Heartland Alliance International (HAI) ensures access to justice for vulnerable and marginalized people, empowering them to exercise and enforce their rights, challenge discrimination, hold governments accountable, and obtain remedies through formal, informal, and alternative dispute mechanisms in accordance with human rights principles and standards. Increasing access to justice raises the voices of those who would otherwise be silenced and helps them to overcome the legal, institutional, cultural, economic, informational, physical, and psychological barriers that limit their ability to vanquish poverty and participate fully and equally in society.
Social stigma, discrimination, and economic marginalization are significant barriers to securing equal access to justice for groups such as women; ethnic and religious minorities; indigenous groups; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; refugees; children; and people with HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, because marginalized individuals struggle to effectively assert and enforce their economic and social rights and achieve the equality they are entitled to under the law, they are often highly vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and abuse. In recent years, both the US government and the UN have publicly committed to improving equitable access to justice for people around the world.
In recent years, both the United States and the United Nations have prioritized access to justice:
- In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice established the Office for Access to Justice to eliminate barriers that prevent people from understanding and exercising their rights and ensure fair and just outcomes for all people, regardless of wealth or status.
- In September 2015, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Agenda, which included access to justice for all as a target of Goal 16: “Promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies.”
HAI’s access to justice approach recognizes that trauma, experienced at either the individual or collective level, often exacerbates the barriers that prevent people from seeking and obtaining justice. Many people who have been heavily traumatized cannot contemplate seeking justice until they begin to heal from the trauma they have endured; at the same time, there cannot be complete healing without equal access to justice.
HAI provides access to justice through:
- Providing direct legal services to individuals in need of counseling and assistance
- Building the capacity of justice systems and institutions to protect citizens’ rights, prevent situations of impunity, and eradicate discriminatory practices
- Strengthening civil society to ensure that citizens are able to hold government accountable
- Supporting protection initiatives to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized people are not further traumatized by inability to access protective services