17 June 2010

Armed violence and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

by Serena Olgiati, Action on Armed Violence

The Interactive Hearings between the President of the UN General Assembly and representatives of civil society organizations and the private sector took place Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 June at the UN in New York. These Hearings have been organized to give NGOs and the private sector a chance to raise concerns and suggestions on the structure of the zero draft outcome document on the MDGs that will come out of the MDG Review Summit to take place this September in New York.

(Both speakers and respondents for the Hearings had been pre-selected, so there was no chance to speak if you had not been asked to do so previously—so much for an open interactive discussion!)

Why were we there? Our mission was to assess whether development NGOs and the private sector would reflect the growing international momentum around the agenda of armed violence and its interrelation with development.

Briefly, this is what happened:

1st day:
In general most of the discussions on the first day focused on gender equality, health and HIV-AIDS reduction as well as financial concerns and the need for increased international cooperation. Armed violence was not mentioned in any interventions from speakers or respondents. Though it was a bit disappointing, there was still hope because the second day would look specifically at sustaining development and withstanding crises.

2nd day:
Even though the first session was focusing on withstanding crises, most of the discussions focused mainly on climate change and financial crises and there was only one mention of conflict and development where the speaker highlighted the importance of integrating peace and security measures into development strategies and programming to ensure their long-term success.

Conceding that we were not completely successful in highlighting the importance of tackling armed violence in order to achieve the MDGs, I believe that some aspects of the issue were raised during the Hearings and they can provide an entry point for our future engagement with the development community.

The clearer lesson that I’ll take with me from these two days is that the disarmament circle needs to seriously work together to reach out to development organizations. We saw very clearly that though there is growing momentum amongst disarmament NGOs to work on this issue, this is not the case amongst the development community; and I have the impression that it is not always a matter of consciously opposing the inclusion of security aspects into development talks but often a question of properly engaging with the topic.

The same is true amongst diplomats. At the moment there is no coherent interaction between representatives dealing with thematic related to armed violence and the ones dealing with the review of the MDGs.

As mentioned before, there are some entry points that can be used to engage with the development community more broadly; the main one that was mentioned several times also during the Interactive Hearings is the question of violence against women. We could also see whether it is interesting for us to build up on the financial argument to show ways in which armed violence reduction programming would free up funds that could be used for the implementation of the MDGs.

Additionally some speakers raised the question of forced displacement as a factor hindering long-term achievement of the MDGs; and finally youth organizations mentioned the need to consider youth not only as victims of poverty, inequality etc. but also to consider them as active actors that can support the achievement of the MDGs. This argument has some similarities with some of the arguments that are raised concerning victims/perpetrators of armed violence.

What we need to do in the short term is to engage with governments in capitals and with their missions in New York and Geneva to ensure that they will specifically raise the question of the interrelation between armed violence and development. Negotiations on the outcome document will start tomorrow and Friday here in New York and discussions on it will continue until the end of July. The structure of the outcome document will then be finalized and after that changes will be very difficult.

Our message to states is very simple: At the moment armed violence appears in the preamble of the outcome document as a cross-cutting issue that affects the achievement of the MDGs but unfortunately it is not mentioned in the operational section. What we need is for states not only to recognize that armed violence is a problem but also to include it in the action plan so that it is properly tackled!

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