The Making of SDG 16: An Agenda for Peace for a World in Conflict

Ajarat Bada is the founder and director of The Missing Millennium Development Goal, a campaign launched as a result of the 2010 One Young World Summit's Interfaith Dialogue Plenary Session in which youth representatives from all over the world  called upon religious  and political leaders to "to unequivocally commit to deliver peace amongst nations, races and creeds"



In October 2001, the Nobel committee awarded the United Nations Secretary General and One Young World Counsellor Kofi Annan and his team of 44,000 UN employees the Nobel Prize for Peace for their work towards a better organised and more peaceful world. This was huge step for the organisation, which after five decades of existence, was recognised for meeting the purpose of its creation.

However, the timing of the Nobel Prize made for a huge paradox. The world had just been plunged into a major crisis with the United States under attack on September 11th. Perhaps, the Nobel Prize was not just recognition but also a call to action on behalf of the people of the world. How was the UN going to respond to such a call?

The most robust global development agenda that the UN had ever created and the world had ever seen, the Millennium Development Goals, were already a year old at the time, and as they stood, it was obvious that they did not envisage the issues that the next decade would bring. The events of September 11th prompted a closer look at religion and religious entities in society. For some, the response was to fight terror aggressively and, today, we continue to see the many devastating consequences of war – loss of life and lost development opportunities as we spend a disproportionate amount of resources on waging War on Terror. The consequences of this misplaced priority implies different things to different facets of society but the disturbing reality is that in 2015, many nations have failed to achieve the MDGs largely due to a lack of resources.

Indeed, the MDGs were met with varying success in the member nations of the UN. This agenda was also unique in that it connected countries to each other and to the rest of the world. With a shared global development agenda, Washington DC was working on the same agenda as Lagos; Lima was connected to Paris and Seoul to Beijing. However, as robust as they were, these goals could not cater for the many global calamities bred by 9/11. There was not a single goal catering explicitly for mitigating conflict and promoting peace, the very reasons for which the UN was created.

This sentiment was echoed throughout the international community and especially with interfaith organisations like Religions for Peace and the United Religions Initiative. In 2010, a group of One Young World Ambassadors, inspired by the inaugural One Young World Summit, took the cause very seriously and launched a campaign for the ‘Missing Millennium Development Goal- Ensure Interfaith Collaboration for Peace’.

The Missing MDG campaign is a result of the 2010 One Yong World Summit's interfaith resolution, when youth representatives from all over the world called upon religious and political leaders to ‘to unequivocally commit to deliver peace amongst nations, races and creeds’.

Its targets are to:

1. Provide an atmosphere for a peace dialogue involving all religions

2. Promote tolerance and understanding of religious symbolism and traditions in society

3. Promote a positive understanding of all faiths

4. Promote positive and transparent leadership in governance and public affairs

5. Promote the rights and civic responsibilities of people of all faiths, including their individual duties towards peace building, development of mutual respect and collaboration

The team ran a petition that had us making a case for world leaders including Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu, Professor Muhammed Yunus, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Sir Bob Geldof and Princess Mette Marit of Norway to sign up. More importantly, it got us involved in the process of creating the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed a High-Level panel of 27 eminent people to head the process that created the SDGs including Unilever CEO Paul Polman, our very own One Young World Counsellor. The new agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, has seventeen targets. However, none of its targets speak explicitly about mitigating violence in the name of religion. Why is it impossible to have a stand-alone goal that deals with combating violence in the name of religion, pseudo or real, in the light of the post 9/11, Israel vs Palestine, Sunni vs Shia, ISIS vs Yazidi, Boko Haram world in which we live?

I was involved in the negotiation sessions for Goal 16: to ‘Build peaceful and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’ and advocated strongly for the inclusion of Goal 16, asking for most robust targets including one on mitigating violence in the name of religion.

However, on September 25th, world leaders including the Pope stamped the post-2015 development goals, putting SDG 16 into the ‘to-implement’ list. This means that although the SDGs are much more robust on the peace, violence and conflict than the MDGs, it will take years for us to measure the worth of its letter. In the meantime, we will have to find contentment in a goal on peace and work hard towards building effective, accountable and inclusive religious institutions to curb violence in the name of religion.