Domestic workers in Mexico gain basic labor rights, an Indigenous group in Honduras wins reparations and future protection for their land, 68 million people in India secure control over the lakes that provide drinking water and support their livelihoods — these are all examples of the power of legal empowerment. 

Human rights violations are a widespread issue that occur in many ways, including land seizure, modern slavery, natural resource pollution, gender inequality, and child marriage. Those rights can be protected under international law or a country’s governance, but setting forth the legal processes is an inaccessible resource to many. 

Local organizations and legal empowerment groups work tirelessly for years to bring justice to those struggling for basic freedoms. Many movements face challenges such as lack of recognition and support for their causes, which can set work back by years and be especially harmful to urgent cases that require immediate action.  

So how do we make sure no one gets left behind? 

International organizations such as the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR) support grassroots human rights groups financially and strategically in their efforts to create lasting social change. Working together with local organizations, the FGHR has achieved massive successes that not only protect marginalized and underserved people but also biodiversity and conservation of natural resources. 

Now, it wants to bring even more power to the people with the Legal Empowerment Fund (LEF), a long-term, people-centered plan for global justice. Here’s everything you need to know. 

3 Key Facts to Understanding the Global Justice Gap

  1. An estimated 5 billion people around the world are unable to obtain justice due to exclusion from justice systems, lack of citizenship, and the inability to access legal resources.  
  2. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or Global Goals— which outline an urgent plan of action to promote equality, ensure peace, and protect the planet by 2030 — includes access to justice for all with Goal 16. All member states of the UN have adopted the Global Goals, yet 235 million people worldwide live in cases of extreme injustice. 
  3. There is no way to precisely measure the whole number of people affected by the global justice gap, but the World Justice Project (WJP) defines it as anyone who falls into one of three categories: "people who cannot obtain justice for everyday civil, administrative, or criminal justice problems; people who are excluded from the opportunities the law provides; or people who live in extreme conditions of injustice.”

What Is the Legal Empowerment Fund?

At September’s Global Citizen Live event, the Fund for Global Human Rights launched the LEF, which aims to provide frontline activists and grassroots movements the vital long-term support needed to close the global justice gap. 

The LEF is a 10-year multi-million dollar effort to bring equal legal protection to the two-thirds of the global population living without access to justice. In order to empower marginalized communities and create systemic change, the LEF will offer long-term and renewable grants to local justice groups as well as access to a global collaboration of donors and advocates. 

The director of the LEF, Atieno Odhiambo, is a Kenya-based human rights lawyer whose career has centered around promoting access to justice and democracy.

“Legal empowerment puts people, not institutions, at the heart of justice,” said Odhiambo in a press release that announced the launch of the new fund. “I am extremely excited to be leading this incredible effort to put the power of the law into the hands of people and transform the world’s justice systems.”

The LEF is hosted by the Fund for Global Human Rights and funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a private philanthropy; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a non-partisan private charity; and Namati, an international justice network. Other partners include Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies, a coalition of 39 UN member states, organizations, and private sectors working to advance Global Goal 16.

What Does It Hope to Achieve?

The LEF wants to bring a faster approach to cases of environmental justice, human rights protection, civic power, and anyone being failed by their justice system.  

The fund will help frontline civil society organizations and provide them with resources, promote education on legal empowerment strategies, give agency to underrepresented groups (such as women, children, and Indigenous communities), and work to improve laws to create effective and lasting societal change.  

“Justice matters for nearly everything we care about — from stopping the pandemic through equitable vaccine access to tackling our grave climate crisis,” said Vivek Maru, founder and CEO of Namati, at Global Citizen Live

The global justice gap affects 5 billion people around the world. In order to close the gap, the LEF will provide a sustained effort to make sure every voice is heard and those that need justice can access it.

How Does the Legal Empowerment Fund Work?

Since 2002, the FGHR and its donors have invested over $100 million in aid to activists at over 800 organizations in 57 countries worldwide. With its funding, organizations around the world have gone on to secure courtroom wins for clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, justice for victims of sexual slavery, and more.

In order to combat inequality and poverty on a global and long-term scale, the LEF is mobilizing $100 million over 10 years to advance people-centered justice. With this funding, the LEF will be able to increase response efforts for grassroots justice groups through grants and provide urgent help when and where it is needed. 

With the LEF and its supporters, grassroots justice groups helping and educating communities fighting back using their knowledge of the law will receive the increased support they have long advocated for.

Who Will It Help?

Violence against women, corrupt systems, poverty, and conflict all attribute to a lack of access to justice systems. Millions of people around the world are also considered stateless and are denied access to health care and education. These people are a part of the global justice gap that the LEF wants to close. 

But the initiative can also help everyone on a global scale. The LEF not only promotes justice for those facing direct human rights violations, but its work also helps the whole planet. By protecting biodiversity, ensuring clean water and air, and preserving natural resources, the initiative benefits the environment which affects everyone, everywhere. 

In 2003, the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna people of Honduras, dependent on natural resources for fishing and agriculture, petitioned against the Honduran state and corporations building large developments and imposing evictions on their land. The Organizacion Fraternal Negra Honduran (OFRANEH) and the Indigenous community worked together with the support of the Fund for Global Human Rights to combat corporate appropriation of their land and resources. OFRANEH, which provides pro-bono legal services, education, and leadership training, has been working with Garifuna communities for more than two decades with the support of the fund. 

“I have been kidnapped. I am being sued by the state, demanding that I am a terrorist and a criminal. In 2011, the police beat me,” said Miriam Miranda, executive director of OFRANEH. “We need to continue fighting for life. The fund hasn’t only supported the work we do, it has helped us in times of emergency. We have found a great alliance in the fund.”

After a 12-year struggle, the Garifuna people won a landmark case for Indigenous land protection. The court ruled that the Honduran state was responsible for violating Garifuna ownership of the land and ordered the state grant reparations, ownership titles, and future protection for the ancestral lands for the Indigenous community. The case put forth a legal precedent in Honduras for other Indigenous communities whose lands and livelihoods are threatened by corporate greed. 

Around the world, Indigenous people account for only 5% of the world’s population but are responsible for the protection of 80% of global biodiversity. Protecting those communities and the land they preserve is a human rights and environmental cause. 

From providing resources for legal battles against human rights violations to offering protection to those on the ground working against injustices, the work that the fund has accomplished so far will expand and evolve with the LEF. 

“We believe in a future where all people enjoy equal protections and remedies under the law,” said FGHR President and CEO Regan Ralph. “By supporting justice defenders in local communities, the Legal Empowerment Fund is an opportunity to afford people the dignity and protection they deserve.”

Broadening awareness for global injustices and increasing visibility for movements can help efforts like the LEF work to close the global justice gap. You can also support the LEF by donating here. Whether it’s signing a petition, amplifying marginalized voices through social media, or taking to the streets and demanding justice, you have the power to make sure human rights violations are no longer ignored. 

Global injustices affect those in poverty, marginalized people, and precious ecosystems. Taking a stand against the inequality of legal systems is joining a movement working toward a better future and planet for all.

Global Citizen Explains

Demand Equity

Legal Empowerment Fund: Everything to Know About the New Effort to Close the Global Justice Gap

By Kate Nakamura