According to the United Nations (UN), the number of people fleeing war, persecution, and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018, which was the highest level recorded by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in almost 70 years. In 2019, the UN tracked 357 killings and 30 enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists, and trade unionists in 47 countries. Additionally, the births of around one in four children under age 5 worldwide are never officially recorded, depriving them of proof of legal identity crucial for the protection of their rights and access to justice and social services. These facts emphasize how conflict, insecurity, weak institutions, and limited access to justice can be a threat to sustainable development specifically pertaining to SDG 16. This matters because people everywhere need to be free of fear from all forms of violence and feel safe as they go about their lives.
How Conflict, Insecurity, Weak institutions, and Limited Access to Justice can be a Threat to Sustainable Development.
Limited access to justice can be a threat to sustainable development because legal issues are often interconnected with other problems that can affect other areas of life, including housing, employment, education, and health. Timely access to a fair and effective justice system, as well as access to information, resources, and informal services will help support the wellbeing of individuals and communities, and without this, communities and individuals can not be supported thus weakening their ability to develop. Additionally, since legal issues are interconnected with many other issues it can be said that as justice improves, so do the other interconnected issues, thus promoting development. UN member states stated that “the rule of law and development have a significant interrelation and are mutually reinforcing, making it essential for sustainable development at the national and international level”.
The rule of law fosters development by strengthening the voices of individuals and communities, providing access to justice, ensuring due process, and establishing remedies for the violation of rights. For the rule of law to further sustainable development outcomes, it must ensure protection for all human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights and the right to development.
An example of where the addition of the rule of law improved development is the country of Cambodia, where after decades of conflict Cambodia’s judicial apparatus was non-existent. It has been built up gradually over the years but many aspects of the lack of judicial apparatus remained, such as the use of force to extract confessions being a standard police operating procedure in 2001. At that time Cambodia had in place strict laws safeguarding the rights of detainees and preventing the use of torture, but the policy was not being enforced. Now, there has been an observed steady and systematic change within the legal landscape in Cambodia due to providing legal aid to the poor and training defenders, access to justice improved the rule of law in Cambodia. Today, torture rates are below 5% and judges will not accept confessions if they suspect they were obtained by torture.
This also connects how weak institutions are also a threat to sustainable development because the institutions most affected by corruption are the judiciary and police institutions.
Conflict is a threat to sustainable development because, in poorer countries, armed conflict continues to destroy not just school infrastructure, but also the hopes and ambitions of the children in these areas. Approximately 28.5 million primary-school-age children who are out of school live in conflict-affected areas. Violence affects children’s health, development and well-being, and their ability to thrive. It causes trauma and weakens social inclusion.
Armed violence and insecurity are a threat to sustainable development because they have a destructive impact on a country’s development, affecting economic growth and often resulting in long-standing grievances among communities.
What Can We Do?
In a statement from the United Nations, they mention that to promote peace, justice, and strong institutions you should exercise your right to hold your elected officials accountable. Also, exercise your right to freedom of information and share your opinion with your elected representatives. And promote inclusion and respect towards people of different ethnic origins, religions, gender, sexual orientations, or different opinions.
Furthermore, EnvironFocus is going to be hosting a webinar on Thursday, April 21st, 2022 that will discuss this topic in more detail and also connect the issue to climate action. If interested in being a part of this discussion and to learn more, you can register for the event here:
Peace, justice and strong institutions. (2020, 11 August). United Nations Sustainable Development. Accessed on 14 april 2022, from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/peace-justice/
Access to Justice. (z.d.). Government of Canada. Accessed on 14 April 2022, from https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/access-acces/index.html
Why rule of law is the bedrock of sustainable development. (2020, 4 February). World Economic Forum. Accessed on 14 april 2022, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/why-rule-of-law-is-the-bedrock-of-sustainable-development/
SDG16: Peace and Justice. (z.d.). United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed on 18 april 2022, from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/about-unodc/sustainable-development-goals/sdg16_-peace-and-justice.html
Rashid, N. M. (2019, 19 February). Rule of Law and Development. United Nations and the Rule of Law. Accessed on 14 april 2022, from https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/rule-of-law-and-development/
UNESCO: Half of all out-of-school children live in conflict-affected countries. (2013, 12 July). UNESCO. Accessed on 14 april 2022, from https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-half-all-out-school-children-live-conflict-affected-countries
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