Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), in partnership with Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (APRCEM), held the panel discussion titled “Quo Vadis Goal 16?” at the Asia Pacific People’s Forum on Sustainable Development 2019 (APPFSD) on March 25 in Bangkok. Thirty five (35) participants from regional and national CSOs, people’s organizations, UN agencies and members of the media attended the said forum.
Goal 16 of building peaceful, just and inclusive societies is important as a means and an accelerator to achieve Agenda 2030. And yet, achieving the targets of Goal 16 remains difficult given the rise of repressive governments, closing civic spaces, and growing militarism.
The forum identified the systemic barriers to Goal 16 namely shrinking spaces for CSOs and limiting people’s participation in the development process, increasing militarization, and widespread attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms.
Ivan Enrile of APRN gave an overview of Goal 16 and the challenges to achieving the goal’s interlinking targets. “The transformative nature of SDG 16 makes it uniquely powerful, yet also difficult to achieve as it requires significant shifts in all its interlinked aspects,” Enrile said. “Peace should be sustainable and positive, not simply the absence of violence; accountability should be mutual; justice must be comprehensive including social, economic, environmental, cultural and political justice,” he added.
Enrile further shared the move of the Philippine government to tighten its grip on democratic participation of CSOs through a new memorandum released by the government’s Securities and Exchange Commission that would classify CSOs according to the risk they pose for being used for financing terror groups.
“Shrinking space as a real threatening trend in our region. It is going in various ways- in political restrictions, in physical arrests and killings, in disappearance, in growing treats,” adds Nurgul Dzhanaeva of Forum of women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan underscoring the increasing dangers civil society have to face to fulfill their part in achieving development goals.
Daya Sagar Shrestha of the NGO Federation of Nepal shared the same experience as their government reinstitutes restrictive laws which make it more difficult for CSOs to register, operate, and access resources.
Kartika Sari of Palangkaraya Ecological And Human Rights Studies (PROGRESS) talked about militarization of development. “In Indonesia, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) revealed that there are a total of 1,500 cases of conflict related to disputes, conflict and struggles for land and natural resources. Thirty percent (30%) of these cases involve palm oil plantations,” Sari shared.
The same attacks on rights were also noted in the labor sector. “Despite the recent upsurge in labor strikes in the Philippines, the calls to end contractualization have fallen on deaf ears. More than 30,000 workers who went on strike suffered repressive blows varying from threats, intimidation and assault. A total of 28 killings have been recorded in the labor sector from 2016 to 2018,” reports Otto de Vries of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER).
To cap the discussion, Ajay Jha of CECODECON and feminist activist Sarah Zaman talked about the different ways that civil society and movements were resisting militarism, closing civic spaces, and exclusion. Zaman shed light on the experience of Pakistani women in confronting repression, threats of arrest, and misinformation. Jha meanwhile shared how Indian farmers’ organized resistance reversed court decisions that trampled on their rights.
Participants agreed to come up with a strong statement on the shrinking spaces for CSOs and advocate for a rights-based approach to development at the coming Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. They further agreed to strengthen and widen the solidarity in pushing back against efforts to stifle the voices of the grassroots and to undermine their struggle for development justice.