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International Partnerships

Justice and the Rule of law

We support the justice sector and justice sector reform in our partner countries because it is one of the main avenues for promoting democratic governance, the rule of law, respect of human rights, gender equality, citizen security, and thereby sustainable socio-economic development.

The New Consensus on Development, which is the EU response to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, stipulates that the EU and its member countries will promote and foster efficient, transparent, independent, open and accountable justice systems and will promote access to justice for all – in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations. This covers efforts to tackle crime, including urban crime and violence, and efforts to combat organised transnational crime related to arms, drugs or human trafficking and fight against corruption.

We are also committed to support transitional justice where violations and abuses of human rights have occurred. The main objectives of the EU’s transitional justice approach is to end impunity, provide recognition and reparation for victims, foster trust, strengthen the rule of law and contribute to reconciliation processes.

As reforming and improving the justice sector is a complex task, we collaborate with many donors and different actors to guarantee our interventions the best chances of success. We also mobilise different types of financial instruments, mechanisms, and modalities to reach our goals.


    Rule of law

    Respect for the rule of law and the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms are among the funding principles of the EU and the fundamental principles inspiring the EU's action in its external relations.

    Reforming the justice sector and improving people’s capacity to access justice go hand-in-hand with enforcing the rule of law, which relies on the principle that the law is supreme and everyone is equal before the law and accountable for their actions.

    The rule of law is one of the founding values of the EU and a guiding principle of its external action, which in terms of development cooperation, translates into the following efforts:

    • protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms
    • ensure the separation of powers between the government, the parliament, and the judiciary
    • strengthen institutional and administrative capacities of justice institutions
    • promote good governance and accountability
    • modernise the justice system and improve prison conditions
    • enforcing civilian control and oversight over the functioning of the justice system


    Justice reform may encounter the following obstacles:

    • The process is complicated, highly politicised, and context-specific. One size does not fit all and an inflexible programming approach won’t reap the best results.
    • Legal and institutional reforms require time and must overcome resistance to change.
    • Building public trust does not happen overnight, this also takes time.
    • Fragile or conflict-affected countries present an even more complex context with additional interconnected challenges, such as a culture of impunity, common human rights violations, corruption, insufficient resources, limited access to justice and information, etc.

    Evaluations are therefore crucial to improve our aid delivery approaches and usually lead to the following recommendation: institutional building support is not enough, we also need to support the legal empowerment of people and focus more on service delivery.

    Best practices

    Successful justice support and reforms need to rely on the following:

    Legal empowerment

    People need to be made aware of their rights and the services at their disposal to enforce them and hold institutions accountable, especially the most vulnerable categories of society, notably women, children, minorities, migrants, and indigenous people.

    Equal access to justice

    We need to ensure everyone everywhere has access to justice. That means not focusing only on institution building in capital cities but also support and reform regional and local institutions, as the most vulnerable people usually live in remote rural areas.

    Institutional accountability

    Our support to justice reforms includes focus on oversight mechanisms, to enhance transparency and hold justice institutions accountable for their commitment to change. For example, this can translate into support to the Parliament for improved oversight capacity or support to the Ombudsman to strengthen complaint procedures.

    Research-based actions

    Comprehensive research helps us better grasp local dynamics and thereby optimise our support. Applying a scientific method is also key to define and implement indicators and mechanisms to measure the results and impact of our interventions on people’s lives.

    System-wide perspective

    When analysing and reforming the justice sector, we need to consider all aspects of it, including civil, criminal, public, and international law, as well as traditional justice mechanisms.

    Service-delivery approach

    Justice sector support needs to move beyond institutional support to an increased service delivery approach. We need to address the constraints impairing service delivery to the intended beneficiaries while aligning with our partner countries’ priorities. To find the right balance between both, we follow a case-by-case approach to tailor our support to the needs of a specific context.

    Results-focused approach

    Each intervention needs to set realistic objectives and expected results, taking into account the specific context which can be resistant or favourable to change. A suitably long timeframe also needs to be foreseen to ensure the success of an intervention.

    Balance different types of actions

    Financial support or investing in equipment or facilities is not enough in itself. It needs to be combined with technical assistance to help local actors build their capacities. Political dialogue along the whole reform process is also essential to make sure local actors are on board and take ownership of the reform process.

    Human rights and gender equality

    All our interventions have as a precondition the protection and promotion of human rights and gender equality. Partner countries need to adhere to this approach, grounded in international law, to benefit from our support.

    Donor coordination and complementarity

    We prioritise coordinated actions with other donors and support South-South cooperation to increase aid effectiveness and avoid contradictions or duplications in legal and institutional frameworks.