11 June 2019
SDG 16 Expert Group Meeting Elicits Experiences, Recommendations for Accelerated Implementation
Photo by IISD/ENB
story highlights

The EGM took stock of global progress towards achieving SDG 16 and shared knowledge, success stories, challenges and good practices.

Participants emphasized equal access to justice (SDG target 16.3) as essential to achieving peace and stability in their countries.

Civil society presented the Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG 16+ that outlines key recommendations and calls for accelerated action.

29 May 2019: Participants discussed how to achieve peaceful, just and inclusive societies at an expert group meeting (EGM) on SDG 16. The EGM was the last in a series taking place in preparation for the 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which is carrying out an in-depth review of Goals 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 17. The EGM was preceded by a civil society pre-conference, which resulted in the ‘Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG 16+.’

The UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs (DESA) and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) co-organized the event with the Government of Italy to take stock of global progress towards achieving SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and to share knowledge, success stories, challenges and good practices. The meeting took place in Rome, Italy from 27-29 May 2019, following expert group meetings on the other SDGs under review at the July 2019 HLPF.

In opening remarks, IDLO Director-General Irene Khan reflected that the Conference “takes place against a somber backdrop of deteriorating social, political and economic conditions.” Khan cited threats to many SDG 16 targets, including access to justice, human rights and stability, particularly impact women, youth and marginalized groups. In addition to rising inequalities, she said increasing social tensions and large-scale humanitarian crises present obstacles to implementing SDG 16, called for all stakeholders to scale up efforts to achieve the Goal.

Italy’s Secretary General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Elisabetta Belloni, underscored the importance of multilateralism, saying that no single actor or country can deliver “the totality of the response that is required.” She called for focusing on leaving no one behind.

Participants emphasized the contribution of SDG 16 to achieving other SDGs. For example, Khan said the chance of obtaining clean drinking water is “proportionately better when there is clean government.”

Speakers also called for developing SDG indicators that are “grounded in human rights principles.” They supported a rights-based approach to SDG implementation that includes participation, transparency and accountability, and accounts for discrimination.

Country representatives shared their experiences in implementing SDG 16, in a high-level roundtable. Afghanistan’s Attorney General, Farid Hamidi, described his country’s efforts to reopen legal offices in the country’s 57 districts and to provide equal access to justice for women, such as by increasing the number of female prosecutors. Hamidi said SDG 16 “is vital” for Afghanistan, emphasizing that his country has had decades of war because “we have not focused on justice.” Sierra Leone and Somalia emphasized equal access to justice (SDG target 16.3) as essential to achieving peace and stability in their countries. Somalia’s Minister of Justice Hasan Haji explained that “if the justice is not there then people will take the law into their own hands,” and other symptoms will follow. Sierra Leone’s Minister of Justice, Priscilla Schwartz, recommended widening the definition of equal access to justice, underscoring the importance of moving away from a narrow “conception of justice as just legal systems and courtrooms” to also consider “mismanagement of public institutions.” Other speakers underscored the importance of achieving SDG 16 for all countries, such as to tackle illicit financial flows (IFF) and corruption.

Also on access to justice and effective rule of law, a panel shared recommendations related to inequality, judicial independence, public trust and funding. To tackle inequalities, participants called for acknowledging the many layers of inequality and recognizing the multi-dimensional aspects of poverty. They supported a holistic approach to combat inequality. They suggested improving data collection to identify systematic discrimination, and expanding legal aid systems to provide increased access and better coverage for women and children. To promote judicial independence, panelists called for exercising the judiciary’s constitutional powers “despite political threats.” They recognized that the role of the judiciary to “say what is within the constitution and what is not.” To build trust in institutions, Uganda’s Deputy Chief Justice recommended ensuring government institutions coordinate their efforts. Others highlighted the role of communication to build trust and address public perceptions of corruption. Panelists urged budgeting for justice in national budgets and shared examples of how information and communications technology (ICT) can help solve conflicts and reduce burdens on the formal justice system.

On corruption, participants highlighted the role of international and regional cooperation in realizing SDG target 16.4 on reducing illicit financial and arms flows, strengthening the recovery and return of stolen assets and combatting organized crime. Panelists observed that corruption and organized crime hinder growth and progress and can spill across countries. Participants shared efforts to recover stolen assets, including the importance of sharing knowledge, data and experiences among countries. Panel discussions also focused on, inter alia: customary and informal justice systems and the importance of access to information.

In advance of the SDG 16 EGM, civil society convened a pre-conference to discuss strategic priorities and needs around SDG 16. The resulting declaration outlines key recommendations and calls for accelerated action around SDG 16+. Civil society recommends pursuing integrated approaches and interlinkages for inclusive result, including: ensuring effective linkages between the three mutually reinforcing components of SDG 16; ensuring that all national development plans integrate and prioritize relevant SDG 16+ targets; and undertaking multi-stakeholder and gender- and youth-sensitive conflict analyses to support better alignment and joint access to prioritize and address corruption.

Recommendations also focus on mobilizing and scaling up commitments and investments, including that governments should come to the July 2019 HLPF and the SDG Summit in September 2019 with “new, meaningful, concrete and ambitious commitments on how to accelerate progress on SDG 16+.” The declaration also calls for creating an SDG 16+ Challenge Fund to support grassroots civil society working to advance SDG 16+. [DESA meeting webpage] [IDLO Press Release on Opening] [IDLO News Coverage] [Conference Website] [Conference Concept Note] [IDLO Press Release on SDG target 16.3] [IDLO Press Release on SDG target 16.4] [Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG16+]

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