Crimes, Conflict, and the SDGs: A Speaker Summary

Updated: May 5

Written by Dr. Ai Kihara-Hunt

Edited by Amishi Agrawal and Paul Namkoong


(As conferences and lectures for 2020 continue to get cancelled, the members of the Hub hope that this short article provides some stimulating content for its readers.)


While development has been on the agenda of all political actors for years now, the meaning of “development” has also constantly been evolving. Amidst such a state of flux, with growing interest in this issue, academics from a plethora of fields congregated around discussions on the idea of development.


The other panelists were Mr. Kwesi Aning, Director, Faculty of Academic Affairs & Research, Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, and Mr. Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director Division for Policy Analysis and Public Information, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).


In June 2019, Dr. Ai Kihara-Hunt, Associate Professor at the Graduate Program on Human Security, the University of Tokyo and Director of this Hub, joined a panel of distinguished presenters and deliberated on the kaleidoscopic nature of development by employing a unique security-based approach.


Dr. Kihara-Hunt was joined by Mr. Kwesi Aning, Director of Faculty of Academic Affairs & Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, and Mr. Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Information at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for the 3rd Plenary Panel, at the 2019 Academic Council on the United Nations Sytem (ACUNS) Annual Meeting, hosted at Stellenbosch University. Discussions of development extended to the domains of crime and conflict, and each speaker’s presentation was equally invigorating. The exact question given to the speakers was: what is the impact of crimes and conflict on development, and more specifically, on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? What are the roles of different international actors in this process? Dr. Kihara-Hunt’s response addressed a broader issue, not just limiting itself to crime and conflict, but approaching the idea of security in general, and the relationship between notions of security and development. Firstly, she identified the changes in this relationship due to the introduction of the SDGs. Secondly, she elaborated on the UN’s approach to security and relevant actors. Lastly, she drew conclusions about the SDG’s contribution to the link between security and development, pertinent challenges, roadblocks ahead, and the workarounds for them.


The link between security and development is a fairly new phenomenon; until recently, they were treated as separate issues, and inquiries were limited to the impact of development on crimes and violence. Lesser inquiries were made on the subsequent impact of crimes and violence on development. Also, another important factor to keep in mind is the very origin of the idea of development. Development has a colonial origin, and was based on an asymmetric power relationship between its giver and taker. As this image of development began shedding, ideas of economic liberalization and the capability approach in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively, began to make rounds. Soon, economic growth came to be viewed as desirable only if it enhanced “what people are effectively able to do and be, improved the quality of life, and remove any obstacles so that people have more freedom to conduct the kind of life that, upon reflection, they have reason to value”. With this evolution, ideas of social justice and individual freedom came to flourish. This was also the foundation of the UNDP Human Report, on the basis of which the Millennium Development Goals were crafted in 2000. The trend towards the confluence of development and security started to gain wider recognition, as is visible in the UN Secretary General’s Report “In Larger Freedom”, which championed the interdependency of security, development, and human rights. A third parallel trend which influences this discussion is the changing image of security itself – gradually, security came to be acknowledged not only as state security, or hard security, but also as human security. This dimension of security – human security – has both subjective and objective measurements and gives significant focus to vulnerable groups. While most of these were positive trends, one negative trend emerged as well. Development actors around the world were becoming increasingly worried about the securitization of development goals, that is, political actors using the cover of security concerns to pursue hidden agendas, thereby deliberately misconstruing public sentiment.


It was in this background that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were drafted in 2015. SDG 16, often called the “peace goal”, aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. Its targets deal with all violence, inclusive of conflict and non-conflict violence, organized crimes and other crimes, and security issues in public and private spheres alike. These targets are measured by objective and subjective indicators, including individual feelings regarding safety and perception of public service. However, violence and crimes are not just addressed in SDG 16, but in multiple other goals, and the whole spectrum includes sexual violence, environmental crimes and green criminology, wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing, and poaching. It is crucial to note at this point that in achieving these goals, law enforcement would play an essential role. Moreover, the role of law enforcement is not limited to addressing security goals within the SDGs and should extend to goals such as mitigation of forced labour and improving work environment. The SDGs also address issues such as poverty reduction, inequalities, health, and education. The domains of issues addressed by the SDGs itself shows that the SDGs include, albeit indirectly, referrals to major elements of human security in their definition of development.


The second broad topic brought up by Dr. Kihara-Hunt was the UN’s approach to development and security. The UN has largely been approaching security through two ways: first, peace operations as responses to conflicts, and second, crimes and organized crimes through agencies and offices including the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UNODC. In both streams, stopping crimes and violence is primarily a short-term response, and building state institutions is the long-term strategy. However, this division has recently become less rigid, and cross-cutting issues have come into focus. With changes in the types of conflicts, violence, and security issues, as well as the paradigm shift from state security to human security, more comprehensive approaches that combineforces across sectors have started to be more common. Peace operations now address Security Sector Reform (SSR), institution building, and deal with organized crimes. The UNDP steps in immediately after or sometimes even during the conflict. With these global trends, there are also localized and regionalized trends. For instance, while the UN initially tried to concentrate on prevention in its operations in Africa, it had to also make the Protection of Civilians (PoC) a necessary focus.


One important question that arises: who are the global actors involved in these UN Peace Operations? While contribution of military contingents to Peace Operations is often highlighted, in addition to a laundry list of organs and agencies, the police also carries an understated, yet paramount role. 30 percent of the UN Police is made up of individual police personnel that work on investigation, community policing, capacity building, and prevention side of POC. The other 70 percent is deployed as Formed Police Units (FPUs), working on tasks that require coordinated approaches, including physical protection in the area of PoC.


A map UN Peacekeeping Operations from 1990 -1999 (United Nations).



While the transition from MDGs to SDGs represents a marked shift to more expansive definitions and links between development, human rights, and security, one must not mistake this for a complete global solution. For example, while the SDGs are uniquely appreciable in the sense that they take a panoramic view of violence and conflict as explained earlier, they also commendably present violence reduction as a global goal and not just a problem of developing countries. They approach these targets with a best-practice approach, which manages to appeal to policy makers from various types of countries. The SDGs are thus sold as goals for everyone, entailing a distributed responsibility. They deal with issues of security and inequality in the same document, as one global issue and not as isolated problems of specific countries and communities. The 17 SDGs have achieved the remarkable feat of drawing out commitment from almost all political actors, for the most existential goals for humankind in the 21st century.


However, at the same time, pertinent challenges remain. One such challenge is that the SDGs are expressed in the form of end goals, and not means to reach them. This form of expression risks a lack of attention on the process itself, which is necessary to ensure equality. Moreover, the SDGs are framed as a declaration and a responsibility for all, which could dilute accountability for non-delivery of these commitments. In other words, the underlying flexibility in the document, understandable in the sense that it is necessary to get agreement by maximum actors, might just as well prove to be detrimental for the relatively less powerful, depending on how this flexibility is exploited.


Thus, while there has been a positive trend in the debates and implementation of development, global governance has not yet perfected the approach; one must exercise caution about the loopholes that remain. Perhaps, the solution does not lie in the extreme ends of the debate, or the complete engulfing of one approach by the other. In other words, the securitization of development, or the developmentization of security, is not the ideal remedy. The community should expand the solutions to other progressive ideals of global governance, such as a conscious resort to upholding and promoting human rights, and the rule of law, which would refine the developing relationship between security and development.


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