Sustainable Development Goal # 16: Peace and Justice Through Strong Institutions

Now More Than Ever – The World Must Stand As One

hard to think of a better time to highlight the importance of SDG 16: Peace and Justice Through Strong Institutions.

The invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russian armed forces has brought this into sharp focus. And this is not his first invasion. One of the reasons cited by commentators for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was the lack of international action when Russia “annexed” Crimea in 2014.

Putin’s Actions in the Crimean Peninsula

Putin’s takeover of the Crimean Peninsula is just the latest in a long history of Russian actions in the region, dating back to 1783, the year the American colonies gained their independence from Great Britain.

The Russian insurrection in Crimea immediately followed the defeat of pro-Russian Ukraine President, Viktor Yanukovych. Putin’s decision to annex Crimea happened just hours after Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia. The annexation included a referendum virtually no one recognizes and ongoing fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops continues to this day. The United Nations recognizes Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea but Russia basically has de facto control.

Two Obvious Violations of Targets in SDG 16

Although it was written before Putin’s attack on Kyiv and western Ukraine, SDG # 16 includes two targets that are particularly relevant right now:

  • 16 (1): Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
  • 16 (3): Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all

It’s certainly not the first time one country has invaded another. History is littered with them and many are going on to this day.

Putin demands our attention

Putin’s actions in eastern Europe have focused attention on the role of NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the European Union beyond anything else in recent memory.

There has been a great deal of debate about how far these institutions can go, will go, must go. If we go too far, will we provoke a nuclear, chemical, or biological escalation that no one can comprehend? If we do too little, will that give Putin permission to go further and spread his attacks to actual member countries of NATO? And are the efforts taken so far going to be regarded as too much or too little anyway?

Now, as the Ukrainian forces are outperforming everyone’s expectations, the world still wonders how far Putin will go to achieve his aims or at least save face.

And while these tasks are specifically aimed at minimizing these types of events, it is much harder to find actual solutions that work.

Peace, Order and Good Government: The Canadian Way Can Lead the World

The phrase “peace, order and good government” has been integral to Canadian federalism since this country’s creation in 1867. It was part of the British North America Act and is now part of the Canadian Constitution. It is integral to how the rule of law operates, here and elsewhere.

And those rules also exist within institutions like the United Nations and the European Union. They are also integral to democratic governments everywhere.

Canada has Taken the Lead Before: The Suez Crisis and UN Peacekeepers

Many years ago in another dangerous time, Great Britain and France went to war with Egypt over the Suez Canal. The French and British governments had used their colonial control of the region to build the canal when Egypt was essentially their colony. As the recently independent Egyptian government sought to exert control over their own territory a clash was almost inevitable.

When the Egyptians took control and the French and British attempted to take it back, the United Nations (still fairly young) looked on in horror. It was Canada, in its role as a middle power, that found an acceptable solution. This was actually the event that led to the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to future prime minister Lester Pearson.

I am not suggesting that the war in Ukraine can be compared to the Suez Crisis. But sometimes the world must try to take a role in finding a peaceful solution to a dangerous situation. We are far away from any resolution to the current crisis, but I would not doubt that UN peacekeepers could eventually become involved.

We will have to see. And if it does come to that, I suspect it will mean that somehow the world has averted a complete disaster and the horrors already perpetrated on the people of Ukraine will have ended.

Order Out of Chaos: Can it be Done?

Life is inherently chaotic and cruel. But good rules, well used, give order to that chaos. And that order lets individual citizens expect certain rights – rights that we should all be able to share equally.

And right now, those are not rights the people of Ukraine are able to exercise. Putin’s arbitrary decision to attack Ukraine runs completely counter to Ukraine’s right to self government and self determination.

In the end, that is the same argument disenfranchised citizens and society members everywhere express.

The Key is Balance

There needs to be balance between civil liberty and social cohesion. I believe that the efforts the federal and provincial governments have made during COVID have been supportive of good government and social cohesion. And I think most Canadians would generally agree with me.

The Trucker’s Convoy ≠ The Siege of Kyiv

Let’s not confuse recent events in Canada and with current event in Ukraine. Prime Minister Trudeau and the provincial premiers were all dutifully elected to office. It is obvious that Vladimir Putin was not. His actions, over time, have made that clear. His invasion of Ukraine is simply the last, most dramatic, and overwhelming example of that imbalance.

