COVID-19 broke into Latin America adding a negative impact to a region that was already experiencing slow economic growth, but the crisis also had a direct impact on justice. The 2030 Agenda, especially the SDG16, marks a course to face these new challenges.
The crisis has unfolded with serious consequences for the prison and correction systems in Latin America, where the average prison overcrowding is 64%. Conditions have worsened and legal cases have been discontinued due to lack of personal protection equipment (PPE), impacting fundamental rights, and increasing the burden on the justice system.
The pandemic has meant that detainees are unable to exercise social rights such as family visits and occupational training. They are also suffering from postponed hearings or limited access to legal assistance. The prosecution, the judiciary, and the legal aid providers, including legal aid authorities, bar associations, pro bono lawyers, human rights institutions, and Ombudsman offices, must play a critical role to ensure no one is left behind.
Groups that faced discriminatory obstacles in the past now face even greater challenges. Ensuring justice for all should focus on disadvantaged groups, including children at risk of violence, the elderly and persons with disabilities, undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and immigrant detention centers. Justice for women is also urgently needed since gender-based violence has been on the rise during confinement.
Emergency rules and measures must consider international human rights law and standards and should respect principles such as proportionate, non-discriminatory, time-limited, strictly contagion-related, and subject to continuous monitoring. It is essential to ensure equal access to justice for all, avoiding the interruption or limitation of free legal assistance.
Innovative and integrated solutions
Traditional legal aid methods need to be adapted to COVID-19 and innovative solutions such as online or mobile legal aid services need to be established to respond to the increase in need.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP is working with governments to implement innovative integrated solutions that could increase access to justice through digital resilience and digital transformation to ensure the quality and continuity of legal services in different contexts; support the development of public policy and strategic planning for the reform of the rule of law institutions of the security and justice sectors; and provide technical assistance to the judiciary and ministries of justice in the development of protocols for the use of new technologies in justice administration.
In Brazil, in coordination with the National Council of Justice, an analysis of the prison population was conducted using the definition of the COVID-19 infection risk group to outline prevention measures. Then a package of preventive measures was established for the spread of COVID-19 within the penitentiary system and the socio-educational system. While, in Panama, the Ministry of Government (known as MINGOB), through the General Directorate of the Penitentiary System (known as DGSP) and in coordination with the Ministry of Health (known as MINSA), established temporary access measures to penitentiary centers due to COVID-19.
Consolidating strategic partnerships and promote south-south cooperation:
UNDP believes that we are strong if we work together. In the case of Brazil, we consolidate strategic partnerships to ensure justice sector transformation with the same horizon: 2030. With the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro, with the International Legal Foundation (ILF), the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and in collaboration with the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the National College of General Public Defenders of Brazil (known as CONDEGE), the Public Defender’s Office of the Union, and the National Association of Public Defenders of Brazil (known as ANADEP). How to achieve a new and inclusive justice for all? A borderless approach based on south-south cooperation is a great solution for achieving this
An opportunity for a renewed and inclusive justice for all
A "new social contract" must be more than to restore legal aid services to their former state. Ensuring an inclusive justice for all by 2030 in Latin America requires to put people at the center of services, promote institutional transformation, and use justice systems to create opportunities for the citizens to participate fully in their societies and economies.
 Recommendations No 62, National Council of Justice, March 17, 2020, Brazil. “(..)The recommendations have as their specific purpose: I - the protection of the life and health of persons deprived of liberty, magistrates and all public officials and agents that make up the criminal, penitentiary and socio-educational justice system, especially those who are part of of the risk group, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic, immunosuppressive, respiratory, and other pre-existing comorbidities that can lead to a worsening of the general state of health due to contagion, with special attention to diabetes, tuberculosis , kidney diseases, HIV and co-infections; II - reduction of the factors of virus propagation, through the adoption of sanitary measures, reduction of crowds in judicial, penitentiary and socio-educational units, and restriction to physical interactions in carrying out procedural acts; and III - guarantee of the continuity of the judicial provision, observing the rights and individual guarantees and the due legal process. (..)¨
 UNDP: Proyecto: Fortalecimiento de la vigilancia y la inspección del sistema penitenciario (Project: Strengthening the surveillance and inspection of the penitentiary system). More information: https://www.br.undp.org/content/brazil/pt/home/projects/CNJ-sistemaprisional-socioeducativo.html
 The data recovered from the analysis of the socio-economic evaluation of female prisoners shows that the vast majority are convicted for drug-related crimes, as they are heads of families, living in poverty and vulnerable to easily being recruited by drug trafficking networks. They have children under their care whose food, health or education are not guaranteed during this COVID19 emergency. More information: https://www.sistemapenitenciario.gob.pa/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Diagnostico-unicef-Panama-Hijos-asMPL-.pdf
 UNDP believes that we are strong if we work together. We consolidate strategic partnerships to ensure justice sector transformation with the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the International Legal Foundation (ILF), the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and in collaboration with 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).