Human Rights and Access to Justice

Enhancing access to justice and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including women, children and marginalized populations, are among the principal aims of ABA ROLI. ABA ROLI implements targeted strategies to promote human rights worldwide while simultaneously applying human rights and gender perspectives across all its programs and practice areas, in keeping with a general human rights-based approach to legal development. In doing so, ABA ROLI is guided by human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

Advancing human rights

Respect for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights is a pillar of a strong rule of law culture, providing safety and stability to communities and nations alike. Our programs encourage increased appreciation for and application of regional and international human rights principles within national legal systems. Through customized trainings and capacity building for lawyers, judges, government officials, law professors, law students, civil society organizations and the public, ABA ROLI contributes toward the development of societies that can uphold and assert human rights. We also promote and facilitate the documentation and investigation of human rights abuses, support strategic litigation and help to protect human rights in the context of business and development.

Enhancing access to justice

International standards recognize access to justice as both a basic human right and a means to protect other universally recognized human rights. Too often, even when rights exist on paper, enforcement of these standards is weak. Where human rights protections are lacking, marginalized groups are often vulnerable to abuses and face significant challenges to realizing their rights, including within the formal justice system. Our approach focuses on empowering individuals and communities to assert their rights vis-à-vis the state, helping to nurture fairer, more accountable justice systems and strengthening the frameworks that support human rights at the national, regional, and international levels.

Our expansive view of access to justice includes not only one’s ability to access the courts and legal representation, but also one’s ability to engage effectively with law enforcement officials and to make use of informal, non-state justice mechanisms. Civil society can provide important support for individuals and communities and offer an effective counterbalance to the powers of the state and of the private sector. Thus, we often draw upon civil society organizations’ unique perspectives, grassroots-convening power and institutional knowledge to design and implement effective and sustainable programs.

A lack of effective indigent defense services often results in a denial of full access to justice for all citizens. To help, ABA ROLI programs promote better access to courts, legal representation and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. ABA ROLI has extensive experience with traditional legal aid approaches, such as legal clinics, traveling lawyer programs, civil and criminal legal aid programs and pro bono assistance, and with advocating for laws to establish such services. Additionally, we work to empower non-traditional legal resources, such as community-based paralegals, that often serve as a primary means by which poor and marginalized people settle disputes. ABA ROLI also seeks to increase citizens’ understanding of their rights by incorporating civic education into legal services delivery.

Elevating the status of women

Ensuring full respect for women’s rights is essential to building the rule of law, yet achieving this goal is challenging in many countries. We initiated our women’s rights program in 1996 to promote reforms that foster women’s empowerment and enhance their legal status. ABA ROLI undertakes a range of activities to advance gender equality, including by promoting access to justice, supporting the role of women in the legal profession and combating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

ABA ROLI assists local stakeholders in their legislative drafting efforts and implements legal education, legal aid and advocacy programs to advance women’s rights. To improve women’s access to justice, we facilitate mobile courts and support women’s legal aid clinics, as well as paralegal and traveling lawyer programs, which offer pro bono assistance when the services of local attorneys are unavailable or unaffordable. To promote female lawyers’ professional development and harness their potential to advocate for women’s rights, we offer training and mentoring programs as well as support for women’s bar associations. And to improve countries’ responses to domestic violence, systematic rape, harmful traditional practices and other atrocities, we implement legal empowerment workshops, advocacy campaigns and legal aid programs. In addition, we promote effective and vigorous prosecution of these crimes by offering capacity-building trainings to police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers. We also work with women activists, leaders and lawyers to advocate for policy reforms and to include and implement gender parity provisions in laws and constitutions. These targeted strategies are complemented by a gender-mainstreaming approach to ensure that gender perspectives constitute an integral component of our programs across all thematic areas.

Promoting sexual rights

Violence, discrimination, harassment and other egregious human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and individuals are widespread across the globe. Some of these violations are entrenched in highly punitive and restrictive laws that impede the rule of law, hamper access to healthcare and other essential services and, in their extreme forms, lead to inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment by law enforcement, justice system actors and government officials.

ABA ROLI actively promotes the rights of all persons, including LGBT people, to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. To that end, we train, support and empower local lawyers, paralegals, representatives of civil society organizations and members of LGBT communities to advocate against violence and use national anti-discrimination laws and international human rights treaties to protect and assert sexual rights. In parallel, we train justice system actors on how to handle discrimination and hate crimes cases, and we work to broaden legal protections against bias-motivated offenses through legislative reform efforts and strategic litigation. Finally, we conduct public awareness efforts that challenge harmful biases and stereotypes and highlight the contributions of LGBT people to society.

Combating trafficking in persons

Trafficking in persons (TIP) is a multifaceted, highly complex phenomenon tightly interlinked with poverty, unemployment, gender discrimination, social exclusion, globalization, displacement and foreign migration. Drawing on the well-respected “four Ps” paradigm, ABA ROLI’s anti-TIP programs aim to partner with state and non-state actors, prevent TIP, prosecute perpetrators, as well as identify and protect the victims. Our approach involves advancing sustainable solutions through an array of technical assistance programs encompassing legislative drafting, policy formulation, research and analysis, capacity building and training, strengthening multi-sectoral and international cooperation, civic education, strategic litigation, trial monitoring and victims’ rights. We have been particularly successful in responding to TIP in five priority areas, including legal and policy reform; enhancing victims’ access to justice and essential services; criminal justice strengthening; prevention and risk mitigation; and facilitating multi-sectoral and international cooperation.  

Assessment methodologies

ABA ROLI believes that research and the collection of country-specific information serve as a necessary foundation for developing effective strategies to advance human rights. Accordingly, we have developed an array of assessment tools designed to measure a country’s de jure and de facto compliance with international human rights treaties, such as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Assessment Tool), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR Legal Implementation Index) and the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Human Trafficking Assessment Tool or HTAT). We have also created the Access to Justice Assessment Tool (AJAT), which empowers civil society organizations to identify access to justice challenges and to design and implement programming that addresses those challenges. Lastly, we designed a comprehensive Status of Women Assessment Methodology and a methodology for identifying law- and policy-based human trafficking risks in global supply chains. To date, we have produced two ICCPR Legal Implementation Index analyses, five CEDAW Assessment Tool reports, two Status of Women assessments, three HTATs and four AJATs.