The Trouble with Justice in UN Sustainable Development Goals

Note from the Digital Editor: In order to highlight the high-level of research and scholarship from the authors who have published in the William & Mary Policy Review’s peer-reviewed print journal, we have reproduced the abstracts from Volume 7, Issue 2 along with a link to an electronic copy of the full form of the pieces. 

In this paper, the author argues that Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and its associated 12 performance targets and 21 proposed provisional indicators, as well as the SDGs package as a whole adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, are not sufficiently specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. He explores two intertwined problems at the root of the problem with Goal 16—peace, nonviolence, safety, and security; access to justice, and just and inclusive societies; and effective, inclusive, and accountable institutions. The first problem lies in the lack of conceptual clarity and imprecise definitions of the goal. The second is the difficulty of translating the stated ambitions of the goal, targets and indicators into actionable performance measures of success and, ultimately, meaningful development outcomes. The author argues these problems may be more acute for Goal 16 and its 12 associated targets and 21 indicators than those of the SDGs as a whole. The goal needs to be made measurable and actionable in order for it to have a positive impact on sustainable development by 2030, the deadline set by the UN, comparable to that of the narrower predecessor Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expired at the end of 2015. The paper concludes with the recommendation of three courses of action that the author believes will result in a cohesive framework, including a set of precise indicators that constitute a balanced scorecard for assessing progress toward the elements of Goal 16— peace; just and inclusive societies; and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. First, formulate detailed operational definitions and instructions for the performance indicators and associated targets; second, streamline the proposed provisional indicators to a more limited number of measures, i.e., a vital few trimmed from the current 21 provisional indicators; and, third, ensure that countries and their statistical offices and performance measurement departments take ownership of the framework of indicators.

Find the full version of this article in PDF form here.

Ingo Keilitz is an Adjunct Professor at the College of William & Mary. Other affiliations he holds include the Courts and Tribunal Academy, the Sir Zelman Cowan Centre, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia (2016), the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, and CourtMetrics.