The inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development is part of the global policy shift towards recognizing that peace and development are interconnected and that violence and conflict undermine development. In learning about implementing SDG 16, much of the focus is on national level efforts, however civil society groups at the local level are also highly active. As national actors prepare to report on progress related to SDG 16 at the 2019 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), it is vital that all the work of actors at the local level towards building peaceful, just, and inclusive societies is examined and connected.
Illustrative lessons can be learned from local groups in Liberia, a country with a vibrant civil society, including the renowned Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement—led by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Leymah Gbowee—that played an integral role in ending the civil war. In a post-conflict context, Liberian civil society has continued working to build peace and has created a number of mechanisms that have contributed to stability in the country, which are seen as central pillars to upholding peace and preventing the outbreak of violence.
There are also groups and initiatives at the international level that seek to connect local actors to the HLPF and other fora. Taking advantage of the work of these groups is critical if local actors are to truly be connected to global learning.
Local Actors in Liberia
Groups in Liberia have been working for many years on initiatives that attempt to prevent violence, promote access to justice and rule of law, and curb corruption and increasing transparency.
One prominent example is the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP). WANEP was established in 1998 and focuses on facilitating inclusive peacebuilding. As a network, they work with regional intergovernmental organizations, national governments, and civil society to build conflict prevention capacities throughout West Africa.
A key tool of WANEP’s conflict prevention work is its WARN program REWARD system, which monitors socio-political developments and feeds information quickly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other policymakers. This system helps train community members to safely and anonymously identify and report on conflict indicators. In place for the 2017 presidential elections, it was effective at quickly defusing tense situations by sending community leaders to mediate among parties or to dispel rumors as they arose and became a vital tool following petitions to the Liberian Supreme Court over the voters roll in November 2017.
Working closely with WANEP in the run up to the elections was Camp for Peace Liberia (CFP-Liberia), a civil society organization established in 2005 focused on the promotion of the culture of nonviolence, reconciliation, promotion of education, and creating awareness of accountable governance and social transformation. CFP-Liberia specifically focused on working with the youth in the country, who make up 65 percent of the population, by training them as “peace ambassadors” who monitored the communities in the run up to and after the elections and liaised with the early warning centers, established by ECOWAS, reporting on any potentially risky activities.
Given Liberia’s conflict affected past, access to justice is a central issue. Having never had a formal transitional or criminal justice process, civil society organizations have been working to support access to justice and implementation of rule of law initiatives, especially for women. Currently, women, youth, and rural populations still face significant hurdles in pursuing livelihoods with freedom from want or fears. As a means of creating safe spaces for women, the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) created “Peace Huts”—an informal network that comprises an estimated 23,000 individual members based in thirteen of Liberia’s fifteen counties. The Peace Huts aim to address women’s inequalities by provide safe spaces for women to express themselves on reconciliation and peacebuilding and supports their economic empowerment. With a presence across the country, they offer access and empowerment to typically marginalized communities to which the UN does not have access.
The current president of Liberia, George Weah, ran on a campaign of addressing corruption, generating private sector engagement, working with youth and encouraging job creation, and increased transparency and respect for rights and democracy. One year after taking office, there are concerns that these expectations may not be delivered. As a means of monitoring corruption, NAYMOTE-Partners for Democratic Development, a civil society organization, created a platform called the “Presidential Meter’ Project,” which tracks the rate of implementation of President Weah’s campaign promises. The aim of this project and that organization’s work in general is to provide information to citizens on the status of the government’s activities as a means of encouraging civil engagement, and to hold the government accountable to promises made.
Connecting Local Actors to the Global
An ongoing concern in relation to all SDGs, including SDG 16, is how to connect initiatives like these with efforts across countries to implement the 2030 Agenda. The 2019 HLPF is an opportunity to do this. While the implementation of the SDGs is a country-owned and nationally led process, international actors can offer support in gathering information, especially from civil society organizations, and connect what is gathered to the indicators within SDG 16.
One such organization is the Transparency, Accountability and Partnership (TAP) Network, which has developed toolkits that provide guidance on how civil society can engage with their governments and other local, regional, or international stakeholders to support the planning, implementation, follow-up and accountability of SDG 16. There is also the SDG 16+ forum, developed by the World Federation of UN Associations (WFUNA), which offers a space for countries to showcase their progress on implementing SDG 16 as a means of sharing inspiration and best practices on implementing a broad range of initiatives.
A challenge often associated with implementing SDG 16 is the complexity of reporting on “peacefulness,” and the fact that even for indicators with measurable data, it is difficult to collect the necessary information in fragile or conflict-affected contexts. The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is working to mitigate some of this by developing one of the first comprehensive progress audits on SDG 16 indicators. The annual report includes an overview of accessible data, other sources of data that are useful as proxies, a likely timeline for obtaining missing data, and case studies from ten countries demonstrating ways to collect datasets that are currently unavailable. While an important addition to the data driven process around SDG 16, we must recognize that internationally-developed indicators are limited and may not accurately represent the context at hand. Thus, in addition to international indicators, there is a need to ensure national indicator development processes, which may be more accessible, relevant to local contexts, and have more potential to gain buy in and drive forward accountability.
A step that all national actors can take in developing reports for HLPF 2019 and in the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process, is to engage a variety of stakeholders from civil society. This will ensure that information included in the VNR is accurate and incorporate all the work in a community, and that solutions are reflective of local level issues. Doing so brings the added benefit of contributing to maximum national and local ownership over the report and the efforts that result moving forward, while avoiding duplication of initiatives.
Connect SDG 16 With Other Agendas
A final consideration that is central to HLPF 2019 is the recognition that all the SDGs are integrated, interlinked, and universal. What follows is that SDG 16 cannot be separated from the other goals in the 2030 Agenda, and that it is not only applicable to countries experiencing conflict, it applies to every member state. It is for this reason that the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies developed the notion of SDG 16+, a more complete framework of all targets connected with peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. SDG 16+ provides an opportunity to connect to other policy frameworks and agendas working to build peace and prevention violence, such as the UN’s peacebuilding and sustaining peace framework, the UN-World Bank’s Pathways for Peace report, the Youth, Peace, and Security Agenda, and the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.
Without conflating agendas, and focusing instead on areas of overlap, there is potential to develop a multi-stakeholder platform and comprehensive approach built on partnerships between different actors in the policy community. This will provide a strong boost to efforts within and outside countries to better coordinate and meet the goals of peaceful, just, and inclusive societies globally.