When Liberia President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson addressed the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, she called on the international community to put fragile and conflict-affected states at the center of the future global development agenda.
Sirleaf-Johnson is one of the co-chairs of the High-Level Panel (HLP) advising Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the post-2015 development goals. It submitted a first report to Ban in May this year proposing 12 goals to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring in two years. Among the proposed goals is ensuring peaceful and stable societies.
The MDGs focused on education, health and hunger but failed to address violence and conflict. Proponents of including a peace goal argue that statistics for countries mired in strife show why addressing violence is a necessary component of development, pointing to a 2011 World Bank report which states that none of the 20 countries it defines as fragile or conflict affected were on target to meet any of the MDGs. While a few are now on track to meet one of the goals, it seems clear that violence presents a major barrier to development for the 1.5 billion people living in these nations.
“In societies impacted by chronic violence and instability, you just can’t go in and attempt to deliver against development objectives in a way that works in other places,” says Andrew Tomlinson, Quaker representative to the United Nations in New York. “These are the environments where the MDG’s largely have failed, and they are now home to the majority of the poorest of the poor. If you’re trying to address hunger or education or healthcare but there’s no personal security, there’s weak governance and ineffective institutions, you can’t actually get to what you want to get at.”
As if to underscore this, the UN humanitarian agency on Sept. 23 reported that as a result of the conflict in Syria, the country has moved backwards by 35 years in terms of the human development index.
But creating a universal peace goal is sure to be focus of much debate over the next two years. For some in the development world, security issues should be kept separate from the work of development. And even those who agree with including peace and stability in the post-2015 process warn that it is crucial to design targets that do not hinder a society’s well-being. One of the key indicators recommended by the HLP is reducing violent deaths, but how a country goes about achieving this target is crucial, Tomlinson says.
“Violence is a fundamental dimension of human suffering, and addressing violence is itself a development goal. But it’s important that the response to violence addresses root causes—not just the symptoms,” he says. “If the response to violence is simply more violence, if you’re going to flood the streets with police, if you’re going to crack down on small offences with harsh sentencing and focus on a securitized response then you haven’t made your society more inclusive or more resilient,”
Thomas Wheeler of the London-based Saferworld organization agrees that creating targets on reducing violent deaths should not become a conduit for states to adopt heavy-handed police tactics that lead to a more repressive society.
“Success should be defined as the achievement of less violence, greater public confidence in the police and courts, and freedom to speak out and access information—and not simply whether there are more police, judges, courts, police stations and civil rights ombudsmen,” he says.
So, how do you design indicators that truly measure whether a society is more peaceful and more stable?
“One of the ways to address this is by using more sophisticated measures, such as perception surveys,” Tomlinson says. “This involves moving from quantitative to qualitative approaches so, for example, instead of counting the number of homicides you go out on the street and survey people and ask ‘Do you feel safer?”
But a move away from hard indicators to a qualitative approach may not sit well with governments, especially those that are not amongst the poorest of the poor. The HLP report focuses on development for all countries not just the poorer ones and middle-income states experiencing high rates of homicide are not likely to welcome the prospect of a UN official interviewing their citizens asking what do you think of your government.
While much of the post-2015 focus will be on the fragile and conflict-affected countries, which include Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen—countries beset by internal conflicts and where there is already a UN presence on the ground—the majority of violent deaths occur in countries where there is not an internal conflict and where the UN does not have a mandate.
Of the some 500,000 violent deaths each year, about three-quarters occur in countries that are not in armed conflict, according to the Global Burden of Armed Violence published by the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development.
There are more violent deaths in El Salvador per capita than any other country in the world and five other Latin American or Caribbean countries are in the top ten for homicides per capita annually, according to Global Burden’s most recent statistics, which are for 2011 and do not include the more than 100,000 people who have been killed in Syria.
The HLP report recommends targets for addressing external factors that are stressors for armed violence. This is an area that Western governments will have to look at closely because what one arm of a government is doing—giving aid to fragile and conflict affected states—may be undermined by another arm of that same government. US drone strikes in Afghanistan are an example, as are unfair trade practices by Western countries.
