Leveraging the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” including Goal 16, the “justice, peace, and inclusive institutions” goal, were hailed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as nothing less than “a defining moment in human history.” Critics called the SDGs “a mess.”  There’s much agreement on both accounts. The SDGs are lofty, ambitious, and inspirational. And they are vague and ill-defined. This provides an opening for justice systems and their stakeholders across the globe to leverage the SDGs to serve their national priorities and goals and perhaps even shape international goals.

In Uzbekistan

This essentially was my message to an international conference, “Modern Judicial Mechanisms for Reliable Protection of the Rights and Legitimate Interests of Entrepreneurs: Experience of Uzbekistan and International Practices,” in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The conference was organized by the Supreme Economic Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, with support of the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan and several international donors including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the German development agency, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Participants included representatives of the Parliament and the Government of Uzbekistan, the country’s business community, experts from the US, Germany and Spain, and Uzbekistan experts in the field of law.

I first reminded the participants at the conference of the SDGs’ ambitious agenda. Countries around the world, including Uzbekistan, should not ignore the opportunity offered by the SDGs. I urged the participants that, despite its shortcomings, to bring the justice goal, Goal 16 of the SDGs, “home to Uzbekistan and leverage the attention the world has showered on the SDGs.”  I urged them to make the justice goal and associated 12 sub-goals or targets and success factors their own; to define and adapt them carefully; to prioritize and streamline them; and, finally, to embed them into their justice reform policies and planning. Do this, I promised, and the world will come knocking at your door, echoing some of the optimistic hyperbole of Ban Ki-moon.

Although relegated to the last place among the 16 substantive goals of the SDGs, including goals aimed at poverty reduction, hunger, clean water and the environment, the themes of justice are pervasive. (Goal 17 is an enabling goal focused on the implementation of the first 16 goals).  Justice is a critical part of human development and well-being. It is central to economic growth and poverty. It strikes at the root causes of poverty including discrimination, victimization, deprivation, exclusion, and vulnerabilities of people. If you want to achieve economic growth and end world poverty, Bryan Stevenson, a prominent scholar and social justice activist, and author of the best-seller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice,  reminds us that the “opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”

Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)

As part of its follow-up and review mechanisms for implementing the SDGs, the UN urged member nations to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven.” These national reviews, referred to as Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), report on a nation’s findings including areas that need outside financial and technical support. Local ownership of performance measurement and evaluation is important and the fact that these national reviews are “country-led and country-driven” increases their success.

These national reviews serve as a review that facilitates the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges, lessons learned, and areas that need support. They mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the SDGs both within the country and throughout the world.  In many ways, the voluntary national reviews can be considered as a loosely structured and largely open-ended proposal for support. Clearly, a voluntary national review of Goal 16 of the SDGs provides Uzbekistan valuable opportunities.

An online review platform is dedicated to compiling voluntary inputs from countries participating in the national voluntary reviews of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, as well other voluntary governmental inputs, and inputs from ECOSOC functional commissions and other intergovernmental bodies and forums. The platform also includes inputs from major groups and other stakeholders, as well as contributions from multi-stakeholder partnerships and voluntary commitments.

Thus far, only 22 countries of the 193 member nations of the United Nations (11 %), and only one in the region, the Republic of Georgia, have availed themselves of this opportunity and conducted VNRs in the 2016 round, the first. By participating in the next round of national reviews in 2017 focused on the three elements of Goal 16 -- promoting peaceful and inclusive societies; providing access to justice; and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions – Uzbekistan and other countries throughout the world can distinguish themselves in the region and throughout the world.

By taking this first step even further and formulating a plan of action for measuring and implementing Goal 16, as only a few countries have done at this stage (Finland plans to have a plan in place by the end of this year), I am confident that Uzbekistan and other countries who take these steps will find themselves on the international stage, a position that I believe will garner support from international donors.

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