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Why building peaceful societies is part of the sustainable development agenda


woman in peaceParticipants of the Sudan Peace Symposium, a gathering of national and international experts on peace and conflict issues. Photo: UNDP Sudan

We tend not to worry when things are going well.

If people can take care of their daily business and send their kids to school without fear of violence, resolve disputes through a functioning justice system when the need arises, express their views both in private discussions and in public processes, feel they can truly contribute to decisions that affect their lives, and know effective institutions are in place to deliver basic services to their families and communities without interruption or the need for bribes, chances are they will be broadly content with the way their society is managed.

But, if any one of these public goods is absent, or if their access to safety, health, education or livelihoods is threatened, concerns are likely to be expressed quickly – and often very loudly.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the importance of these public goods as being at the heart of sustainable development. There is a strong focus on peaceful, just and inclusive societies in the 2030 Agenda – and explicit recognition that there can be no peace without sustainable development and no sustainable development without peace. Where safety is routinely and casually under threat, it will be impossible to generate lasting improvements in most aspects of people’s lives.

But what does this mean in practice? How do people know that their government is committed to progress on these issues – to consolidating existing strengths, and to generating further gains over time?

That is a valid question. Unlike other elements of the 2030 Agenda – access to health, education, and sanitation, for example, which were part of the previous Millennium Development Goals – commitments to peace, justice and inclusion have not been measured systematically before as part of a global agenda agreed by UN Member States.

In an attempt to provide an answer to that question, a small group of Member States started in the latter part of 2014 to test how best to define and measure these concepts in practice. Even before the final adoption of the 2030 Agenda – including Goal 16 on peace, justice and institutions – these countries had been identifying their priorities and experimenting with goals, targets and indicators to demonstrate progress.

The results of this “pilot” work – in Albania, Indonesia, Rwanda, Tunisia and the UK – are presented in a Final Report launched on 21 April. The Report contains interesting lessons about what it means to work with these fundamental but often elusive concepts, lessons that will be of interest to a much wider group of countries now that the 2030 Agenda is a reality, and implementation a priority for all Member states.

The pilot experiences emphasize the importance of many elements that will be central to all approaches: effective planning, sound institutional structures at the heart of government, and partnerships down to the most local level involving community based organizations and civil society, alongside government.

But one message that comes across very clearly from the pilot exercises is that there is no magic formula for demonstrating progress. Context matters, and different countries will need to assess their particular needs and capacities for monitoring and implementation, using available tools and developing approaches to measurement that are considered appropriate for the majority of the stakeholders affected.

The 2030 Agenda contains the shared commitment from all UN Member States to keeping people safe, to ensuring the fair administration of justice in accordance with the rule of law, and to building genuinely inclusive institutions that provide people a voice in the decision-making processes that affect them.

Global indicators will provide a snapshot each year of how successful we are as a global community. But alongside this global framework, there is ample space for different approaches at the national and local levels, allowing countries to demonstrate how they are making society more peaceful, just and inclusive for all people – especially those most at risk of violence, injustice and exclusion.

The pilot countries gave us a head start, showing that with the right level of dedication, building peaceful, just and inclusive societies is both feasible and measurable.


This post was originally published by IPS.

Patrick Keuleers Governance and peacebuilding Agenda 2030 Blog post Sustainable development

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