The ongoing war in Ukraine is a test for rule of law and justice – both at the international and the national level. How the international community and the government of Ukraine respond to it will determine the kind of society we want to live in and support, in more ways than one. Of course, criminal accountability is important but equally important are the justice needs and priorities of people and victims whose voices often get drowned in war cries and loud calls for revenge and vengeance.
As important as prosecutions for war crime are for signaling the need to respect international law, the needs of a 3-year-old whose father is missing and who requires immediate support to register for social assistance are no less important. Think about a woman in Ukraine who needs support in understanding how to get compensation for housing destroyed by war or ways to deal with domestic violence in this context. There are others who are not sure whether and how they pay taxes in wartime or how to claim social benefits or travel abroad if they have lost identity documents. Do labor laws apply during martial law? Can you be dismissed from your job or how can you collect arrears from wages? How to evacuate your small business from occupied territory? How do IDPs register for social security benefits?
The list of victims’ and people’s justice needs in wartime Ukraine is endless. But there is minimal support available for this.
The state funded legal aid in Ukraine has reduced as have the number of judges, with many court proceedings being postponed. Donor support is focused (understandably) on humanitarian needs and those funding justice, focus primarily on criminal accountability of Russian soldiers and leaders.
This exploratory discussion sought to understand what does supporting victim-centered and people-centered justice mean during an ongoing war and how can donors prioritize victims and people’s justice needs in such contexts. It sought to learn from other contexts and engage with the following questions:
1. What is the current state of access to justice in Ukraine?
a. What are the most common every day justice needs of Ukrainians in-country? What about Ukrainian IDPs and refugees?
b. What support exists for Ukrainians’ everyday justice needs?
c. What support is being provided to victims of the war, including for their physical, mental and psychosocial and legal needs?
2. How can access to justice and transitional justice priorities work hand-in-hand in Ukraine?
3. In what ways can a focus on justice needs support emergency response and recovery in the short, medium, and long-term?
4. What are the financing needs of the justice sector and how can they be addressed?
Entitled People-centered Justice in wartime: A Multistakeholder Dialogue on Ukraine, the event brought together local and international actors to discuss justice needs facing Ukrainians, both in country and abroad. Furthermore, it looked more closely at the international funding mechanisms, commissions, and oversight bodies focused on supporting Ukraine in an effort to identify how support for everyday justice needs can be integrated in these platforms’ agendas. Lastly, it looked at the role of justice in the fragile-contexts and crises, its role in resilience and recovery, and how the justice gap can be addressed.