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Without Peace and Human Rights There Will Be No Sustainable Development

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Today, 21 September, is the UN International Day of Peace. This day was established by the United Nations (UN) not just to celebrate and commemorate the significance of peace, but also to promote temporary ceasefires to allow for humanitarian aid to reach communities isolated by violence. The latter is a stark reminder of the correlation between peace, human rights and development.

This year, the day also finds itself on the eve of the summit that will see the official adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The summit will bring together more than 150 world leaders at the UN Headquarters in New York on 25-27 September.

More than half of the world population lives in Asia Pacific. Given that fact it will be of great significance for all UN Member States, UN agencies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to the SDGs to make sure that the region will realize the goals. This will only be possible if it is recognized that without peace and human rights, there will be no sustainable development.

Asia Pacific has been modestly successful at fulfilling the predecessors of the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, which were adopted in September 2000, focused primarily on making an end to poverty, hunger and diseases. In Asia Pacific estimations are that 13 of the 21 MDG targets were realized. Mostly these were in the areas of: decline in poverty; access to water; and decline of both maternal and under-five mortality rates. Other targets proved to be unattainable, while the sheer number of people in the region has assured that much remains to be done. Many still live in disastrous circumstances without having their basic human needs and rights met.

The SDGs, which have been set for the coming 15 years with the hopes of being realized in 2030, differ quite significantly from the MDGs. Where the MDGs consisted of 8 goals worked out through 21 targets, the SDGs cover 17 goals and are ambitiously setting out to realize 169 targets.

More significantly, in assessing the MDGs it became clear that a major obstacle had been the failure to address the root-causes of poverty and inequality. Conflict-affected countries, for example, were among the least successful in realising the MDGs. This is why from the very initial drafting process the SDGs attempted to address such root-causes. Among others, this has led to the inclusion of peace and justice in the SDGs. The certainty that peace, human rights and development are intrinsically linked was recognized.

In Asia Pacific this correlation cannot be denied. The inequality gap is very real and growing. The disparities in income and wealth have been identified as substantial obstacles to the realisation of the MSGs in the region. Armed conflict, political unrest and increasing militarisation have long been obstacles to sustainable development. While particularly the recent trend of shrinking space for civil society has proven to be both an indication of the lack of respect for and a major hindrance to the realisation of people’s rights.

Looking at the SDGs, goal 10 – reduce inequality within and among countries – and goal 16 – promote justice, peaceful and inclusive societies – will be particularly crucial for Asia Pacific. Additionally, Governments in the region will need to realize that these goals can only be reached through collaboration with civil society.

So as we celebrate and commemorate the International Day of Peace, we await the final adoption of the SDGs and the moment that implementation will start. We remind the political leaders in Asia Pacific that to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all – the overall themes of the SDGs – the promotion of peace and the protection of human rights need to be an integral part of sustainable development.