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No turning back: Mr Ban reaffirms a transformative, pro-peace vision for post-2015

5 December 2014 - Larry Attree, Thomas Wheeler

Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his Synthesis Report On the Post-2015 Agenda. Larry Attree and Thomas Wheeler analyse whether the report will help Member States towards a framework that fulfils its full peacebuilding potential.

Debates on the post-2015 agenda so far have consistently agreed that the world’s new development framework must advance not only sustainability and poverty reduction but also, crucially, peace and good governance. The Secretary General’s report follows a year of negotiations by Member States on the goals and targets in the Open Working Group (OWG). It thus has a potentially important role in ensuring that Member States get over some big hurdles that could result in a post-2015 agenda that is unclear, impractical and neglectful of sensitive peace and governance issues.

So what was the focus of the Secretary General’s report, and how does it handle five key risks that could threaten the peace agenda going forward?

1. A sensitive call for fine-tuning

With the risk of creating a long and unclear framework, the Secretary General shows leadership by calling for fine tuning of the framework, and suggests distilling its contents into six core areas. These could be better worded to sound more appealing, more empowering and less vague - but they do give due prominence to peace, justice, governance and equality, and therefore are broadly progressive.

2. Reaffirming the inclusion of peace

Any uncertainty about the Secretary General’s endorsement of the integration of peace, good governance and human rights into the framework has been brushed aside: the report makes countless affirmations of the common conclusions of all major inputs into the post-2015 debate so far. It makes clear the new framework should promote a broad, preventive, positive vision of peace founded on reduced violence, public safety, fair access to justice, livelihoods, resources and services, voice and participation, and anti-corruption. This suggests that there is no turning back on the inclusion of these issues in the months ahead – offering vital support on an issue that could remain sensitive in 2015.

3. Missing pieces of the peace agenda?

While endorsing peace overall, there is the risk that the Secretary General could dismiss the case for addressing some core elements of the peace agenda. A positive point is that the report does speak up for the forgotten issues of social cohesion, tolerance and dispute resolution, affirming that ‘Reconciliation, peacebuilding and state-building are critical for countries to overcome fragility and develop cohesive societies’.

The only clear point of weakness of the report in handling peace issues is that it does not promote addressing irresponsible arms trade, the negative impacts of drugs (and the war on drugs), the flow of other ‘conflict commodities’, or indeed any aspect of organised crime apart from corruption and financial flows. This is despite the fact that these issues have been raised repeatedly in many of the key inputs to the process.

4. A strong call for universality… up to a point

Given the need to look at each and every context with prevention of violence in mind, the universality of the new framework could have the potential to open up policy conversations about preventing violence and building peace all over the world. If the report had undermined the case for a universal agenda, it would have been a missed opportunity. Instead, the Secretary General’s report reaffirms the common understanding that has been reached on the need for a universal agenda. The strong emphasis on multi-stakeholder measurement of progress – and a new programme of action on data – offer an ambitious vision to provide genuine accountability and restore the trust between people and governments around the world. The one weakness from Saferworld’s point of view is that the report could have been stronger and clearer in calling for the creation of universal indicators shared across countries to guarantee cross-comparison of progress.  

5. Flexibility, conflict sensitivity and do-no-harm

While backing a universal agenda, the report says the framework should be ‘adaptable to the conditions of each country’. This strikes a good balance: there is a need to be context-sensitive in promoting development and conflict prevention. However, the report could have been clearer. For example a single set of shared indicators could also be flexible: countries could set out their own aspirations for the pace and extent of progress they will make in relation to shared indicators. All countries would, of course, be free to add any combination of country-specific indicators to a concise list of shared, global indicators. It is not clear enough in the report, however, how flexibility will work. The SG therefore risks calling for a proliferation of autonomous monitoring efforts that could frustrate those who want to see both flexibility and real global accountability.

The SG’s report also falls short of calling for a ‘do-no-harm’ criterion for the ‘technical review’ of goals and targets that it proposes. If this technical review goes ahead, it should consider conflict sensitivity and do-no-harm issues very carefully.

Conclusion: though there are gaps to fill, there is much to celebrate

Based on the above, our view is that the Secretary General’s report does well in reaffirming the most important issues for the peace and governance agenda – and puts constructive options on the table on the sensitive question of how to refine the draft framework. These are significant positives, making the report a positive endorsement of the peace agenda that bodes well for the year ahead. However, there are weaknesses, including failure to reinforce some core peace priorities, and not doing enough to promote shared global indicators and conflict sensitivity.

Larry Attree and Tom Wheeler lead Saferworld’s work on the post-2015 framework within Saferworld’s policy team.

Read the full informal response to the Secretary General’s report.

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The Secretary General’s report does well in reaffirming the most important issues for the peace and governance agenda

Larry Attree and Thomas Wheeler, Saferworld