The extent to which the new framework addresses external barriers to development as well as internal ones is crucial, notes the Quakers’ Tomlinson. Issues like trans-national organized crime, or climate change, or the trade and security policies of larger countries can overwhelm the resources of smaller states and those with weak institutions, he says. “It’s not just organized crime and terrorism. Trade regulations, drug policies, migration rules, small arms flows—all of these can have a significant destabilizing effect.”
The focus on external stressors is particularly relevant for Latin American and Caribbean countries, where high rates of armed violence can be directly liked to policies beyond their borders. Countries in the region have felt all of the bad effects of the war on drugs with US policy focusing on supply rather than demand and then securitizing the response.
The result of the the war on drugs has seen the proliferation of gang violence in the region which is fought mostly with guns exported or trafficked from the United States—it is estimated that in Jamaica, the country with the third highest death toll from armed violence per capita, more than 80 percent of the firearms used in homicides originate in the United States.
Saferworld’s Thomas Wheeler agrees that the post-2015 development agenda, if it is to include a focus on peace, will need to address the external factors that fuel conflict.
“Promoting peace needs to go beyond aid and focus on other factors, for example through tackling some of the external drivers of conflict such as the illicit trade in commodities, drugs and arms,” he says. “This will require that all states recognize their responsibilities and that international cooperation goes beyond donor agencies.”
While countries experiencing the negative effects of policies beyond their borders will welcome the focus on external agendas, it remains to be decided if they are willing to accept the UN telling them what their targets should be in reducing armed violence.
“They’re not denying that they have this problem but I don’t think they like this idea that there will be some kind of external authority to set up this goal,” says Francesco Mancini, head of research at the International Peace Institute in New York.
Linking poverty and conflict is a contested issue but it’s not a new concept and donor states are increasingly targeting aid to countries experiencing armed violence. The United Kingdom, for example, has committed to spend 30 percent of its development assistance in fragile and conflict-affected states by 2014/2015.
In Afghanistan, one of the top recipient countries for foreign aid, Western governments now use the term stabilization to define their goal there. This is essentially a synonym for peacebuilding, with a twin focus on building up the capacity of Afghan security forces and building a more inclusive society by educating girls and creating accountable institutions.
“There are a lot of (UN) member states that disagree with linking security and development, I think mainly for political reasons,” says Mancini. “I don’t think that, in all honesty, they would deny that conflict and poverty are interlinked.”
He says the resistance mostly revolves around concerns by many in the G77 group of developing nations at the UN who are concerned that linking development and security could embolden the Security Council to expand its mandate to include issues, such as climate change and poverty, that are typically the purview of the 193-member General Assembly
“I’m not necessarily contesting the right of these countries to defend their own interests in these international organizations,” Mancini says. “But this attitude is really undermining the response capacity effect because then when you go on the ground, you really realize that you need to address all these problems in a really coherent way and, frankly, on the ground people already work in a much more integrated fashion than at the UN Headquarters.”
He says that there are valid concerns from humanitarian aid workers that being too closely associated with a security agenda could put them at risk.
“You also have what people have called the securitization of development, the fact that development becomes just another arm of security and foreign policy basically. Of course those who are concerned about merging too much are humanitarians who really are very protective of their own space and we do have to recognize, of course, that humanitarian relief requires political impartiality.”
“At the same time, I think we have to agree unless there is a political space to deliver humanitarian aid it’s not going to happen. I think Syria is an example,” Mancini says. “Unless you find some kind of political agreement for humanitarian action to happen then it’s not going to happen.”
He points out that UN peacekeepers are already engaged in development work as Security Council resolutions authorizing a blue helmet force now include mandates for missions to work on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration as well as early economic recovery. For example, peacekeepers in Darfur are not only providing security for internally displaced camps but are also digging wells.
“But on the development side, now saying that should part of aid—goals of stability, good governance, should be part of a development agenda—it’s something new.”
But, as he points out, there’s still a way to go to before the post-2015 agenda is finalized. “This is not the beginning of the end, this is the end of the beginning. We’re going to have two years of negotiations. What is going to happen, I don’t know—but it’s better to raise the bar now.”