United Nations building, 2012.Wikicommons/ Becks. Some rights reserved.The United Nations pulled-off something extraordinary this week. For the first time in its 70-year history it squarely acknowledged the vital relationship between security, safety and justice and development. Previously, these issues were dealt with by very distinct sides of the house. That artificial separation is now coming down.
The merging of security and development is more radical than it first appears. For decades, sensitive issues of conflict, crime and violence were ring-fenced from traditional development debates in the United Nations. Strange as it now sounds, the idea was to keep development from being sullied by politics, geopolitical or otherwise.
After one of the most complex and convoluted negotiation processes in the United Nation´s history, a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were released in draft form this week. They bring these themes together into tight embrace. The SDGs explicitly highlight the ways in which insecurity, injustice and weak governance can undermine social and economic progress.
The document – Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – is supposed to be wrapped-up at the United Nations General Assembly next month in New York. If signed-off by the world´s diplomats as expected at the Global Summit on September 27, the report will right an historical wrong.
The SDGs are nothing if not ambitious. They consist of 17 goals and 169 targets that will replace the eight Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs) which have guided the global development agenda since 2000. At the heart of the new agenda is “peace”, “security”, "justice" and “freedom from fear”. These concepts are comparatively new to the development debate.
The forcefulness of the 2030 Agenda´s commitment to preventing and reducing violence is surprising even for those who campaigned for their inclusion. The 29-page report mentions peace 18 times, violence 10 times, and justice 6 times. This is all the more remarkable given the considerable wariness of some governments with regard to these issues.
Throughout the document´s preamble the vision is bold and aspirational. It calls for “… a world free of fear and violence” in which “… every child grows up free from violence and exploitation.” It also stresses the elimination of “all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls …” and “factors which give rise to violence, insecurity and injustice.”
More important, the report underlines substantive connections between security and development agendas across various SDGs. Arguably the most important SDG in this regard is number 16 with its focus on the promotion of and investment in peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice and accountable and inclusive institutions.
Easily the most controversial of all the goals, SDG 16 is in and of itself a remarkable achievement. The first target doesn´t mince words: governments should “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere”. The second target demands an end to “abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.”
SDG 16 proposes a number of pathways to achieving safer and more just societies. For example, it urges states to double down on the rule of law to ensure equal access to justice (target 3) as opposed to punitive policing and incarceration. It also makes the case to curb illicit financial flows, arms and corruption (targets 4-5) and invest in more effective, participatory and transparent government (target 6-10).
And the SDG focus on peace, security and justice stretch across many other areas well. For example, SDG 4 which calls for inclusive and equitable education, also emphasizes “… cultures of peace and non-violence”. SDG5 on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls argues for “eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in public and private spheres”.
Transforming Our World is all the more remarkable because it is a consensus document. While the negotiations were often fierce, states now agree to the letter of the text. The process by which the SDGs were forged is critical to their legitimacy – they bear the fingerprints of millions of people concerned about the future direction of our planet.
Naturally, there are critics who feel the final document is too broad and cumbersome. They are worried that the SDGs lack the crisp succinctness of the MDGs. And yet the far-reaching scope of the new goals and targets are a recognition of the complexities facing the world in the twenty first century.
The SDGs are a genuine achievement for an embattled United Nations. They focus not just on societies affected by chronic poverty and crippled by war, but all societies. As set out in Transforming Our World, the goals are "universal, indivisible and interlinked". And if implemented as planned, they may well turn out to be transformational.