had a mistrust of law enforcement and government. Indeed, there are many places where violence against the LGBTI community is carried out by police. Using ABA ROLI’s expertise in working with governments and strengthening institutions, Justice Works will provide a forum for exchange and collaboration between civil society and law enforcement. Emphasizing a comprehensive, coordinated approach for addressing violence and impunity, Justice Works will provide a necessary link to the justice sector for civil society that might otherwise not exist.

To facilitate strengthening of the relationships between civil society and governments, Justice Works is planning a summit in early 2017 to convene a small group of leaders from civil society, law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices who have experience in all phases of challenging bias-motivated violence. While the ideal participant will have focused on sexual orientation and gender identity in their work, the summit will take lessons from the successful prosecution of hate crime based on other characteristics. The summit will not only provide a framework for Justice Works moving forward, but also coordinate current local and regional efforts so that advocates working to stop violence against the LGBTI community share best practices and amplify impact.

With a global scope and an ambitious mandate, Justice Works depends on pro bono support and the willingness of a number stakeholders to work together to reduce violence against LGBTI people. Currently, an advisory council composed of LGBTI CSOs provides guidance to the ABA as Justice Works identifies concrete steps for challenging this particular type of bias-motivated violence. In the coming months, Justice Works will engage law enforcement and prosecutors to continue to develop the coordinated approach necessary to reduce and prevent violence targeting LGBTI people.

To learn more, or to volunteer for Justice Works pro bono activities, contact JusticeWorks@americanbar.org