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A welcome shift towards peace

31 May 2013

The eagerly awaited High Level Panel Report on the post-2015 development agenda has set out a transformative agenda with much for proponents of peace-related commitments to build on. States, civil society and others must now work towards a progressive consensus that can make this new global development paradigm a reality.

The High Level Panel (HLP) Report released yesterday has fulfilled the trust vested in the panel by the UN Secretary General to put a transformative development agenda squarely on the table for Member States to discuss and agree on. They have produced a progressive ‘bold but practical agenda that faces up to the real challenges that are holding back humankind in the poorest, least secure societies around the world’.

The HLP can be congratulated for its recognition of the need to ‘Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’ as one of five big, transformative shifts that are needed to realise a new development paradigm:

‘We must acknowledge a principal lesson of the MDGs: that peace and access to justice are not only fundamental human aspirations but cornerstones of sustainable development.’

This is a monumental step forward for global development thinking, as is the affirmation that such issues are not only pertinent to a subset of ‘crisis’ contexts – but instead constitute a universal agenda, for all countries.

The breadth of the framing around these issues amounts to an agenda not only for the absence of violence but also for progress on the range of issues related to inclusive, fair, responsive and accountable state-society relations:

‘Freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right, and the essential foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies. […] We are calling for a fundamental shift – to recognize peace and good governance as core elements of wellbeing, not optional extras.’

The HLP redresses deficits in the MDGs relating to conflict, violence, rule of law and good governance through the affirmation of two key goals: ‘Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions’ and ‘Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies’. The nine targets included under these goals represent a robust set of issues to contribute to sustained and lasting peace and violence reduction.

In addition to these positive goals, the HLP has attempted to integrate peace as a cross-cutting issue with indicative goals and targets that compare favourably with those that Saferworld and other actors have been advancing as the building blocks of sustainable peace. In practice, this means that there are relevant targets proposed to address:

  • violence against women (under Goal 2)
  • issues of equitable access to services including water, sanitation, healthcare, education, and decent jobs (under a number of other goals)
  • issues of environmental degradation (under Goal 9))
  • illicit financial flows and tax evasion (under Goal 12).

Crucially, this is underpinned by a call for indicators of progress to ‘be disaggregated to ensure no one is left behind and targets should only be considered ‘achieved’ if they are met for all relevant income and social groups.’ In this way Saferworld believes that the post-2015 framework can encourage a focus on the horizontal inequalities between social groups that drive and perpetuate violence in many contexts.

Other aspects of the transformative agenda proposed by the HLP would also help prevent conflict and violence. These include calls to:

  • transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth and ensuring all groups enjoy human rights and a fair share in (sustainable) economic opportunity
  • encourage a data and transparency revolution to transform accountability between states and citizens - an important affirmation of Saferworld’s firmly held position that the views of normal people on whether development efforts are going in the right direction matter, and a recognition that the confidence and buy-in of the public to development transformations is fundamental to effective peacebuilding
  • tighten the enforcement of rules that prohibit companies from bribing foreign officials and prompt large multinational corporations to report on the social, environmental, and economic impact of their activities - important cues for a wide-ranging conversation about policy coherence for development that must follow the adoption of the right vision of human progress in 2015
  • use transparency and accountability as powerful tools for preventing the theft and waste of scarce natural resources - crucial in helping to untangle poverty, poor governance and violence in the many contexts blighted by the ‘natural resource curse’

The report articulates the need to ‘to go beyond an aid agenda… to implement a swift reduction in corruption, illicit financial flows, money-laundering, tax evasion, and hidden ownership of assets’. Effective action on such threats could have a huge and transformative impact on one of the most significant ‘global factors’ that drive conflict and poverty around the world. The report highlights different lists of ‘external stressors’ at different points - notably including ‘the illicit trade in drugs and arms’ at one point, and ‘volatile commodity prices, international corruption, organized crime and the illicit trade in persons, precious minerals and arms’ elsewhere. All of these are worthy issues for international prioritisation. But further discussion is now needed to pin down to specific commitments on the key external stresses that the international community will work together to tackle. 

Universal agenda, individual application

The HLP's report is also positive in affirming a ‘single, universal post-2015 agenda’. This is a step towards the clarity that will be needed to make the framework effective in galvanising renewed development progress. The HLP's recommendation of goals that are ‘measurable, using credible and internationally comparable indicators, metrics and data, and subject to monitoring’ is further reassuring about the tangibility of the aspirations expressed, as is the affirmation that achieving peace is  ‘a universal agenda, for all countries’. But the report strikes an important balance here:  

‘All countries would be expected to contribute to achieving all targets, but how much, and at what speed, will differ. Ideally, nations would use inclusive processes to make these decisions and then develop strategies, plans, policies, laws, or budgets to implement them.’

Placing this affirmation of a universal vision upheld by shared indicators alongside a reassurance about the autonomy of national actors to frame their strategies and approach seems as necessary as it is well judged. Nonetheless, the nature of the framework and the way in which development needs to become a more collaborative pursuit of shared goals among diverse but equal partners will no doubt be a subject for heated debate in months to come.

Next steps

The HLP report has been developed through a wide-ranging global conversation that has enabled actors with strong and divergent views to exchange ideas, disagree, and ultimately collaborate around a progressive vision. On the process that lies ahead for agreeing a post-2015 framework, the HLP has useful things to say. Firstly:

‘Only UN member states can define the post-2015 agenda. However, we believe that the participation of civil society representatives in the UN processes will bring important perspectives to the discussions

And secondly:

‘The courage and personal commitment of political leaders will be needed to reconcile myriad national views, and to embrace useful insights from others. We must develop trust through dialogue, and learn lessons on reaching consensus from other multilateral processes. There will be difficult decisions to be made and not everyone will get everything they want. But global agreement is essential.’

There will be many actors who express caution about the results of the HLP’s work and the prospects for delivering on its ambition. States, civil society and others must continue the global conversation around the ideas and perspectives the HLP’s report has raised and work towards a progressive consensus from 2015. Now that we have the basis for this constructive dialogue, the process needs to be managed in a way that tests the ideas on the table against the experiences and perspectives of all Member States and leads us towards a transformative agenda that is globally-owned, ambitious and fit-for-purpose.

Read 'Goals, targets and indicators in the new global development framework'

Read more about Saferworld's work on Post-2015, including links to our four Issue Papers on Addressing conflict and violence within the post-2015 development agenda.

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The HLP can be congratulated for its recognition of the need to ‘Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’ as one of five big, transformative shifts that are needed to realise a new development paradigm

Larry Attree