SDG 16 – Promote Peace, Justice and Inclusive Societies

Debate on post-2015 sustainable development has so far agreed consistently that a new development guideline should advance not only poverty reduction and sustainability but also justice, good governance, and peaceful societies.

Even though most states are backing the agenda for ensuring sustainable peace in the world, the framing and inclusion of this SDG on peaceful societies remains a bit sensitive for certain member states. Achieving honest buy-in into this peace agenda for these states will be crucial to the adoption, implementation and monitoring of SDG 16 over the following 15 years.

Importance of peace in SDG 16

We simply cannot achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication without first tackling insecurity and conflict. There is an increasingly large gap with regards to MDG performance when comparing developed countries with other states being affected by elevated violence levels and unrest. Strikingly, the seven nations that are not likely going to meet even one MDG as 2015 draws to an end have suffered high violence levels in the last couple of years.

Nevertheless, insecurity and violence are global challenges affecting the well-being of many people throughout the world and not just the conflict-related ones. For instance, Brazil has the highest homicide rate in the world, while, in 2014, South Africa had the highest global murder rate. It is usually those in marginalised areas of society that get the worse effects of violence. For most underdeveloped nations, it is not possible to significantly reduce poverty and attain economic growth provided insecurity and violence prevail.

Peace, effective governance, and justice are both development enablers and development outcomes. According to over seven million people who took part in a recent UN survey titled My Word, protection against violence and crime as well as a responsive and honest government are in the top five development priorities.

SDG 16 seeks to put the interests of people at the centre of the inclusion and peace agenda. Everyone, not just in conflict-afflicted countries, must have the ability to live peaceful lives without insecurity and violence. The global community needs to emphasise on making sure there is a positive and sustainable peace and not only “negative peace” (absence of conflict and violence) since it can mask latent volatility.

Ultimately, every country in the world is at risk of violent conflict, with many facing insecurity situations in their everyday lives. Thus, all countries would require promoting key issues like reducing corruption, ensuring political inclusiveness and providing unbiased access to security and justice to guarantee positive and sustainable peace,

Main targets of SDG 16

  • Effectively reduce violence in all its forms and associated death rates throughout the world.
  • End exploitation, abuse, trafficking, torture and violence against children.
  • Promote adherence to the law at both global and national levels and also ensure equitable access to justice.
  • Profoundly reduce the flow of illicit arms and financial resources, enhance the efforts to recover and return all stolen assets as well as fight organised crime.
  • Significantly reduce all types of bribery and corruption.
  • Develop effective, transparent and accountable institutions at every level.
  • Ensure inclusive, representative, participatory and comprehensive decision-making.
  • Strengthen and broaden the ability of the developing nations to participate in the global governance institutions.
  • Provide legal identification for all, starting with birth registration.
  • Strengthen the relevant national organisations for capacity building, especially in developing nations, to fight and prevent crime, violence and terrorism.
  • Ensure the public have easy access to relevant information and also protect essential freedoms.
  • Enforce and promote non-discriminatory policies and laws to enable sustainable development.

Even though the above targets are very promising, experts at the UN believe there is still room for some technical improvement to help in preserving the very delicate and unique political balance represented by SDG 16. Any arising concerns from these targets should be dealt with seriously instead of only grudgingly receiving them. For instance, making the targets more measurable and also consolidating this SDG through reducing the main targets will ensure that implementation of the framework globally is more feasible and also assist with effective monitoring. The language used to define the targets could also benefit from improvement to align with existing global commitments.

For this SDG to have a real impact on the ground, universality is important. Non-universal frameworks make it hard to hold states to account for meeting the essential targets they agreed upon when signing universal treaties. Thus, global indicators that allow for country comparison and motivate action need to be developed. Nevertheless, a global framework should still be sensitive to the context where it is being applied, such as through context-specific measures that complement universal measures. Moreover, unless clearly stated in the globally agreed targets, the progress and benchmarks must be well defined by the State.

Implementation of SDG 16

Even though a strengthened and renewed universal partnership is essential for the successful implementation of SDG 16, existing universal initiatives aimed at creating peaceful societies should not be overlooked. For instance, the Geneva Declaration, supported by more than 100 countries, seeks to attain measurable armed violence reductions both non-conflict and conflict settings. Conflict-afflicted countries have already started piloting the utilisation of 34 shared indicators to track progress across five peace goals. These helpful existing global initiatives can inform and inspire the new SDG 16 indicator framework.

Moreover, besides these international processes, there are also many national-level experiences and initiatives from which countries can draw lessons from as they start planning their pathways to achieving the targets laid out in this SDG. In this context, promoting cross-country sharing of knowledge and creating partnerships should be an essential part of an effective implementation.

Final Note

With more than 50 million people displaced by conflict and violence throughout the world, universal collective responses aimed at dealing with the main causes of insecurity and violence are necessary. SDG 16 represents a great opportunity for ensuring multilateral action, focused on the people and founded in development, to prevent future violent conflict.

Although achieving this goal may seem challenging, success is a must. Inclusive and peaceful societies are vital to the achievement of all the other sustainable development goals. If there’s one goal that has massive potential to make the globe a better place, then it is this one.

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