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Paula Boland

UNA-NCA, President | USA

Paula Boland is an attorney specializing in environmental law and international affairs. Her strong interest in the protection of the environment led her to the LL.M. program in Environmental Law at Vermont Law School. Following a clerkship with the Environmental Enforcement Section of the US Department of Justice, Boland assisted a number of environmental nongovernmental organizations in the development of conservation projects to be carried out in Latin America. Paula joined the UNA-NCA staff, serving first as Program Director, and then as Executive Director. Paula received the UNA-NCA Evelyn Falkowski Volunteer Service Award and the United Nations Association of the USA’s 70th Anniversary Chapter Legacy Award. Paula Boland discussed the framework of implementing the SDG 16, which aims to build peace, just and strong institutions. Boland underlined how delivering SDG 16 is interconnected with the rest of the Global Goals. She highlighted the transformative role of SDG 16 in promoting economic, social, and environmental rights.

Through Sustainable Development Goal #16, member states have committed to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and being effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. When the international community look back on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), governance emerged as a critical element in explaining the uneven progress across these goals in many countries. One of the lessons from the MDGs was that democratic governance, peace and security and the rule of law, including protection of human rights, are critical to sustainable development. A human rights approach helps identify who is vulnerable or being left behind and the ways in which those who are marginalized can be empowered to overcome their vulnerability.

The 2030 Agenda presents a shift, a significant shift and radical new approach to transforming our world, focusing on the integrated pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. It is universal, including issues such as inequality, access to justice, peace and security, and aims at leaving no one behind. Moreover, the SDG Agenda has an additional complexity in terms of its implementation and requires a mix of national ownership, flexibility, innovation, political acumen, high quality technical support and collective multi-stakeholder effort at all levels in order to become progressively a reality. SDG #16 is key to achieving the transformative 2030 Agenda. Its focus on seven principles of strong institutions: effective, inclusive, responsive, participative, representative, accountable and transparent as well as peaceful society are necessary for achieving all SDGs. This is true whether the goal is related to education, health, economic growth, climate change or beyond.

Without sustaining peace, which goes beyond the absence of violence and includes respect for human rights and the rule of law, development gains are reversed. Without inclusion and access to justice for all, inequalities in poverty reduction and socioeconomic development will increase and the country`s commitment to leave no one behind will not be met.

SDG Goal #16 has the potential to catalyze profound social transformation that requires addressing the root causes and drivers that generate and reproduce economic, social, political and environmental problems and inequities, not merely the symptoms. Transformation involves changes in social structures, institutions and relations, including patterns of inequalities related to income, gender, ethnicity, religion or geography that might lock people into positions of disadvantage or limit their choices. Global Goal #16 means changing norms and institutions that shape the behavior of people and organizations in the social, economic, environmental and political spheres. Without specific attention to how SDG #16 applies in all dimensions of human life, it will be impossible to realize the transformative potential of the SDGs. SDG #16 also has tremendous value as an enabler and accelerator for all SDGs.

SDG #16 also acknowledges the other SDG targets that contribute to peace, justice and responsive institutions. SDG #16 offers a framework for institutions at all levels to build peaceful, just and inclusive society that place human rights protection and inclusive and accountable governance at the heart at the center of tackling inequality. The SDG #16 framework provides countries with a rights-based approach to tackling the drivers of suffering that affords dignity and agency to those left behind.

Advancement towards ending violence, promotion of the rule of law, strengthening institutions and increasing access to justice are uneven and continue to deprive millions of people`s security, rights and opportunities and undermine the delivery of public services and broader economic development. Attacks on civil society are also holding back development progress. Renewed efforts are essential to move towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals #16. The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict is nearing 80 million, the highest level recorded by the UN Refugee Agency. In 2019, the UN tracked 357 killings and 30 enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists in 47 countries.

The birth of around one in four children under age five worldwide are never officially recorded, depriving them of a proof of legal identity crucial for the protection of their rights and for access to justice and social services. No one can hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law. Yet our world is increasingly divided, some regions enjoying more peace, security and prosperity than others, while many are falling into seemingly endless cycles of conflict and violence. This is not inevitable and must be addressed.