The Sustainable Development Goals: Building blocks for peace

Every year, the World celebrates the International Day of Peace, a day that provides a globally shared opportunity for a rededication to the promotion of peace and a durable stability.

Every year, the World celebrates the International Day of Peace, a day that provides a globally shared opportunity for a rededication to the promotion of peace and a durable stability.

This year, the international day of peace is celebrated one year after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the so long awaited integrated policy and programmatic approach to ensure inclusive transformational economic development, equitable social development, peace and security and environmental sustainability within a development agenda that responds to the aspirations of all people for a world free of want and fear. As rightly said by the UN Secretary General, “the people of the world have asked us to shine a light on a future of promise and opportunity. Member States have responded with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms, an agenda for the planet, our common home, an agenda for shared prosperity, peace and partnership”.


This year’s global theme for the International Day of Peace “the Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace” highlights how ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring broadly shared prosperity all contribute to global harmony.  Building blocks for peace directly refers to the 16th Sustainable Development Goal which specifically focuses on “Peace, Justice and strong governance Institutions”. But one might say that peace runs like a thread through all the 17 goals. The fact is that without peace, there would be no infrastructure development: no roads, no water and sanitation, no safe cities and neighbourhoods, gender equality and women empowerment would be jeopardised while poverty and hunger will soar, affecting the well-being of the citizens. The experience from war-torn countries like Syria has shown us how conflicts negatively affect the education systems, completely destroy cities and communities and increase the likelihood of vulnerability to climate change and social inclusion.


Building blocks for peace is a shared responsibility for all of us, from the international community to the local communities, with strong and active involvement of national, regional and local governments, non-government institutions, faith-based organisations and the large spectrum of peace actors worldwide. This is not new of course, because every year the United Nations calls for a global ceasefire while seeking to strengthen the ideals of peace and durable stability, both within and among all nations and peoples, on the occasion of the International Day of Peace. Every year, we have reminded the world that sustainable peace, safety and security should be at the center of development. Unfortunately, the current security situation in many parts of the world shows that this call has not been heard.  We are living in an increasingly divided world, where some regions enjoy sustained levels of peace, security and prosperity, while others fall into seemingly endless cycles of conflict and violence.  Such examples are unfortunately many and in different corners of the globe: the degradation of the security situation in South Sudan, the massive displacements of civilians and flows of refugees in affected areas in both Syria and South Sudan, the continued security uncertainty in Burundi as a result post-elections violence, the continued insecurity in Northern parts of Mali, the unabated violence is many parts of Irak, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the lingering conflicts in Yemen.  Of recent, we have also observed post elections violence in some African countries like Burundi and Gabon, which led to civil unrest with very serious consequences such as the loss of human lives but also the slow- down of social and economic development.   All this shows that sustainable peace is still far and that the citizens suffer the most from such man-made conflicts. But something has to be done to give a chance to the suffering populations, for them to enjoy peace and security as well as basic human rights. This has been emphasized by the UN Secretary General who said: “When people feel secure in their abilities to provide for their families, when they are given access to the resources they need to live healthy lives, and when they feel truly included in their societies, then they are much less likely to engage in conflict”.


Last September at the UN General Assembly, the world leaders have shown that Promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies is pathway to attaining sustainable human development.  While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not put emphasis on the governance related goals, the newly adopted global Sustainable Development Goals have a specific goal dedicated to peace, justice and inclusive societies.   Peace was not included in the legacy of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, but it has now been included as part of the new SDGs that will act as part of the foundation for sustainability activities around the world for the next fifteen years.

The adoption of Goal 16 of the SDGs and the associated indicators and targets is a recognition that the promotion of peaceful, just and inclusive societies is an ingredient for the attainment of the rest of the SDGs.  As the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon has put it rightly, “SDG #16 specifically focuses on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, yet peace runs like a thread through all 17 of the Goals”, he said. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, “the leaders of the world have given us a clear blueprint, and by following it, we can help build a future of peace and prosperity”, he added.  You will agree with me that without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law and social justice, there would be no hope for sustainable development.

But most importantly, the world has learned a lot on the MDGs and the piloting of the SDGs. As H.E. Paul Kagame once said: “So when some say MDG efforts fell short. I say: that’s fine, at least something was learned”. Indeed, we have all learned a lot from the MDGs implementation and all lessons learned will help us shape our future. Rwanda is a good case study when you come to transforming challenges into opportunities. The peace and security as well as continued economic growth is a testimony that even for the SDGs, if we have a visionary leadership and committed population, bucked by accountable governance institutions, you can achieve sustainable peace and inclusive societies. Over the past 22 years, Rwanda has taken a commendable approach to unity and reconciliation, which has shaped a country that was once at the verge of collapse into one of the most successful countries in the world, in almost all areas of development. Rwanda has chosen the path to unity and reconciliation over revenge and divisionism, and this has paid off, as Rwanda has now become a country of destination. In fact, many countries from Africa and elsewhere have sent delegations to Rwanda to learn from the Rwanda’s approach to unity and reconciliation. The Rwandan approach has consisted by the promotion of unity and reconciliation through community dialogue, the promotion of the Rwandan identity, the increased sensitization on social cohesion through reconciliation forums, as well as the unity and reconciliation clubs in schools. All this was achieved through initiative directly implemented by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) under the overall leadership of President Paul Kagame. Other partners including government institutions, Civil society organisations and the One UN also contributed to this success story.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs and) and in particular SDG16 might not be easy. However, as said again by President Kagame, “When we are unified, working together, no challenge is insurmountable”. Attaining sustainable peace, stronger governance institutions will require concerted efforts, global, regional, national and individual commitments, to transform our world into “The Word We Want”, as this has been expressed by millions of citizens across the world during the SDGs global consultations. In Africa alone, around 2,133,488 people voted for the world they want. Among them, 895,677 people voted for “an honest and responsive government”, 674,986 people voted for the “protection against crime and violence”, 754,959 voted for political freedom while 496,299 people voted for freedom from “discrimination and persecution”.

I would like to conclude by quoting again the UN Secretary General on the occasion of the international Day of Peace. He said: "Sustainable development is essential for lasting peace, and both depend on respect for human rights. We need to protect our planet. And only by working together can we make our common home safe for future generations. All of us can be sustainable development advocates and spread the word about the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. And we can all hold our governments to account for keeping their pledge to the future.

Let us join the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to all work together to make sustainable peace possible. We have a global framework to achieve this, we have the national commitment to domesticate the SDGs, and we have accountability mechanisms to make this happen.

The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Rwanda

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