Sustainable Development Goals

Countries and communities that have experienced gross human rights violations face immense challenges in achieving sustainable development. By dealing with these violations and their consequences, transitional justice can help advance a society’s development by making it more peaceful, inclusive, and equitable.

Several women and men sit inside at a raised podium with a crowd in front of them, with colorful squares on the wall behind them.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is among the most important international policy frameworks. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of universal objectives and targets that comprise a “plan of action” for global peace and prosperity. And while they focus on the economic, social, and environmental elements of sustainable development, the SDGs help shape global discourse, objectives, and priorities for a range of different fields.

The 2030 Agenda, which has been criticized for its neglect of human rights, does not refer explicitly to either rights violations or efforts to address their legacies, even though societies that have experienced gross violations face particular and immense challenges in making progress toward the SDGs. Indeed, with massive numbers of victims, divided communities, widespread grievances, weak and untrusted institutions, and depleted resources, these countries cannot approach development the same way as those that have not suffered such trauma. For victims who are already among the poorest and most marginalized in society, access to justice is often too complex for standard approaches to building institutional capacity and reducing poverty.

While the SDGs do not refer to transitional justice, they do however include numerous objectives and targets to which transitional justice can contribute. The targets in SDG16, for example, include establishing the rule of law, increasing access to justice, reducing violence, creating inclusive institutions, and combating corruption, while those in SDG5 address increasing gender equality and those in SDG10 aim to reduce broader inequality. In transitional justice contexts, these targets are unlikely to be achieved with real sustainability if past massive violations are not addressed.

ICTJ’s Role

ICTJ embraces the SDGs as a lens through which to see the value of its policy, research, and programmatic work related to sustainable peace and development. At the policy level, we convene the Working Group on Transitional Justice and SDG16+, made up of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and international organizations, which in 2019 published a report, On Solid Ground: Building Sustainable Peace and Development After Massive Human Rights Violations. To maximize the contribution of transitional justice to sustainable development, this report advocates for an approach that is context and gender specific; designed to foster long-term change; owned by and substantially led by victims, civil society actors, and local government; innovative, pragmatic, and problem-solving oriented; and supported but not designed or implemented by international actors.

The working group’s message has been referenced in reports by the high-level international Task Force on Justice and the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. In addition, the 2019 Hague Declaration on Equal Access to Justice for All by 2030 highlighted the need to address the legacies of human rights violations, demonstrating our policy impact on the 2030 Agenda.

ICTJ also engages in policy discussions about the SDGs through dialogue events with policymakers and through the dissemination of research on issues such as the provision of justice to victims in fragile contexts, synergies between reparations and development programs, measuring progress and results, and the contribution of transitional justice to prevention. We work together with partners at the international level such as the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies and the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law.

ICTJ seeks to ensure that the sustainable development agenda gives adequate attention to the specific challenges presented by past massive violations and the value of responding to them. While many countries that have experienced such violations continue to make progress toward achieving the SDGs, they also face immense obstacles in restoring the trust of victimized and marginalized communities and rebuilding institutions. ICTJ leads efforts within the international community to work with these countries to address their pasts in an effort to create better futures.