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Thinking critically about SDG 16

Prof Gillian Wylie and Dr Dong Jin Kim talk about the problems associated with SDG 16.
Sustainable Goal 16 is not without its critics. Some people question whether the targets in SDG 16 are really a recipe for the positive piece we spoke about at the start of this section. Others point to the many political obstacles, which make realising Goal 16 difficult. To look at these criticisms challenges and hopes surrounding Goal 16, I’m joined by my colleague Dr. Dong Jin Kim. Good morning, Jin. Thanks very much for giving some time to talk to us today. Could you introduce yourself to the viewers watching the ,MOOC, please? Hi, guys. My name is Jin. I work in Trinity College Dublin. My research and practical interest is the link between peace building and development. Thanks very much.
Do you think there are any problems with the way that peace is envisaged in Goal 16? Well, there has been some confusions in practical aspects for the ways that aid agencies could work for peace. When you look at Goal 16 targets, most of them are about setting up the rule of law, good governance, and democratic institutions. These targets appear to be highly political, however, many aid workers still believe main focus of development work should be to provide aid, without being fed into conflict. In some cases, peace objectives for aid programmes might be dangerous, because, in the context of the conflict, neutrality and independence are essential for the safety and security of staff project and beneficiaries, as well.
On top of that, it seems almost impossible to measure any success in this, when relevant data does not exist, in particular. Even if Goal 16 generates demands for the relevant data, it is difficult to imagine that the government would willingly cooperate with the production of data to bring to light their corruption, injustice, and structural violence. So but the biggest worry about this Goal is that it is not so much about peacebuilding, in the local context, but about building institutions based on the Western liberal approach. But this theory has received strong criticisms in that peacebuilding is reduced to top down institutional remedies, delivered by outside intervention, and lacks understanding about the local culture and the context of the conflict.
So furthermore, there are various reasons why conflict began in the first place. It is not only the result of weakness of the states. For example, long lasting global injustice is the colonisation era, particularly the role of former colonial powers in causing and maintaining the conflict for their interest, is often ignored. So I still believe the goal for peace is very important in sustainable development, however, I don’t think that this goal should only be about building institutions. Rather, it does mean that any activities, in a conflict affected country, should be strategically linked with peace building efforts in the local country. That’s great. So you’ve raised three very important critical points about Goal 16.
Firstly, that it’s an essentially political goal, and that sometimes is running against the expectations or norms of development and aid. That it is going to be hard to monitor, it’s going to be hard to get data that will show how Goal 16 is having an impact. And then the question of whether Goal 16 is too top down, and not looking at how peacebuilding has to come from the bottom up. You come from South Korea. Could you tell us something about how Goal 16 might provide a way forward or inspiration for peace building in Korea, particularly with that emphasis on local peace building that you mentioned in your previous answer.
A couple of years ago a large international organisation decided to provide medical aid to address a certain disease rampant in North Korea, and, at that time, several smaller South Korean NGOs were already working for the treatment of this disease in North Korea. And then suddenly, the large international organisation made the work of the South Korean NGOs redundant, and the South Korean NGOs were forced to suspend their operations in North Korea. It was a devastating situation for the NGOs, as they were providing aid, not just for treating disease, but also for promoting reconciliation between the two Koreas by increasing contacts between North and South Koreans.
And if this large international organisation had considered the context of the Korean conflict, they wouldn’t have ignored the South Korean NGOs. Perhaps they would have tried to work with them. So I think sustainable peace looks like a web relationships. Peace is just not something built by negotiations between politicians. There are peacebuilding roles for everyone, as you rightly pointed out. Many peace scholars say peace building is building a bridge between people, and, for sustainability, we need multiple bridges.
To take another example from the Korean case, you know that tensions has been high in and around the Korean peninsula lately, and last year, when North Korea was hit by floods, the South Korean aid agencies weren’t allowed to provide aid to North Korea, because of political tensions and international sanctions. However, South Korean NGOs were able to send aid through International Federation of Red Cross. This was possible because of a bridge between local South Korean NGOs and the international organisation, and a bridge between the international organisation and the local North Korean populations.
I had high expectations for Goal 16 in that it would provide a point of reference for a link between aid and peace building, and promote the cooperation of diverse international and local actors. Unfortunately, this does not look like the case at the moment, but it does not mean that I am totally negative about this goal. As I said earlier, I think the inclusion of peace in the development goals has great symbolic meaning. Now the remaining task is to keep asking the how questions. How can we do it better, this time, together? Thank you very much for all your answers to my questions today. Thanks, Gillian Earlier on, we also spoke to my colleague, Jude Lal Fernando.
He also had some interesting critical perspectives on Goal 16, as you can see here. Development, sustainable development goals should not be seen as abstract categories. They always have to be seen in relation to concrete political contexts. This is the dilemma in measuring how are we going to achieve this goal. In the case of Sri Lanka, the democratisation of the state structure is absolutely important to achieve the sustainable development goals. In that, building institutions that are accountable, especially in terms of human rights. Not only human rights are connected to juridical justice, but also human rights connected to people’s right to land, water, a right to their language are very much important. Thank you very much.

In this video we are bringing our discussions about SDG 16 to a close. This week we have seen that violence undoubtedly poses a threat to sustainable development. It is clear why a goal that focuses on peace, just institutions, and accountability is an essential part of the SDGs.

The articles on eliminating violence, tackling the threat organised crime poses to peace in Kosovo, and creating just institutions in post-conflict Colombia, all underline why the targets listed in SDG 16 matter for peace and sustainable development.

Yet, SDG 16 is not without its critics. Some people question whether the targets in SDG 16 are really a recipe for the “positive peace” we spoke of at the start of this section. Others point to the many political obstacles which make realising SDG 16 difficult.

Jin and Jude talk about some of the criticisms of SDG 16 which include the following:

  • It is a political goal which can run against some of the aims of development aid.
  • It is hard to monitor and get data from governments. How can we show whether the goal is having an impact?
  • It does not take into account cultural and political aspects of peace, and the context of the conflict.
  • It is too top down and doesn’t look at how peace building also has to come from the local level.
It is interesting that Jin and Jude stress different things in their criticisms of SDG 16. For example:
  • Jin on the one hand talks about the importance of the local level rather than a focus on top-down peacebuilding.

  • However, Jude stresses that the institutional and political changes are vital.

What we can see is that context is important for peace and development. What may work in South Korea may not work in Sri Lanka.

  • Pick one of Jin or Jude’s criticisms above
  • Do you agree or disagree with this criticism? Why?
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