The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) differ from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many ways. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs universally apply to all countries, and are holistic and integrated. Moreover, their delivery is to be achieved by governments, civil society, and the private sector working together to achieve their success.
The SDGs also recognize the central role of justice in achieving development, with Goal 16 specifically guaranteeing “equal access to justice for all.” Governments, in partnership with other stakeholders, must make necessary national reforms to provide access to justice to the billions who currently live outside of the protection of the law. They must commit to financing the implementation of these reforms and be held accountable for their success.
Regional and sub regional bodies are uniquely placed to assist governments with implementing and monitoring justice commitments made through the SDGs. Learnings from the MDGs show that countries that integrated the MDGs into existing regional strategies were far more successful in meeting the MDGs’ objectives than countries that did not have the support of an existing regional strategy.
In January 2016, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted its new 2025 Community Vision. This guiding document acknowledges the complementary relationship between the UN’s 2030 Agenda, including Goal 16’s targets, and ASEAN’s development. By adopting this vision, ASEAN became the first regional body to acknowledge its unique ability to support its members’ efforts to implement and monitor the SDGs.
ASEAN held the first SDG-focused sub regional meeting on May 26-27, 2016. The meeting created a space where ASEAN member states and various stakeholders could discuss challenges and opportunities for developing ways to implement and monitor Goal 16. Participants also discussed ways ASEAN can help advance this goal and shared experiences using legal and policy frameworks for access to justice and legal aid as means of achieving equal justice for all. Ultimately, the meeting resulted in the creation of the Jakarta Recommendations on Sustainable Development Goals, Access to Justice and Legal Aid in ASEA, which sets out action points that can be used to enhance access to legal assistance in ASEAN member states.
In light of learnings from the ASEAN meeting, here are four ways regional bodies can help countries implement and monitor justice commitments made through the SDGs to ensure their success.
1. Regional bodies can promote multi-sector collaboration to help drive the success of national SDG efforts.
Regional bodies regularly engage with governments, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society organizations. These diverse stakeholders support regional bodies by providing them with technical, financial, and other assistance.
For example, a number of NGOs were invited to present alongside representatives from ASEAN governments about their experiences initiating and funding innovative legal aid efforts to promote access to justice globally. These presentations were met with immense interest by ASEAN member countries and incorporated into the Jakarta Declaration.
Other regional bodies can draw upon similar stakeholder partnerships to help their member countries expand their knowledge. This approach promotes a shared responsibility for the success of national efforts to deliver and finance justice commitments made through the SDGs.
2. Regional bodies can support the development of a strong system to track the effectiveness and efficiency of national implementation efforts.
Countries will be required to spend lots of time, money, and resources to monitor the impact of their efforts to increase access to justice. For developing and lower income countries, these high costs will be extremely problematic. Regional bodies can help defray some of these costs by providing a space where countries can pool their resources to analyze and identify cost-effective ways to translate Goal 16 into national contexts.
One of the sessions at the recent ASEAN meeting was focused on exploring different ways to develop indicators to measure access to justice at the national level. This session gave ASEAN member states a low-cost opportunity to begin considering how they will monitor their own justice efforts in the upcoming years.
Other regional bodies can initiate similar brainstorming sessions. This approach not only helps lowers costs, it also helps promote regional harmonization of national efforts to monitor justice.
3. Regional bodies can promote knowledge sharing to help countries develop best practices for monitoring the SDGs.
As with all global strategies, the SDGs attempt to use a “one size fits all” framework to resolve issues within diverse cultural contexts. Regional bodies provide a place where countries facing similar economic and social challenges can discuss the successes and challenges of their efforts to use the SDGs to address justice-related challenges.
During the ASEAN meeting, Indonesia was able to share its experience working to promote access to justice through the passing of a new law on legal aid. This presentation was met with particular interest by other Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand and Viet Nam, who are looking to develop legal and policy frameworks for legal aid.
Regional dialogues are well poised to help countries devise innovative, contextually appropriate strategies to address and monitor their collective justice challenges. They can also ensure consistency between national and global monitoring by defining coherent regional policies for monitoring Goal 16 that align with the global agenda.
4. Regional bodies can provide a “safer” environment for peer evaluation of national efforts to implement the SDGs.
One of the main challenges with global agendas is that their monitoring requirements can be seen as intrusive and a means of meddling in private state affairs.
As the ASEAN meeting demonstrated, regional bodies can help overcome resistance to the intrusion that the SDG agenda creates by creating an environment where country commitments can be reviewed in a smaller and more comfortable setting.
Countries are much more likely to respond positively to criticisms posed by their friendly and constructive neighbors, as opposed to the criticisms posed by the world at large.
ASEAN has taken the initiative and demonstrated that regional bodies can provide invaluable support to national efforts to implement and monitor the justice commitments of the SDGs. Other regional bodies must follow their example to ensure countries deliver access to justice for all and the 16 other transformative development goals.
Do you have any other examples or ideas of how regional bodies can help countries implement and monitor the SDGs? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Join the discussion below.