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Justice Minister excels in The Netherlands

July 3, 2019

Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Priscilla Schwartz, PhD, attended and chaired a g7+ Ministerial-level meeting on Access to Justice for All in Conflict-Affected Countries in The Hague, The Netherlands.

In her capacity as Chair of the g7+, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz welcomed colleague ministers and other delegates, and also recognized the Netherlands government for its contribution to the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone and for hosting invaluable records on country’s peace process.

Dr. Schwartz urged colleague Ministers and high-level representatives from the twenty g7+ Member States to use their unique perspectives on how conflict impacts access to justice in their respective countries to help shape international approaches to promote access to justice. The Chair furthered that the g7+ meeting was called ahead of the upcoming High-Level Political Forum and Sustainable Development Goals Summit in order to afford Justice Ministers the opportunity to come together to reflect on their commitments, share experiences, and develop a consensus on justice as conflict-affected countries in the g7+. She called on colleagues to venerate the consensus of the meeting in a clear statement that would reflects the reality of the people of their various countries.

Dr. Schwartz encouraged Ministers to continue to strive towards enhancing justice service delivery, noting that her country Sierra Leone itself emerged from a brutal conflict, and as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, she was delighted to be part of the next step in the journey towards delivering equal access to justice for all in conflict affected countries. “When all have access to justice, justice enables stability, economic development, and invariably peace. That is why we must be determined to take justice to our peoples,” said Dr. Schwartz. The Chair furthered that Sierra Leone had gone through this difficult process but was very aware that most of her colleague Ministers from the g7+ Member States represent countries that were still at the beginning of the journey. “Through the g7+, we can and should support each other at all stages of the process, bringing inputs and empathy grounded in our own experiences of conflict,” observed Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

In making the case for Ministers taking ownership of injustice in their respective countries, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz explained that this could only materialize “by recognising that we are one country, one people, regardless of political, religious, tribal or other peculiarities.” She emphasized the need for an inward reflection and argued that such an approach would also create space for healing that allows justice and peace to flourish.

Showcasing Sierra Leone’s journey out of conflict, and in bringing people closer to justice through innovations, Dr. Schwartz sighted reforms such as the establishment of the Justice Sector Coordination Office, to coordinate reforms in the justice sector, and the Legal Aid Board, which provides legal services to the poor and marginalized in the society. She noted that paralegals provide greater access to justice at the grassroots level. The Minister also won the heart and minds of investors by noting that Sierra Leone provided investors with access to fast-track commercial court and streamlined processes for doing business using technology solutions. She maintained that Sierra Leone has constituted special divisional courts to fast track cases of industrial disputes and cases of sexual violence.

To the applause of delegates, the Minister was quick to point out that her government had recently established the “Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion,” whose mandate, according to Dr. Schwartz “is to prevent future conflict and promote justice by addressing societal grievances as they arise.” This, the Minister observed, will help to foster “a culture of tolerance and inclusion in political discourse.”

In emphasizing on the need to embrace innovative ways to increase access to justice, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz showcased a short video demonstration of from the Directorate of Innovation on the use of technology to map out local courts across Sierra Leone. she alluded to the fact that innovation, inclusivity, empowerment, and solidarity are key principles for pursuing justice in conflict-affected countries.

On the point of closing the justice gap as identified by the “Justice for All” report launched by the Task Force of just and inclusive society, Minister Dr. Schwartz emphasized on the need to need to take action to reinvigorate both the formal and informal justice systems, rather than mimicking other justice systems that may not be adequate to the people’s needs. Inclusivity, according to the Honourable Minister, has to come with empowerment. “We are promoting the empowerment of women alongside traditional patrilineal institutions, and empowering our youth through innovation centres so they can play a role in finding solutions to justice problems,” the Minister point out.

Concluding her opening remarks, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz spoke about the need to fight corruption as a vital part of empowering societies. Whilst noting that transparency and accountability often fall by the wayside in conflict situations, the Minister reiterated the point that corruption has an opportunity to flourish where transparency and accountability mechanisms are non-existent or non-functional. She also stressed the need for solidarity as an essential component to achieving the justice goals. Dr. Schwartz encouraged donors to be open to learning from conflict-affected countries about what tools and strategies that will be most effective in specific country context. “The quest for access to justice for all need not to be looked at from a “one size fits all” perspective,” says Dr. Schwartz.

Sierra Leone been one of the first countries to engage with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for greater peace, just, and inclusive society, Dr. Schwartz called on colleague Ministers and delegations from across the world to join her as leaders in making access to justice for all a reality, and to transform the rhetoric of commitments into actions.

