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Last edited: August 15, 2013

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  • The legal/justice sector is composed of a number of interconnected formal and non-formal, state and non-state institutions and procedures.  It includes many actors such as traditional and, in some contexts, religious leaders, national judiciaries, lawyers, forensic service providers, and survivor advocacy groups who work together to protect people’s rights and ensure access to justice.
  • Access to justice refers to “the ability of an individual to have his or her grievances heard, to receive proper treatment of those grievances in accordance with national and international laws, and to obtain a just and effective remedy to protect his or her rights on the basis of gender equality and without discrimination of any kind”. In countries with plural legal systems, this means being able to access both formal and traditional justice mechanisms (and combinations of the two). (UNHCR).
  • In peaceful times, survivors of VAWG can face significant economic, educational and socio-cultural barriers in gaining access to justice: 
    • Cultural barriers: the marginalized role of women in their families and a social stigma attached to survivors of sexual violence;
    • Legal barriers: formal and customary laws, discriminatory judicial processes, and legal procedures that discriminate against women and afford them few legal rights;
    • Systemic barriers: a lack of infrastructure, government resources, and personnel (excerpted from Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, n.d., p. 2).
  • These barriers are greatly increased during conflict and post-conflict.  In fact, during an acute emergency, it may not be possible to provide legal services if there is no functioning judiciary. However, it remains important to ensure that the foundations for improved access to justice are laid by ensuring the availability of quality health and psychosocial services and by establishing safe and ethical data collection, case management and referral systems (IRC, 2012). There may also be opportunities to engage traditional or non-state justice mechanisms, in contexts where they are still functioning, for specific training and local advocacy efforts.
  • After the acute emergency has passed, there may be important opportunities to rebuild the legal/justice sector in order to ensure that survivors have access to justice.  These strategies not only include improving state and non-state justice mechanisms to respond to on-going incidents of VAWG, but also, in some settings, supporting the creation of international and internationalized mechanisms to address VAWG committed during conflict.