Put Justice at the Heart of Global Development

Inclusive development depends on both freedom from want and freedom from fear, argues Robert Muggah.

By: /
28 July, 2014
Robert Muggah
By: Robert Muggah

Co-founder, Igarapé Institute; research director, SecDev Foundation

The future of global development policy is being hotly debated in New York over the coming months. Governments from 193 countries are negotiating the form and content of the so-called Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. These new benchmarks will replace the eight Millennium Development Goals that expire in 2015. Most diplomats agree on the importance of including core development priorities into the future SDGs including ending poverty and hunger, ensuring healthy lives and quality education, and guaranteeing access to water and energy. Many also believe that peace, security and justice, controversial and difficult to measure though they may be, must be explicitly recognized as development priorities in their own right.

The SDGs are about much more than achieving a diplomatic consensus. Starting next year, they will serve as a roadmap for driving development around the world, including the world’s poorest countries. Like the remarkably successful MDGs before them, they will incentivize governments to establish forward-looking benchmarks, monitor progress and provide critical signals about the health of our planet. But while they are fundamental to the future of international development, the SDGs will stumble if they do not account explicitly for some of the most intractable roadblocks to development, including violence, injustice and corruption.

Most of the world’s governments are advocating a new and improved global development agenda that puts the safety, legal entitlements and basic rights of people at its center. During discussions at the United Nations, government representatives from most member states argued in favour of including peace and justice as goals together with targets that reduce violent deaths, end abuses against children, promote access to justice, prevent corruption, and enhance transparency. They are determined to pull the billions of people trapped by warfare and criminal violence from harm, be they in rich or poor countries.

And they have good reason to be concerned. Violence rolls back investment and undermines people’s livelihoods. Countries affected by three or more years of above-average rates of violence register statistical reductions in their GDP. And the inclusion of security, justice and governance in the SDGs could make a substantial contribution to global development. Research shows how lethal violence is not just secondary risk factor in reproducing grinding poverty, declines in school enrollment and reduced productivity—it is often a significant cause.

But not all states are on board. There are a handful of countries, including heavyweights like Brazil, China, India and Russia that see things differently from many of their counterparts. They are not entirely swayed by the evidence and are concerned that focusing away from core development priorities could be an unhelpful distraction. Brazil is an especially influential player when it comes to debates on the post-2015 agenda. The country hosted the Rio+20 conference in 2012, where assembled governments committed to, among other things, ensuring that poverty reduction, social inclusion and environmental protection were central to the debate. And while these are undoubtedly necessary goals, they are insufficient.

There are good reasons why Brazil and others should broaden their approach to the SDGs. For one, Brazilians know from experience that inclusive development depends on both freedom from want and freedom from fear. Such freedoms are not the preserve of one region of the world, but of everyone everywhere. Ensuring these freedoms requires guaranteeing basic physical and social protection of people, of their person, property and entitlements. The Brazilian government—in particular its 26 states and 1 federal district—have direct experience of how focused investments in safety and justice can generate development returns.

The record from Brazil demonstrates that while enlightened social policies such as Bolsa Familia can prevent violence, investments in development alone are not enough. Many countries across Latin America that doubled down on poverty reduction, inclusive growth and extending health and education also witnessed an acceleration of homicide and crime. And while Brazil successfully pulled millions out of extreme poverty over the past decade, more than 556,000 people were violently murdered since the MDGs were launched in 2000. There are many who now acknowledge that a people-centered agenda that values safety and legal empowerment along with poverty reduction is one worth fighting for.

Notwithstanding growing support for SDGs that account for security, justice and governance, the challenge now is to convert words into deeds. For their part, Brazilian specialists in public security and justice are clamoring for a development agenda that includes these priorities. And what will a goal and targets yield? For one, they would redirect resources to violence prevention, including evidence-based programs to reduce homicides and protect youth at risk. They might also expand access to information, legal identity, legal participation, and guarantee a fair treatment of all citizens.

The Brazilian government along with others across the Americas, including Canada and the United States, can together forge a progressive agenda that puts the security and development of the poor at the center of the picture. After all, real safety, access to justice and good governance are intrinsically important on their own. The prospective SDGs that enable these objectives will have the added benefit of positively contributing to reducing poverty and inequality around the world.

This post was co-authored by Claudio Beato, Ignacio Cano, Julita Lemgruber, José Luiz Ratton, Carolina Ricardo, Melina Risso, Robson Rodrigues, Renato Sérgio de Lima, and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho. For more information on how Brazilian public security, justice and governance experts and organizations are contributing to the post-2015 development debate, consult their public statement (in English and Portuguese).

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