COVID-19 Rule of Law, justice and corrections responses
In response to the global pandemic, the Justice and Corrections Service (JCS) of the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions (OROLSI) has helped mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in prisons and justice systems in mission and non-mission settings. The COVID-19 pandemic poses particular risks to prisons and other places of detention, especially in conflict-affected settings, requiring critical preparedness and concerted and coordinated responses.
In partnership with the Division for Peace of UNITAR, JCS has published two practical guidance and operational tools:
i) An Operational Toolbox: COVID-19 Preparedness & Response in Places of Detention, which provides comprehensive and ready-to-use communication tools with clear information and visual posters to support prison administrators and staff in the efforts to prevent COVID-19 from entering prisons, and mitigate its impact in case of an outbreak; and
ii) A Remote Hearing Toolkit which provides national justice and legal stakeholders with a step-by-step decision-making framework for the introduction and use of remote hearing technology as a response to COVID-19 and thereafter to help improve access to justice in contexts where other obstacles hamper the delivery of justice services.
The Justice and Corrections Service also developed guidance on the immediate measures required to decongest prisons and to help ensure access to justice through remote alternatives and court hearings during and after outbreak.
Rule of law is at the heart of peace and security and longer-term development
Strengthening the rule of law and essential criminal justice services is one of the critical tasks of UN Peacekeeping to prevent conflict and lay the foundations for sustainable peace.
Equipped with justice and corrections expertise, and with support from the Justice and Corrections Service (JCS), peacekeeping missions assist host countries to deliver essential justice and prison services, strengthen criminal justice systems, and facilitate rule of law reforms. They do so by promoting accountability for serious crimes that fuel conflict, extending justice and corrections institutions in conflict-affected areas, and by enhancing prison security and management, including to help mitigate and address emerging crisis, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From its Headquarters in New York, the Justice and Corrections Service (JCS) coordinates strategic and operational support on mandate delivery, strengthening Member States’ support, leveraging partnerships and setting policy priorities. It supports the work of peacekeeping operations and special political missions as well as other United Nations entities, to implement the rule of law aspects of their respective mandates.
Through its rapid response team – Justice and Corrections Standing Capacity in Brindisi, Italy, JCS provides field-based advice and specialized expertise to field missions and other field presences. Established in 2010, JCSC assists United Nations peace operations and other field presences by means of three core functions: Starting up Justice and Corrections components; Reinforcing existing peace operations and presences in the areas of justice and corrections by providing time-limited and targeted support; and Conducting needs assessments and reviews in the areas of justice and corrections.
Justice and corrections components work closely with national authorities to promote and prioritize the peaceful resolution and prevention of disputes, to strengthen the protection of civilians, to improve national security and restore and extend the authority of the State, restore trust and social cohesion, and to contribute to the implementation of peace agreements.
To further the realization of the Declaration of Shared Commitments on United Nations Peacekeeping Operations – Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) – justice and corrections service actively seeks and maintains partnerships with United Nations and external actors, notably through the Global Focal Point for the Rule of Law, supports integrated multidisciplinary interventions, provides planning, analytical and policy expertise in transition settings, and enables host countries and other stakeholders to take appropriate measures to bring to justice perpetrators of criminal acts against United Nations peacekeepers.
More specifically, justice and corrections components focus on three priority areas:
Our Judicial Affairs Officers and Corrections Officers, in United Nations peace operations may be United Nations staff members, justice experts provided by national governments, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) or consultants.
We are approximately 160 Judicial Affairs Officers and 300 Corrections Officers, including 54 justice and 256 corrections Government Provided Personnel, who are dedicated to helping protect civilians, combat impunity, extend State authority and advance stabilization in 11 peacekeeping operations (MINUSCA, MINUSMA, MONUSCO, UNMIK, UNISFA, UNMISS), and special political missions, (BINUH, UNAMA, UNITAMS, UNSMIL, UNSOM).
Laying the foundations for the longer-term strengthening and reform of rule of law institutions requires strong partnerships with national authorities, development actors and civil society, who will continue the work after the end of the mission.
In response to Member States' request for greater coherence and integration across the UN system, our judicial affairs and corrections officers work within the platform of the Global Focal Point for the Rule of Law (GFP) to promote joint rule of law approaches together with UNDP, as well as OHCHR, UNHCR, UNODC, UN Women and others, in an effort to combine their respective rule of law capacities and leverage their comparative advantages and maximize results. The GFP operates in mission, non-mission and transition settings. It provides rapid deployment of expertise; support to joint design, planning and implementation of rule of law programmes; joint assessments; resource mobilization and seed funding; and the identification of good practices and lessons learned.
