On the Occasion of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly, the Journalists and Writers Foundation and its Global Partners organized the 5th Annual UNGA Conference, entitled; “Transforming Our World: Five Years of Action Towards the SDGs”. Organized by 35 Global Partners from 24 countries, the UNGA Conference 2020 hosted 21 distinguished panelists from 11 countries who shared their knowledge and years of experience in advocating for women empowerment and gender equality, implementing the SDG Goal #16: peace, justice, and strong institutions, and assessing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 500 participants from 47 countries actively contributed the discussions with their questions, arguments, and comments from different points of views.

The UNGA Conference 2020 started with the Welcome Remarks by Mehmet Kilic, President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation. Mr. Kilic said: “The year 2020 is historic time as we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations and the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration that focus on women empowerment and gender equality. The UNGA Conference 2020 aimed at reviewing the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals five years after the adoption of the UN Global Agenda 2030 in 2015.” It is an opportunity for us to look back on the achievements and look forward to the challenges we face as humanity and deliver sustainable solutions.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Kilic told the participants that a conference declaration will be prepared and disseminated within the United Nations, the UN Member States and other relevant bodies as a policy recommendation for the assessment of the implementation of the SDGs. The UNGA 2020 Conference Proceedings, including speakers’ papers and presentations will be published and shared with multiple stakeholders as a point of reference to rethink and realign implementation policies and practices for higher levels of outcomes considering the new normal in the post-COVID era.

Honorable Prof. Bob Carr, a professor and a career diplomat who served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia, delivered his Keynote Speech with his greetings from Sydney, Australia. Prof. Carr stated that we are living at a time of substantial global challenges: global warming and the challenge of producing a world where there is peace, justice and strong institutions. He said: “The persistent challenge of climate is very valid but the problems we face in achieving peace, security and robust institutions is all the greater than the climate change. We’ve witnessed tragically a retreat of the civic space where we thought people could operate independent of government and make criticisms and seek information and fight for their rights.” The right to speaking out and advancing the frontiers of freedom are being restricted, the civic space is becoming restricted and is not being expanded. He suggested that world leaders can solve such challenges by ensuring the norms of political contestability and pluralism, respecting the views of others, and not persecuting people for holding dissident opinions.

In the 21st century, the civilized world and societies celebrate the culture of being dissident; instead of turning the forces of the state against dissidents, governments and leaders should not to resort to the easier task of closing down dissident voices, of limiting the room for difference or not permitting people who think they discriminated against or repressed to speak out and draw attention to their case. This has particular sensitivity to people already disadvantaged, in many cases women and girls, immigrants, including those who suddenly find themselves without a nationality seeking a new home and persons of color, many times in the context of increasing conflicts and violence.

Prof. Carr also stressed the importance of access to public information, in particular journalists, reporters, and human rights defenders. He said that too many journalists are in prison where people have lost their freedom simply to obtain access to information. Human rights defenders also face challenges and risks to advocate for people who’ve been dispossessed and are at risk. Human rights defenders need our support and we need to deliver the guarantees for them to carry on fight for peace, justice, and equality. “Member states, national human rights organizations and civil society need to speak again about the integration of human rights to create peaceful and just and strong institutions.” he added.

Prof. Bob Carr also stated that promoting democratic values is integrally linked to SDG #16. The public should have confidence in judicial systems and public ethics in public institutions. According to Freedom House, there are 14 consecutive years in which global freedoms have declined that undermines strong and respected global institutions. According to the Freedom of the World 2020 report, “the unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance.”

According to the United Nations Report 2019, a total of 397 additional killings of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists were recorded and verified in 41 countries. He called on UN Member States and intergovernmental organizations have to protect human rights defenders, journalists, reporters or the recorders of fundamental rights being undermined or corroded. It is vital for the world to make the right decisions about the condition of life on the planet. Prof. Carr encouraged the panelists and the participants to push the UN Global Agenda 2030, to push the human rights frontiers to protect the people at risk and the planet.

Dr. Wayne Henry, Director General, Planning Institute of Jamaica delivered his Keynote Speech on COVID-19 and Beyond: Perspectives from Jamaica’s experience in integrating the SDGs in the implementation of Vision 2030 Jamaica, a National Development Plan from 2015 to 2020. Dr. Henry examined areas of progress, strengths and gaps sharing early insights on the way forward with Jamaica’s motto, “Out of Many One People” that represents integration, equity and inclusion as core principles in advancing a vision for Jamaicans and the rest of the world. Vision 2030 Jamaica provides a framework for the achievement of a secure and prosperous future where “Jamaica becomes the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.” It is geared towards the achievement of four synergistic and interdependent sustainable development goals which cascade into 15 National Outcomes.

Dr. Henry stated that the SDG implementation has been aligned with the goals and outcomes of Vision 2030 Jamaica and targets of the SDGs with strategic priorities such as coordination, partnerships, capacity building in planning, monitoring and evaluation, data and statistics, communications and advocacy. However, due to the coronavirus “COVID-19” pandemic, Jamaica had experienced mixed results with performance and gains made in human capital development, macro-economic stability, and governance while challenges were experienced in security and safety, environmental sustainability and the rate of non-communicable diseases.

According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Jamaica was ranked 6 of 180 countries with positive performance on key international governance indicators such as freedom of speech, accountability, and government effectiveness. Jamaica continued its focus on advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality within the framework of the National Policy for Gender Equality (NPGE, 2011) and alignment with the Beijing Platform.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Henry stated that COVID-19 has created cracks in global systems and structures which pose threats and present opportunities for change and growth. In Jamaica, COVID-19 had deleterious effects on lives and livelihoods with an estimated economic shrinkage of 10.0 per cent for the fiscal year, which increased different types of vulnerabilities for the majority of the population with public health and economic survivability concerns. To overcome the negative effects of COVID-19, Jamaica depends on public-private and other partnerships, and the role of civil society and non-governmental actors that are critical to ensuring that the necessary capital, expertise and ownership of policies and programs for sustainability, equity and resilience. Realignment of national policies and practices with the framework of the SDGs ensures human capital development and social protection by embracing a “new normal” that “leaves no one behind.”

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