Peace: A pillar and a challenge for sustainable development

October 19, 2020

Margarita Vaca

October 19, 2020

Every year, on September 2, the International Day of Peace, is celebrated, “to commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace in each nation and people and among them” (United Nations, 1981).

Peace highlights the importance that empathy, solidarity, inclusion and justice have in times of unprecedented challenges such as the ones we are experiencing, where in addition to facing a multidimensional crisis, conflicts that impact the poorest regions, persist. 

What is peace? 

Peace is a broad concept: For starters it is a human right of which all people, groups, communities and territories are entitled. We all have the right to a just, sustainable and lasting peace. But it also refers to the absence of armed conflicts, internal or international, which impact on different spheres of a person’s life. Thus, peace encompasses other rights such as “to be educated in and for peace; To have the right to live in a safe and healthy environment; To resist the oppression of regimes that violate human rights; To be free; To have refuge; To justice, truth and effective reparation to victims, among others ”(UNESCO, 2011).

SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Without peace and without human rights it is not possible to achieve sustainable development. SDG 16 calls for the construction of peaceful and inclusive societies that govern their actions by respecting multiculturalism and the free development of capacities of all its inhabitants, allowing equitable levels of security and prosperity.

SDG 16 in figures

16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.

79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2019 (UNHCR, 2020).The world homicide rate stands at 5.78 per 1,000 inhabitants (World Bank, 2018).
16.2 End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children

Every year, one out of two children between the ages of 2 and 17 is a victim of some type of violence (WHO, 2020).83% of countries have national data on violence against children, but only 21% use it to establish national measures and targets for preventing and responding to such abuses (WHO, 2020).
16.3 Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all

In the last decade, the proportion of prisoners held without sentencing has remained almost constant at 31% of all prisoners (United Nations, 2020).
16.4 By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime

Based on information from 81 countries and complementary sources, in 2016 and 2017 550,000 firearms were seized each year. On the other hand, data from 14 countries in 2016-2017 suggests that, on average, the origin of only 28% of seized firearms was established (UNODC, 2020).
16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms

“A significant number of countries have made little or no progress against corruption. In the past 8 years, only 22 countries significantly improved their Corruption Perception Index (CPI) scores. While 21 countries significantly lowered their scores. In the rest of the 137 countries, the perceived levels of corruption showed little or no change ”(IPC, 2019).The prevalence of bribery in high-income countries is 3.7% while in lower-income countries  is 22.3%, when accessing public services (United Nations, 2020).
16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels

88% have ordinances in force to protect minors; 47% acknowledge compliance with them (WHO, 2020).
16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

In June 2019, 11 women are Heads of State and 12 are Heads of Government (UN Women, 2019).The proportion of seats held by women in international parliaments was 24.6% (World Bank, 2019).
16.9 By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.

“The proportion of registered births increased almost 20% in the last decade; However, 166 million children under the age of five have never been officially registered”. It is also estimated that 237 million children under the age of five do not have a birth certificate (UNICEF, 2019).
16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

In 2020, 249 journalists have been imprisoned and 20 have died due to their work (Reporters Without Borders, 2020).Between 2018 and 2019, the number of murders decreased 33% (from 476 to 357) and 30 forced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists in 47 countries (United Nations, 2019).
16.a Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime

According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, the average level of world peace deteriorated 0.34%. Also, from 2011 to 2019 the number of riots, general strikes and anti-government demonstrations around the world increased by 244% (Institute for Economics and Peace).
16.b Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development

182 countries are part of the “International Convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination”, only 12 countries did not express their consent to join (OHCHR, 2020).

Peace processes in the world

The history of humanity has been marked by conflicts, from global to national, which have meant years of setback in human development both in countries and in each of their inhabitants. But history has also reflected the resilience of communities and their commitment to rebuilding the social fabric. The peace processes have become milestones for change that seek to reconcile interest and reverse the disastrous effects of the war. Some commemorative peace processes are described below:

  1. South Africa (September 14, 1991) In 1991, representatives of the main political parties signed a National Peace Agreement. After four years of negotiations, in 1994, the first electoral votes were held where Nelson Mandela, representative of the ANC, was victorious, putting and end to the Apartheid.
  1. Guatemala (December 29, 1996) The government of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit ended a 36-year war by signing a peace agreement, as well as the creation of a Permanent Assembly of Civil Society (ASC) and an International Commission against Impunity (UN Guatemala).
  1. Rwanda (1997-2020) Following the genocide, the Government of Rwanda took steps to address the impact of the war and move towards national reconciliation. In 1997, the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) was created (World Bank, 2019).
  1. Ireland (April 10, 1998) In 1998, the first step was taken to end the conflict between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country over political and religious issues. The Irish Republican Army, IRA, and the British government signed the Belfast Agreement. In 2005, the IRA gave up the armed conflict. Since 2007, there has been a shared government between Catholics and Protestants.
  1. Sierra Leone (July 7, 1999) The government of Sierra Leone and the United Revolutionary Front, initiated the peace process that was characterized by a broad amnesty for the rebel forces (total immunity).
  1. Nepal (November 22, 2006) Under the Peace Agreement, signed in 2006, the government and the Maoist party established an end to the conflict and gave way to democracy in the country.
  1. Colombia (November 24, 2016) After more than 50 years of armed conflict, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to end the conflict by signing the “Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a stable and lasting Peace”.

Conclusions: Challenges for peace and sustainable development

  • Conflict prevention. Peace represents a cross-cutting factor that impacts all areas of a person and society, as well as the development of a country, the allocation of resources and the generation of international alliances. Therefore, as the UN Secretary General mentions “It is better to prevent conflicts than to manage them, avoid tragic human suffering and even save money” -António Guterres.
  • Data for peace. Strengthening data on all issues related to peacebuilding, inclusive and just societies, and solid institutions allows not only to have a clear perspective of the achievements, lessons learned and challenges that countries face, but also to carry out a continuous monitoring of the proposed goals while identifying strategies according to the reality of each territory, to respond in a timely manner to the needs of each community.
  • Following-up the peace processes. Assuring that all the commitments agreed will be fulfilled within the established times becomes a key factor in guaranteeing the commitment and engagement of the community in the peace process, while avoiding any disagreement that may entail recidivism. Likewise, ensuring that the victims will receive answers and justice on the events experienced by them or their families is a crucial step for forgiveness. 

Note 1: Target 16.8 – Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance – is not included in this analysis since no global value was identified. However, the Global Database of SDG Indicators has data available for the indicators of the SDG targets by country.

Note 2: The data presented is related to the intention and theme of the target, but not necessarily to SDG 16 indicators.

Note 3: About 800 documents on peace agreements and related material can be consulted in the United Nations Peacemaker database.


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