Same Millennium, New Goals: Why Peace, Security, Good Governance and the Rule of Law Must Be Included in the New MDGs

In September 2000, world leaders unanimously adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of specific targets for poverty eradication, universal primary school enrollment, gender equality, reduction in child and maternal mortality, combating major disease and ensuring environmental sustainability. The MDGs galvanized developing countries and their international partners to take concrete and tangible steps towards achieving these targets, with some remarkable progress along the way.

Standing against the achievements of the last 12 years is a sobering finding: no fragile or conflict-affected low-income country has achieved a single MDG. Conflict-affected states account for 47 percent of the population of the developing world (excluding China, India and Brazil), but make up 61 percent of its poor, 77 percent of children not in primary school, 70 percent of infant deaths and 65 percent of populations without access to safe water. By some estimate, 82 percent of the world's poor are projected to live in states affected by conflict, violence or fragility by 2025.

The fact is that the MDGs, by focusing solely on social and economic development goals, overlook the factors that enable states and other development actors to make progress against them. There is extensive evidence to show that democratic governance, peace and security, and the rule of law, including protection of human rights, is critical to sustainable development.

Conflict brings in its wake death, disease, and destruction and undermines democratic institutions and the rule of law. Conflict also impedes growth and destroys economic foundations and precious resources, human and otherwise. Conversely, low per capita income, social and political exclusion and inequalities, weak institutions and human right violations increase the risk of violent conflict. And economic integration, migration, pollution, communicable diseases, climate change, terrorism, piracy, organized crime, as well as trafficking in arms, narcotics, and people mean that conflict is not just confined to one country but can easily spill across borders.

Thus, without progress toward peace and security, at the national and often trans-national levels, there cannot be sustained and sustainable development. And without economic recovery and increasing prosperity that is felt across the population, peace and stability are unlikely to endure in post-conflict contexts. Human rights need to underpin both. These linkages were recognized in the Millennium Declaration that laid the foundation for the MDGs, but not in the goals themselves.

Discussion is now underway on the development of a successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals that would cover the period from 2015 onwards. The declaration adopted by the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June last year, ambitiously entitled "the future we want," called for a new set of global sustainable development goals that should be integrated into the new development framework beyond 2015. The declaration recognized that sustainable development requires good governance and the rule of law, as well as effective, transparent and democratic institutions -- features that have all too often been lacking in fragile states. The world can no longer pretend that development and prosperity can be achieved without progress in these areas. The Arab Spring has illustrated vividly that even where there is a degree of economic development and opportunity, people expect not only food, health and education but also justice, freedom, rights of political participation and dignity.

It will not be easy to convince all United Nations Member States of this. Some will argue that sovereignty must be respected. But every state would retain the right to set priorities, policies and strategies for meeting the wider set of goals proposed here. Others might argue that progress toward democratic governance, peace and security and rule of law is difficult to measure. But much the same argument was made when the MDGs were first formulated. The development of relevant indicators and investments in statistical capabilities helped to bridge the gap and showed that difficult does not mean impossible.

Violent conflict and instability will continue to undermine the alleviation of poverty unless world leaders commit themselves explicitly to making progress in the areas of democratic governance, peace and security and rule of law. The post-2015 development framework is an opportunity to shape a new, more prosperous and more peaceful and inclusive world. This is the future we want.

Mary Robinson served as President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Kevin Rudd, MP, was Australia's Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010 and Foreign Minister from 2010 to 2012. Judy Cheng-Hopkins is the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support. The three signatories currently chair the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils for, respectively, Human Rights, Fragile States, and Conflict Prevention.