Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP at the African Regional Workshop on Access to Justice: Civil Society Participation at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held in Johannesburg, 27 March 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
The UN’s Secretary-General is correct when he says that "the 2030 Agenda is our roadmap and its goals and targets are tools to get there."
As you know, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encourages member states to conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at both national and regional levels.
These national reviews then serve as a basis for regular reviews by the high-level political forum (HLPF), meeting under the auspices of ECOSOC.
Regular reviews by the HLPF are to be voluntary, country-led, undertaken by both developed and developing countries, and involve multiple stakeholders.
The voluntary national reviews (VNRs) aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
The VNRs also seek to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
As you know, South Africa is one of the countries that have volunteered to present their Voluntary National Reviews to the HLPF.
The process of carrying out the voluntary national review is not separate from implementation of the SDGs.
Rather than an end in itself, the VNR is a process by which countries take stock of and assess progress and shortcomings in the implementation of the goals and targets.
The process is currently being coordinated by Stats SA and the University of Pretoria has been contracted to assist with SDG 16, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
SDG 16’s targets include to significantly reduce all forms of violence, end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence.
It aims to promote the rule of law at national and international levels, to ensure equal access to justice for all and to combat all forms of organized crime.
It urges countries to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels and ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making.
We must strengthen relevant national institutions for building capacity at all levels, in particular in a developing country such as ours, and promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.
In relation to SDG 16, the UN has noted that the rule of law and development have a significant interrelation and are mutually reinforcing, making it essential for sustainable development at both national and international levels.
Goal 16, and its target 3 in particular, highlight the importance of ensuring “access to justice for all” in achieving sustainable development.
That target then also has a direct impact on the progress of other goals.
The UN has emphasized that institutions must responsive, inclusive, legitimate and accountable. Before 1994, institutions in South Africa met none of these criteria.
We have had to develop new, effective and accountable institutions and vehicles to enhance participatory democracy.
Various bodies in existence, such as the SA Law Reform Commission, the Rules Board, the Magistrates’ Commission, the Legal Aid Board and the Board for Sheriffs, were reconstituted to ensure that they function in line with the Constitution. A single National Prosecuting Authority was established to ensure an efficient and independent prosecuting service.
We created new oversight bodies such as the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. Constitutional democracy was further strengthened through the establishment of various institutions supporting constitutional democracy.
Here in South Africa much of what we do, and have done since the dawn of democracy, has been to ensure that everyone in our country has the right to access justice.
Before 1994, South Africa, together with the former Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei states and the so-called self-governing territories, had 11 different Justice Departments and other justice related structures.
This lead to uneven and disparate justice services, depending on race, gender and geographic location. In addition, the structures involved in the administration of justice, including the magistracy and the high court judiciary were untransformed, consisting predominantly of white men.
Since 1994 we’ve made significant progress in transforming the entire justice system by putting in place the foundation and pillars to build and sustain our new democratic constitutional dispensation.
Improving access to justice for all and enhancing the rule of law have been critical priorities for Government – hence the need to build institutions to achieve this.
We have had to bring the justice structures and systems in line with the Constitution to establish trust and public confidence in our justice institutions and to restore the legitimacy of the system.
Access to justice was improved through the creation of more courts, particularly in rural and previously disadvantaged communities. Various specialised and dedicated courts have also been created to attend to priority areas such as constitutional matters, labour matters, land claim matters, competition matters, election matters, tax matters, small claims matters, equality matters and sexual offences.
Other focus areas in the justice system have centred on the protection of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, people with disabilities and LGBTI persons – and the setting up of institutions or structures to render services to achieve this.
Access to legal aid is central to ensuring access to justice, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable people.
As emphasized by the UN, legal aid is an essential aspect of a fair, humane, and efficient criminal justice system based on the rule of law. Without access to legal aid, millions of people around the world are at risk of having their rights ignored or violated when they interact with a criminal justice system.
In 2017/18 Legal Aid SA took on more than 426 000 new matters, it finalised over 420 000 and assisted with legal advice in over 305 000 matters. The figures are remarkable, as is the reach of Legal Aid SA, with its 64 local offices, 64 satellite offices, 6 provincial offices and 1 national office.
These are but a few examples of what we have done on the journey to enhance access to justice for all and to meet our SDG16 goals.
And we have learnt many important lessons along the way.
One of the most important factors in improving access to justice and thus realising the SDGs has been, for us, the continued involvement of civil society, NGO’s, faith-based organisations, different non-government sectors and our communities.
Partnerships really do work.
For example, we have a National Policy Framework to promote cooperation with the non-governmental sector and civil society to ensure effective partnerships for the strengthening of the child justice system.
When it comes to the rights of LGBTI persons, our National Task Team is a good example of a very successful partnership between government and civil society and it was named, in a 2016 report by the UN’s Office of the High Commission on Human Rights, as a best practice model and international case study of government and civil society co-operation.
The NTT’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) tracks pending cases of crimes, already in the criminal justice system, which have been committed against LGBTI persons. The RRT also responds, as soon as possible, to cases of violence being reported. The RRT comprise South African Police Service (SAPS), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the DOJCD and representatives from CSOs.
Constitutional and human rights awareness and education is key in the attainment of human rights. Government - in partnership with the Foundation for Human Rights - has implemented a multi-year programme called the Socio Economic Justice for All (SEJA) Programme which focuses on improving awareness of rights with an emphasis on socio-economic rights, enhancing participatory democracy, providing support to community advice offices, sector co-ordination, and engagement and participation of civil society organisations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In terms of implementation of the SDGs in South Africa and in the region, it provides us with an opportunity for government to work with role-players in the non-government sector and to build partnerships with relevant stakeholders to ensure that there is a commitment to a national and regional programme which will see the implementation of the SDG 16 goals.
It is equally important for government to continuously look for new and innovative ways to work with all stakeholders - including non-government and civil society stakeholders - to collectively implement the SDG 16 agenda.
Governments around the world are well-placed to bring together non-government stakeholders to work together and establish national partnerships to implement the SDGs and to also then establish national indicators that supplement the global indicators.
To conclude, we can look at all the SDGs, in great detail, but at the very heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, lie human rights.
If we don’t make human rights and access to justice a reality on the ground, in our communities and in society at large, then we are merely going from talk shop to talk shop.
I do believe that active citizenry, coupled with political will, has the greatest potential to protect and promote human rights.
Human rights is not something limited to government only to do, it is the responsibility of all of us.
I thank you.