Global Justice Leaders Spotlight Legal Aid to Tackle Discrimination, Inequality Amidst Pandemic

Fourth Biennial International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems will Center on Persons Deprived of Liberty, Vulnerable Populations and Combating Systemic Racism


RIO DE JANEIRO—Government and civil society experts and practitioners on access to justice and legal aid from around the world will convene this week to discuss unprecedented challenges in access to justice caused by COVID-19, and how legal aid can combat inequalities this pandemic has intensified. Hosted online by the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with international organizations such as the International Legal Foundation, Open Society and the United Nations (UN), the conference will take place on September 14-18, 2020 and focus on the critical role of legal aid in ensuring the fair treatment of poor and marginalized groups. This special virtual convening of the 4th International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, ILAC 2020, will bring together global perspectives, lessons learned, and best practices to advance justice for all, in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


"It is with great honor that the Public Defender's Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro will host the 4th International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, which will discuss access to legal aid in the context of the pandemic, with representatives from over 70 countries. ILAC 2020 will be a great opportunity to show how the Public Defender's Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro has reinvented itself in such unusual times so as to ensure the rights of the population most afflicted by the pandemic, which was only made possible by the State model of access to legal aid", says Rodrigo Pacheco, General Public Defender of the State of Rio de Janeiro.


The conference will call for concrete action to defend vulnerable communities from detention, abuse, and discrimination exacerbated by COVID-19. Around the world, low-income and marginalized people are disproportionately arrested and detained. They have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s negative impacts on justice systems, where overcrowding, court closures and emergency measures have critically endangered health, freedom and the right to a fair and speedy trial. Meanwhile, movements across the world to raise awareness of widespread discrimination have galvanized action against police violence and systemic racism, bringing the dire need for criminal justice reform to the international stage and sparking global debate.


“Ensuring access to legal aid for persons in a state of vulnerability is every country’s duty, as set forth by UN regulation. This Conference aims to amplify the provision of such relevant service, especially amidst pandemic. It is an honor for the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro to host such an important event”, highlights André Castro, Special Advisor to the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro.


With invitees from more than 100 countries, the event will bring together national-level representatives, civil society leaders, judges, lawyers, and other global experts. The program will be interpreted in eight languages and focus on themes including:

  • Advocating for release and protecting the rights of people deprived of liberty

  • Holistic representation and access to justice for vulnerable and marginalized groups

  • Combating systemic racism and discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, religion, or other status

Public defenders, lawyers and legal aid providers have long been in the vanguard advocating for communities behind bars. Amidst COVID- 19, they have been fighting on the frontlines of justice systems worldwide to reduce prison populations and preserve fundamental human rights.


This year’s conference will be hosted virtually by the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro, organized in partnership with the International Legal Foundation, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The event is also supported by the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the National College of General Public Defenders of Brazil (CONDEGE), the Public Defender's Office of the Union, and the National Association of Public Defenders of Brazil (ANADEP).

This conference was founded to support Member States and individual experts in implementing the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, which call on every country to put in place a comprehensive legal aid system that is accessible and effective, has nationwide reach, and is available to all without discrimination. Past conferences have been held in Johannesburg, South Africa (2014), Buenos Aires, Argentina (2016), and Tbilisi, Georgia (2018). Since 2014, the International Legal Aid Conference has brought together hundreds of justice stakeholders from more than 50 countries and has catalyzed critical legal aid reforms.

For more information on the conference, visit: https://ilac2020.rj.def.br.

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