The SDG 16 Data Initiative organized an online event on 27 April to monitor current trends on the progress of SDG 16 and assess the effects of the pandemic on the global achievement of Peace, Justice and Accountable Institutions. Held on the margins of the SDG 16 Conference 2021; this side event aimed at providing insights and analysis about the current global situation of data availability and analysis on SDG 16 targets by combining official and non-official indicators and information about existing gaps—particularly in relation to the social, political and institutional implications of the pandemic.
Panelists highlighted many convergent elements in their interventions: they made the case for investing in peace, access to justice and accountable institutions; they painted a consistent picture of the contribution that solid data, combining official and non-official sources, may make to developing sound policies in such fields; they underscored that—in the face of declining trust in public institutions, exacerbated by the pandemic—reliable data may constitute a robust mechanism for restoring trust and enhancing accountability; and they stressed that partnerships among key stakeholders may help address the vulnerabilities of the data ecosystem.
The event was moderated by Massimo Tommasoli, Permanent Observer for International IDEA to the United Nations, and it included panelists from different organizations members of the SDG 16 Data Initiative and UNESCO. The panel addressed challenges and opportunities of evaluating and measuring progress during and after the pandemic, as well as the importance of producing and sharing independent information and reliable data to improve policies on access to justice, peacebuilding and accountable institutions. While challenges have always been a part of this process, and data collection and analysis have never been simple tasks, the pandemic has exacerbated those challenges by reducing access to information, limiting human rights, and diminishing transparency of institutions.
The Rule of Law and Access to Justice have also seen a significant decline, highlighted Sarah Long, Director of Access to Justice Project at World Justice Project, which is highly dangerous during a global health crisis, because it impacts on the effectiveness of public policies and the delivery of public institutions. The issue of rising poverty and inequalities is also relevant to the progress of the SDG 16, and it can be assessed through the collection of data and careful analysis. That is why it is crucial to invest on data and research: only by deepening the understanding of the challenges, the global trends and the current gaps, we can find the appropriate solutions to fix the issues and develop policies that can advance and sustain progress.
“The right to information and the right to freedom of expression are the enablers of the SDG 16”, argued Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, because they provide governmental accountability and help building trust in public institutions. He underscored the importance not only of increasing and speeding up adoption of legislation on access to information, but also of monitoring its implementation, which still represents an under-research area. Along the same lines, Chief of Universal Access to Information Section at UNESCO, Jaco Du Toit, reiterated the importance of the adoption of access to information laws worldwide, as well as the strengthening of oversight bodies: while Covid-19 has had an impact on access to information, it is now a priority to track how countries have responded to the pandemic and adapted their communication strategies, a condition for overseeing the implementation of their decisions and promises over time.
Transparency International’s Research Expert Roberto Martinez B. Kukutschka analysed the impact of the pandemic on corruption. “It is crucial to fight corruption and have check and balances in effect”, stated Kukutschka, “so that during a crisis we maintain transparency of governing and institutions, and valuable aid is channelled effectively, instead of falling into the wrong hands”. He highlighted that lack of transparency weakens efficiency of adequate responses during emergencies and corruption in times of crises can negatively interfere with human rights and democracy.
Alberto Fernandez, Senior Programme Officer at International IDEA, illustrated the impact of the pandemic on democracy and the achievement of the SDG 16, on the basis of International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indices and Global Monitor on the Covid-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights. While “democracy is multidimensional and looks different around the world”, the challenges that it faces post-pandemic can be similar and, although they need to be addressed domestically, they require coherent multilateral approaches. For instance, as Fernandez suggested, public trust in key governance institutions was declining globally before Covid-19, and probably accelerated by it. This decline is likely to adversely affect the achievement of SDG 16 over the next nine years. Fernandez also stressed the importance of gender equality in decision-making—still far from being achieved—whose lagging being represents an active threat to democracy. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a stress test for political systems. In many cases, it has been used as a pretext for the enforcement of emergency measures which have restricted, among others, freedom of expression. “More than half of the countries”, added Fernandez, “have imposed restrictions on freedom of expression or Media Integrity”—a highly dangerous trend for democratic institutions and processes.
Today, it is more difficult than ever to trust institutions: data collection, especially through surveys based on interviews, has become more arduous because of physical barriers; funding of data gathering, analysis and dissemination has become volatile in the midst of the pandemic and economic crisis. The challenges to the achievement of the SDG 16 have risen but they only boost the need for relevant, reliable, official and non-official data, to track those active trends and inform effective policies for bringing about positive change. As stated by Kukutschka, “Covid-19 served as a reminder that we need reliable data to inform policymaking”; only through the tracking of data we can assess progress and challenges, and adapt policymaking accordingly, in order to save people’s lives.
As Massimo Tommasoli mentioned in the opening of the event, “the main aim of the SDG 16 Data Initiative is to integrate official indicators together with non-official indicators”, in order to provide a Global Report and display data related to SDG 16 targets. The impact of Covid-19 has made this task more difficult, but also more relevant, which is why monitoring progress on the Agenda is now crucial in order to “build back better”. The event confirmed the importance of building and strengthening partnerships among all the actor engaged in data gathering and analysis for making solid analysis available to policymakers and all the stakeholders involved in the implementation of SDG16 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.