Corrections components also receive significant support from the Group of Friends of Corrections in Peace Operations. The Group of Friends is an international platform for UN Member States and their correctional services to connect on correctional policies, practices and activities, to advise and support corrections work in United Nations peace operations.
The Central African Republic has made progress in implementation of key aspects of the peace agreement, including in national level accountability processes for serious human rights violations and breaches of the agreement. The country’s Special Criminal Court which was operationalized in 2018, and has been mandated to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed in CAR since 2003, advanced investigations into priority cases; national authorities finalized a strategic justice sector reform policy; and a national strategy on the demilitarization of the penitentiary system was adopted by the Government of CAR in January 2019.
In Mali, the United Nations has supported the Specialized Judicial Unit against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime on management of investigations, including cases of serious attacks against United Nations peacekeepers. There has been increased community engagement and the provision of rule of law services in conflict-affected areas: 21 out of 23 courts are partially operational in northern and central Mali. Over 140 persons have been tried by the Pôle Judiciaire Spécialisé in Mali, with jurisdiction over atrocity crimes, terrorism and transnational crimes.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations-supported Prosecution Support Cells continued to strengthen accountability for security forces and armed groups, leading to the conviction of over 1,430 perpetrators since 2011, including senior-level officers for sexual violence and other atrocity crimes. The UN supported the national authorities in the prevention and management of Ebola and COVID-19 in the prison settings across the country.
In South Sudan, United Nations supported mobile courts to extend state authority and delivery of justice in conflict-affected and under-served regions, including for rape survivors. More than 290 cases of serious crimes are being heard for the first time since 2014, in a context where the absence of criminal accountability continues to undermine political efforts to resolve the conflict.
In Haiti, the approval of the Criminal Code in July 2020 and the Code of Criminal Procedure in December 2020 represents a landmark achievement, after over a decade of engagement, towards a more progressive and humane approach to enforcing the law and advancing justice sector reform, including by transforming imprisonment for minor crimes into an exception. Both MINUJUSTH and BINUH have also assisted the Haitian authorities to draft and implement a new Prison Law and a Strategic Development Plan (2017 – 2021), and to establish a prison inquiry commission to address deaths in custody.
In Libya, the GFP helped prioritize feasible joint rule of law interventions in a challenging, conflict-affected environment. In the Central African Republic, the rapid deployment of justice and security experts assisted with the development of a rule of law strategy, including on people’s access to justice; accountability for serious human rights violations and sexual and gender-based violence.
Coordinated transition processes. Advocating and implementing joint programming in the area of the rule of law, justice and corrections components have facilitated complex transitions in Timor Leste, Liberia, Haiti and Darfur, Sudan and assisted in creating a framework for the long-term engagement of missions and UN Country Teams with national authorities. In Sudan, strengthening the rule of law was a critical pillar of the transition through the State Liaison Functions – an innovative and unique programmatic transition tool that brought together UNAMID and ten Agencies, Funds and Programmes towards a common goal to prevent relapse of conflict in Darfur, sustain peacekeeping gains and enhance the protective environment. The SLF provided a platform for common analysis, joint planning and implementation and most importantly strengthened ownership and engagement by national, local and community stakeholders in the planning and implementation of the transition.
Enhanced gender responsive and inclusive rule of law institutions in the framework of Women, Peace and Security agenda. This is done through the integration of gender priorities in rule of law reform efforts, such as enhancing protection for women’s land rights in South Sudan or gender policy in the prison system in Haiti. The promotion of increased gender representation in formal and informal justice institutions, including in Mali and Darfur; and advanced initiatives on access to justice and strengthened judicial responses, including for SGBV and CRSV, such as in CAR and DRC.
Advancement towards gender parity goals, through the increased representation of women among government-provided justice and corrections personnel (GPP) from 25% in 2018 to 29% in December 2019, thereby exceeding the 2019 target as per the Uniformed Personnel Gender Parity Strategy; Nominations of women GPP make up approximately 25% of 2019 nominations, compared to 15% in previous years.
Support to non-mission settings. As part of the GFP, JCS has regularly shared its unique expertise including in non-mission settings to enhance the UN support to national rule of law institutions. Corrections expertise was deployed, for example, to Gabon to assist the identification of gaps in the justice sector and strategies to address them; in Liberia after UNMIL closure, to pilot a training on corrections leadership; in Burkina Faso to support local Prison Service authorities.