Bulgarian long-distance walking champion turned Justice Innovator: Martin Gramatikov at HiiL (The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law) Innovating Justice tells the story of how human rights and justice became an integral part of his life.
“I’m Bulgarian and I remember I was 16 when the big changes happened in 1989. It was all about justice, fairness, human rights and freedom of expression. So for me, human rights is not something abstract such as a norm in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s the ability to go on the square and to voice according to your preferences or concerns. So in the transition period, justice somehow became part of the whole mindset of my generation.
“I studied law. Every law student in the first years of his or her studies becomes obsessed with justice, fairness and saving the world. Then in the final year they become obsessed with making a lot of money. So I kind of missed the transition there.
“For me, the word justice means everyday life because justice is in everyday life, and I hear it most from my kids. They always and constantly fight and accuse me over justice and fairness. So for me, justice is part of the everyday life much more than the very broad philosophical or social or geopolitical idea of justice. Justice is the ability of people to resolve their disputes with neighbours, the ability of people to find fair ways to solve disagreements with employers, the ability of people to divorce in a fair way. So for me justice is a part of everyday life.
“I am very cognisant of human rights for many different reasons. I lived through times when human rights in my society were limited, and in such types of societies you don’t miss human rights because you don’t know what they are. Then everything changed and I realised how much I missed that. So I was fortunate to assess what I got, and I cherish the freedom that I have now, my friends and my society.
“Throughout my work I was fortunate, and also misfortunate to some extent, to work with people in communities who were oppressed. I worked in refugee camps in Thailand. I worked in Roma ghettos in Eastern Europe, and I worked in IDP camps in Azerbaijan, so I’ve seen people who dearly need respect for their human rights. So it’s another part of my career and my life.
“Justice innovation means that justice is following society. Unfortunately, in law school, in dogmatic legal work, we use a lot of legal concepts from Roman times and even before. That’s great, it’s a matter of stability, legal certainty, etc. But life is changing, and people have changing preferences. So it is our task to constantly think how to design, implement and deliver better justice to these changing needs.
“When you go to the so-called developing world or poor countries and you ask people what their justice needs are, a lot of people say that they have legal problems regarding land, basic security, jobs, etc. In the Western world, people are mainly concerned about consumer problems, all the transactions that happen in daily life. And there’s a whole infrastructure around consumer problems, for instance, and this is a design. People have this need for protection in consumer interactions when they buy goods and services. A good design is a host of justice services or paths to justice to resolve the disputes that emerge there. This is a design which is responding to the justice needs of the people.
“We at HiiL Innovating Justice take a very unique stance to measure justice. Unlike other approaches, which are also valid, but looking from a different perspective, we are not counting the number of lawyers, the number of courtrooms, the number of police officers per 100,000 or disposition times. What we do is pretty specific because we ask people how they experience justice, when they need it, and how much justice they receive.
“Therefore we call it bottom-up justice, and this is at the core of many facets of HiiL’s vision, that we’re working to improve justice from the perspective of the people. Specifically what we do to measure justice is that we ask thousands of people, in random samples, about their justice needs, their actions when they have a need for justice, where they look for information and advice and which paths they take to obtain justice. Then we ask people to plot the fairness of these paths to justice.
“We use 10 specific indicators of the paths to justice. So we’re able to compare between men and women, people who live in the north versus in the south. We’re also able to compare people who look for justice when filing for divorce versus people looking for justice in land problems. To some extent we can also compare across countries.
“For us, the biggest challenge is to make the policymakers listen to people, listen to people’s problems. Second, to find owners of the problems. If you think, for instance, who is the owner of the divorce problem in a particular country, or the disputes amongst neighbours or petty crime, very rarely will you find an institution or coalition of institutions which will say ‘yes, this is our problem and we want to solve it’. Usually, it is the other way around. It’s ‘no, this is not our problem’.
“The biggest challenge is to find the owners of the problem, to make them believe that this is really the problem of people, because people said so and get them into problem-solving mode. Not just to register the problem but to think about ways to solve problems and if possible innovative ways, ways which were probably not tested before but have great potential.
Endurance and pain
“I have a theory, a very unofficial theory, that in endurance sports, the main thing is to overcome pain. You always experience pain. There’s no painless run or walk or ride. So you learn to overcome pain. In a way, working to change a legal system is about pain. So I think the correlation between these two is that you don’t give up easily. You go through the pain, you persevere and you continue. So unlike sprinters, we at HiiL are not looking for short-term successes. We have a pretty long-term vision which is not always easy to get but it pays off when you get it.”
Lead image: Martin Gramatikov (Photo: Niklas Jakobsson/Justice Hub)
Do you want to read more personal stories about people in the world of International Justice? Have a look at some of our latest My Justice features, including Serbian journalist Sanja Ivačić, Dutch artist Peter Koole and the minister of foreign affairs of the Palestinian Authority, Riad al Maliki.