To a huge round of applause, the Minister cautioned her colleagues that their countries should not be defined by conflict, but rather to draw strength from their experiences to bring their people meaningful and context-appropriate solutions to justice problems they face.

 During the course of the two-days meeting, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz gave a televised interview to an international broadcaster on access to justice and the leadership role of Sierra Leone on SDGs implementation, especially on goal 16, chaired and participated in various plenary sessions (People-Centered Justice) and peer-to-Peer Breakaway Sessions on Experience-sharing of Innovative Models that have Succeeded in Delivering Enhanced Access to Justice in g7+ Countries, where she actively participated on the issue surrounding Transitional Justice.

As part of her engagements, Dr. Schwartz also Chaired the Ministerial Session on Country Snapshots, where each Minister and high-level representatives from the g7+ Member States were required to provide a brief overview of the opportunities and challenges they face and the key priority reform they have undertaken to strengthened access to justice for all in their countries. This all-important session was facilitated by Herman von Hebel of the University of South Carolina Rule of Law Collaborative.

As another mark of leadership, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz honoured to give a remark together with the Mayor of The Hague, Her Worship Ms. Pauline Krikke before departing with colleague Ministers for their exclusive dinner.

The Minister had several bilateral meetings with senior officials from the World Bank, UNDP, H.E. Dr. Athaliah L. Molokomme, Permanent Mission of Botswana to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Executive Director of International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Fernando Travesi and many more dignitaries where the Attorney General and Minister of Justice assiduously encouraged them to partner and engage in meaningful programmes in Sierra Leone, since the country is open for business, the Minister assured all.

In closing a two-days of hectic deliberations, bilateral meetings and negotiations, Dr. Schwartz was the lead facilitator in presenting the “Access to Justice for All in Conflict-Affected Countries Declaration and Joint Action Plan,” an undertaken that outlined commitments made by the Ministers and high-level representatives from the g7+ on concrete steps towards achieving more inclusive and people-centered justice in conflict-affected countries.

In her closing remarks, Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice urged colleague Ministers from countries that are emerging from or that may still be enmeshed in conflict to learn from each other; and to support each other in order to move ever closer to the goal of ensuring access to justice for all people. She thanked them for their true commitments to the principles of ensuring access to justice for all, and to leave no one behind. Dr. Schwartz expressed how exciting it was for the “Access to Justice for All by 2030 Declaration and Joint Action Plan memorialized.

She thanked her colleagues for agreeing to present the Declaration and Joint Action Plan to the High Level Political Forum and Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September of this year, along with a report of the proceedings of g7+ Ministerial-Level Meeting. The Minister furthered that as Chair of the g7+, she will be gratified to stand before the global community and showcase what conflict-affected countries are capable of when they all work together. Dr. Schwartz reiterated that they do not have to be defined by conflict but that they could use their peculiar experiences as conflict-affected countries to find solutions appropriate to the justice needs of the country.

“When I return home to Sierra Leone, I will carry what I have learned from each of you.  I will also carry renewed belief in our ability to achieve peaceful, just, and inclusive societies,” Sierra Leone’s first female Attorney General and Minister of Justice humbly concluded and closed the meeting.

The meeting was held from 19-20 June 2019. The Ministerial-level meeting was hosted by the g7+ secretariat, and facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The g7+, established in 2010, is an intergovernmental voluntary organisation bringing together countries that are either facing active conflict or have recent experience of conflict and fragility. It has twenty member countries from Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean with a combined population of 260 million.

The meeting attracted Ministers and high-level representatives from the twenty g7+ Member States, development partners and representatives from civil society. The meeting was held in advance of the UN High Level Political Forum and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Summit that takes place from 9-18 July 2019 in New York City. The Rule of Law Collaborative (ROLC) at the University of South Carolina provided logistical and technical support in ensuring that the meeting aligns with the priorities of the g7+ Member States and supporting follow-up initiatives.

The objectives of the g7+ Ministerial-Level Meting on Access to Justice for All Conflict-affected countries include:

To Develop consensus on common priorities in strengthening access to justice and networks amongst the ministers of the g7+ countries to address these priorities collectively;

To introduce and reinforce the principles as outlined in the Declaration on Equal Access to Justice for All by 2030 assigned by Justice Ministers in The Hague in February 2019;

To understand the unique needs and challenges of the g7+ Ministers in strengthening access to justice in their countries (including identifying modalities for robust data gathering on the justice perspective and problems of ordinary people);

To share experiences of innovative models that have  succeeded in delivering enhanced access to justice in g7+ countries and developing countries;

To identify specific commitments that can be made by g7+ countries at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2019; and

To develop and agree on principles that should drive international assistance thereto.

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