That is not what has happened here in Canada. Efforts to encourage universal vaccination and protect public health are the responsibility of government in a civil society. That is what we have done. It wasn’t perfect, but life seldom is.

Finding True Peace as We Move Forward

While Putin’s efforts are specific to our time, the wider context of dictatorial power is not a new one. The struggle for real justice and true peace is universal. And it must be pursued on all levels. Local, national, and international. Without that, nothing substantial can truly be achieved.

SDG # 16 is About More Than Foreign Wars

There are twelve tasks under the 16th goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. That’s typical of most of them. Each goal includes a dozen or more tasks that must be pursued to achieve the goal.

I have already referred to two of these tasks while looking at events in Ukraine.  Three other tasks caught my attention. I thought I would spend some time looking at them too.

These tasks are:

  • 16 (2): End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children
  • 16 (9): By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration
  • 16 (b): Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development

Exploitation and trafficking of children

I wrote about the abuse of children, especially girls, when I wrote about SDG # 4: Quality Education. And I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I write about SDG # 5: Gender Equality.

Girls in particular and children in general are especially vulnerable. One of the greatest philosophical and political difficulties in the American efforts to control illegal immigration along their southern border is the way children have been removed from their parents and kept in isolation.

This has been an issue with the border patrol for years, across numerous administrations in the White House. It remains a stain on American decency and humanity.

Legal identification, gender identity, and amending birth registration

I have watched in increasing horror as numerous states have decided to target and discriminate against transgender and gender-fluid children.

And many of those legislative attacks haven’t stopped there. Numerous states have also returned to going after same-sex couples and cracked down on any discussions of gender and sexuality in the school system.

The recent passage of legislation by the Florida legislature routinely called the “Don’t Say Gay” law is a horrendous attack on many members of society. A story I referenced elsewhere, described the story of a teacher who was fired in Ohio because he explained his rainbow bracelet to students in his high school class.

And Tennessee is trying to redefine marriage as the union between one woman and one man. This particular effort would not only nullify the progress the United States has seen in recognition of same-sex marriage. It also eliminates barriers against child marriage.

I wrote about some of these atrocities in my discussion of SDG # 4: Quality Education as well. These widespread efforts to censor library material even remotely related to same-sex couples, homosexuality, or gender identification is truly frightening.

But those efforts take on an even more ominous tone when families are attacked for helping their children deal with gender dysphoria and legitimately working through their challenges. As children seek answers to these difficult questions, parents and families are attacked for seeking answers and offering understanding.

Non-discriminatory laws and policies

It’s hard to look at recent events in the United States without reflecting on efforts to discriminate against groups and individuals based on their racial, sexual, or gender-based identification. I cannot find any other way to describe efforts to change election rules, gerrymander electoral districts, or attack children in their schools of even their sports activities.

Voter Suppression – American style

Numerous court cases have demonstrated that efforts to change voting rules are inherently racist. The latest efforts are built around the “Great Lie” that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

But keep in mind that the Voters Rights Act of 1964 was written to prevent these practices decades earlier. Until the United States Supreme Court changed the rules, states with a history of voter suppression had to get approval for changes to district borders and laws and regulations regarding voting procedures.

Since that landmark decision many states, especially in the South, have been changing the rules about voting districts (gerrymandering), mail-in ballots, in-person registration and voter identification that have been condemned in the courts as inherently discriminatory.

Is there anything more fundamental to the safety and well-being of a democratic state than its citizens’ ability to participate openly and equally? I don’t think so.

“Don’t Say Gay” and “Black Lives Matter” are two sides of the same coin

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., winner of the Noble Peace Prize, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement

The United States continues to reckon with its historical legacy of slavery and racism. It also continues to deal with historical injustice against the LGBTQ community. And let’s be honest – the two are inextricably linked.

These problems are often identified as “dog whistle” issues. They are used as items in the ongoing “culture wars” – to distract from the real progress the United States deserves.

And I don’t want to suggest that Canada is immune to these influences. Our actions towards our First Nations are some of the best examples of that. The recent apology by the Pope to survivors of the Residential School system is a fundamental example of Canadian progress on that front. But the struggle for justice is far from over.

Many thanks

Todd Race, The SRI Writer

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