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Justice Reform and the Rule of Law

The Open Society Foundations work to ensure that everyone has access to the protection of the law—and that the law is shaped and employed not as an instrument of power, but in the service of justice.

$74M 2020 budget for Justice Reform and the Rule of Law
6.1% Percentage of global budget
7.9% Average annual change in budget since 2016

2020 Justice Reform and the Rule of Law Budget by Region


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      Explore our full budget by theme and region

      Our Work

      The Open Society Foundations support efforts to develop national policing and criminal justice systems that treat everyone equally. We promote community-based work to expand access to civil justice and legal services, and we back innovative approaches to public safety issues. We also work to end excessive incarceration before and after trial—in particular, for nonviolent crimes such as drug possession.

      We also work to extend the ability of the law to address transnational issues such as corruption, and to seek accountability for atrocity crimes, including through support for the International Criminal Court and international human rights tribunals.

      A group of people who are watching a UN court deliver its ruling on TV celebrate by either holding their arms aloft or putting their hands together in prayer.
      Viewers in Bosnia and Herzegovina react to a ruling from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on November 22, 2017. © Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

      Reducing Pretrial Detention

      A woman celebrates after being released from prison
      A woman is released from prison in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, near Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on April 6, 2020. © Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty

      Pretrial detention, particularly in overcrowded facilities, puts suspects’ health at risk, as has been brutally demonstrated by the high levels of infection seen in jails and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lengthy detention also damages people’s economic well-being and adds to the costs of the justice system. Our grantees around the world have supported release programs for nonviolent detainees—particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. In broader efforts to address the issues, Open Society-U.S. supports groups that promote pretrial release without cash bail, while the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa has backed efforts to abolish colonial era laws that target petty offenses, such as loitering.

      A family gathered around a television, watching a politician deliver a speech before a tribunal.
      A family in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, watches a TV broadcast of former President Laurent Gbabgo appearing before the Hague's International Criminal Court on December 5, 2011. © Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty

      Accountability for Atrocity Crimes

      The Open Society Foundations have been an active supporter of the International Criminal Court, and of broader efforts to ensure that national courts can prosecute war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. This includes the Open Society Justice Initiative’s International Justice Monitor, which seeks to connect complex legal proceedings to the communities most affected. 

      Reforming Drug Laws

      A police officer smiles inside of a tent while greeting a woman and giving a treat to her pet dog.
      A policewoman pets the dog of a woman who lives in a tent in Seattle, Washington, on March 23, 2017. © Elaine Thompson/AP/Shutterstock

      In the United States, a punitive approach to drug policy has fueled unacceptably high levels of mass incarceration, and disproportionately affected the African American community. Similar patterns can be found elsewhere in the world. The Open Society Foundations support groups that fight for the reform of mandatory sentencing for drug crimes, and we work with local authorities and police to promote an approach to drug use that focuses on safety and the health of users, rather than suppression.

      Fair Policing

      In many countries around the world, police officers routinely single out members of minority communities for identity checks, body searches, or other forms of harassment. In Western Europe and the United States, the Open Society Foundations support local groups that seek to end these practices, while the Open Society Justice Initiative has pursued litigation on the issue in France, Spain, and at the European Court of Human Rights.  

      Police search a young man's bag.
      A young man is searched at Central Station in Brussels, Belgium, on March 23, 2016. © Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty

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