Strengthening the Rule of Law & Human Rights for Sustaining Peace and Fostering Development - 2021 UNDP Annual Meeting

Opening address by Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator

Posted June 22, 2021

In Afghanistan, UNDP is helping women gain better access to justice by training more female police officers.

UNDP Afghanistan

I would like to welcome you to this Annual Meeting on the Rule of Law and Human Rights -- including to our distinguished speakers from Japan, Honduras, the Netherlands, the United States, and from our own UN family.   

This meeting takes place at an unprecedented moment for the rule of law & human rights.

It is estimated that over 60% of countries regressed on basic democratic and human rights standards in 2020, exacerbated by measures taken in response to COVID-19.

And the pandemic hit at a time of a “marked but steady slide in respect for the rule of law around the world” -- most notably in the areas of Government accountability, fundamental rights, and corruption.

Measures to curb the virus restricted freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and the right to peaceful assembly.

It also closed courts, for instance, curtailing peoples’ already marginal access to justice -- which was especially devastating in the context of conflict and fragility.  

This rule of law “vacuum” was devastating for those left furthest behind: the poor, the elderly, refugees and displaced communities, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+ people and women and girls.

Shockingly -- gender-based violence spiked by up to 40% in some countries as lockdowns came into force.

Indeed, new conflicts, political unrest and mass protests unfolded around the globe. That included new waves of displacement and violent extremism in Africa.  And election-related unrest, inter-ethnic and cross-border conflicts re-emerged in Europe and Central Asia.

Yet, we saw how United Nations personnel across the globe have continued their vital work in often extremely challenging situations -- helping countries and communities to respond to these new, and sometimes unexpected challenges.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, I would like to concentrate my remarks on 2 focus areas:

Firstly -- how the Global Programme responded to the unique challenges posed by COVID-19;

And secondly, how we worked with communities to roll-out a range of innovative solutions.

How UNDP Responded to the Challenges posed by COVID-19

Firstly, UNDP’s overall response to COVID-19 is founded upon a human rights-based approach -- this is crucial as we know that responses to the pandemic that respect human rights and promote the rule of law will result in better outcomes in beating COVID-19.

For instance, UNDP, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Development Coordination Office developed an accessible “Checklist for a Human Rights Based Approach to Socio-Economic Country Responses to COVID-19” that informed the overall response of UN Country Teams.

And UNDP’s Global Programme on Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights for Sustaining Peace and Fostering Development continued to play a pivotal role in promoting justice, security, rule of law and non-discrimination.

The programme provides much-needed rule of law and human rights assistance to over 40 conflict and crisis-affected contexts across the globe. It directly addresses the drivers of conflict -- helping to foster peace and social cohesion, based on the principles of trust, accountability, and justice.   

And these efforts are only possible thanks to our strong partnerships – both within the UN family and beyond:

They include the Global Focal Point for the Rule of Law co-chaired by UNDP and the Department of Peace Operations. It facilitated the rapid deployment of much-needed funds ($1.8m) for joint programming to 16 contexts. Our support included training on emergency response management with a focus on human rights; support to e-justice systems; and assistance to prisons to improve detainees’ living conditions.

UNDP provide tailored support to 48 Governments -- helping them to meet their human rights commitments at this challenging moment. To give just one example -- in Angola, UNDP helped to establish a new body that is ensuring that human rights are protected during the pandemic – including by law enforcement.

We also focused on people-centered security in times of conflict, crisis, or transition, such as in Burkina Faso where we supported integrated programming on social cohesion, security, and the rule of law.

We have also been convening our partners across the UN system to address the challenge of reintegrating former members of armed groups into civilian life -- including in Colombia and The Philippines, for instance.

And UNDP closely collaborated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to boost the ability of National Human Rights Institutions to monitor and engage governments in rights-based responses to COVID-19. This specialised support was made possible thanks to the Tripartite Partnership assistance -- a collaborative platform between UNDP, OHCHR and the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions, with generous support from Norway.

Innovative Solutions

Secondly, I would like to reflect on several of the innovative solutions leveraged by the Global Programme implemented during the pandemic -- including digital solutions informed by UNDP’s Digital Strategy.

In Bangladesh, for instance, UNDP helped to establish virtual courts. Or look to Fiji where UNDP teamed-up with the European Union to establish an electronic case management and e-filing system for courts. Such efforts helped to expedite trials and allow people to get access to justice during the pandemic.

And new efforts to reduce prison overcrowding were vital given the rapid spread of the virus.

Look, for instance, to Mali where UNDP supported the National Human Rights Commission to increase the number of its monitoring visits to places of detention.

And our commitment to finding new, gender-responsive solutions remained steadfast.

UNDP supported the operationalization of the first-ever Gender-Based Violence and Juvenile Court in South Sudan. It is helping to ensure access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

UNDP also worked to mobilise political engagement.

In Chile, for example, we partnered with UN Women and a consortium of 700 NGOs to encourage people to vote in a referendum --  efforts that helped to increase the number of votes by 500,000 compared to the last presidential election in 2017.

Moreover, we know that boosting the alignment of the private sector with human rights is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

For instance, UNDP produced a rapid self-assessment toolkit on Human Rights Due Diligence and COVID-19 to guide businesses in managing human rights risks related to the pandemic.

In sum --  all of these efforts are a key reflection of UNDP’s commitment to implementing our Signature Solutions with a focus on governance, resilience and gender.

They also clearly prove that we are much stronger when we deliver together.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This has been an extraordinarily challenging time for human rights & the rule of law.

Yet, across the world, UN and UNDP staff have worked with communities to provide critical solutions.

None of our results could have been achieved without the strong support of our partners, both in the UN system and beyond.

And I would like to express my sincere gratitude to those countries which directly contribute to UNDP’s ability to implement comprehensive rule of law and human rights programmes across the globe: Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.

At UNDP develops its new Strategic Plan, we are also re-imagining our Governance “Offer” with a deep reflection on human rights, founded upon a people-centered approach to justice and security programming.

That includes recalibrating the Global Programme on Rule of Law and Human rights as we move into phase 4 (2022-2025) -- adapting the programme to be even more agile with a stronger focus on learning. It will also include an increased emphasis on how to harness the incredible potential of digital technology to boost access to the rule of law, for instance.

Taken as a whole -- UNDP is helping countries to “build forward better” from this devastating pandemic. A key constituent part of this support is boosting the rule of law and helping to ensure that everyone’s future is built upon a foundation of inalienable rights.

At this pivotal moment -- all of us must continue to work together to help ensure that access to justice, people centered security and human rights are not a luxury for the few -- but a right for all. 


New conflicts, political unrest and mass protests unfolded around the globe. That included new waves of displacement and violent extremism in Africa. And election-related unrest, inter-ethnic and cross-border conflicts re-emerged in Europe and Central Asia. Yet, we saw how United Nations personnel across the globe have continued their vital work in often extremely challenging situations -- helping countries and communities to respond to these new, and sometimes unexpected challenges.

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator