Collaboration: The Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bhutan have signed an agreement to enhance equal access to justice for vulnerable groups by supporting the development of an enabling legal and policy environment in Bhutan, according to a UNDP press release.

UNDP Resident Representative Niamh Collier-Smith and Resident Coordinator of ADC Johannes Binder, signed the agreement at the UN House yesterday.

The agreement sets off a two-year cooperation (2017-2018) that will focus on improving the rights of Bhutan’s most vulnerable groups through an integrated and well-coordinated justice sector. It will strengthen the parliamentary committee’s legislative, oversight and representational capacity and strategic information to measure Gross National Happiness and the Sustainable Development Goals.

During the agreement signing, Johannes Binder, Resident Coordinator of ADC said that the programme was of a very high priority as, “It is a human-dignity centred programme”, and that it will ultimately bring about better participation in every field.

Binder added that working for the vulnerable becomes all the more important because socio-economic development is taking place at a very quick pace which is creating an imbalance in the development process.

The partnership targets Members of Parliament and the Parliament secretariat staff, staff of the Office of the Attorney General, judges and representatives of the Bhutan National Legal Institute and the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law and the Royal Bhutan Police.

The key targets also include representatives of civil society organisations such as Respect Educate Nurture and Empower Women and Lhak-Sam together with the National Commission for Women and Children and the Multi-Sectoral Task Force towards ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Addressing the stakeholders of the project at the signing ceremony, Niamh Collier-Smith said that the agencies and institutions need to now look at the kind of support they need so that the vulnerabilities faced by people could be addressed in the best possible way.

She added that the partnership not only focuses on SDG 16 on peace and justice but also the UN’s commitment to leave no one behind.

During the course of the second phase of the programme, the agency representatives will be trained on administration of justice for vulnerable groups. The project will benefit women and marginalised groups such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons and people with disabilities and those living with HIV. The capacity of civil society organisations working with victims of domestic violence will be strengthened as well.

The cooperation is aimed at integrating SDG 16 implementation into the strategic plans of the Parliament and the Justice Sector by promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, access to justice for all and by building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This approach will reinforce the collaboration between state and non-state actors on achieving access to justice for all.

The agreement builds on the results achieved during the first Phase (2013-2016) of ADC’s support to the UN One Programme (2013-2018) that includes a vulnerability baseline assessment, the national disability policy formulation process, advocacy to High Level Task Force on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the development of the Office of the Attorney General’s strategic plan.

Staff reporter