ISSN 2330-717X

SDG 16 In India, Pakistan And Bangladesh: Lofty Pledge Vs. Reality – OpEd

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The goal 16 of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) deals with three interrelated issues and the spirited nexus among these three issues of peace, justice and strong institutions are must in partial attainment of the SDGs. Justice and peace may be the aftermaths of effective strong institutions amid transparency and accountability at all levels playing a pioneering role in building inclusive societies with sustainable development. This write-up postulates the status and trends of the SDG 16 in the perspective of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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It is tough to effectuate goal 16 of the SDGs without socio-economic stability, human rights, and good governance grounded on the strong footing of rule of law in which these three South Asian countries are lagging behind. Lack of public participation in decision making and public trust on governance system are also inherent challenges for achieving the cherished goal.

In the polarized world, Asia especially the South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan are strongly divided and the ongoing trends of corruption, crime, exploitation, human trafficking, ethnic violence, and conflict along with insecurity among people hinder goal 16.

In South Asia, Myanmar’s state-sponsored persecution on Rohingya people from 1978 to 2017 has forced around 1.4 million Rohingyas to take shelter in Bangladesh and that has added like an insult to injury for the stability and security of the host country as a third populous one in the region which is often affected by flood and other natural calamities. Poverty stricken people in India and Pakistan are struggling to buy lifesaving drugs while these two arch-rival neighbouring countries possessing nuclear arsenals are resorting to wage war for dominance and for political reason.

In respect of global peace index, Bangladesh is ahead of India and Pakistan. According to a report of 2021 of the Institute for Economics and Peace, Bangladesh is in the 91st position while the position for India is 135 and Pakistan is 150 among 163 independent countries to their level of peacefulness. It is also found that about 25% people in Bangladesh and 23% people in India are worried of violent crimes. The situation is more or less same in Pakistan in which not a single elected president or prime minister could complete the tenure since its independence in 1947.

The trends of justice in India can be assumed from a public lecture of Amartya Sen at Kolkata in 2009 saying justice in India is like to find a black cat in a dark room. The situation is assumably similar in Pakistan and in Bangladesh. However, Sen in his Book ‘The Idea of Justice’ published in 2099 has put more focus on social justice than judicial one.

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Despite, judicial independence coupled with transparency and accountability in India is relatively a bit stronger than these two countries. But the credibility of Indian judiciary is marred with the recent questionable role of the body in the protection of right to religious rituals by the Muslim minority population against the backdrop of communal violence perpetrated by a large number of Hindu extremists. In comparison to Bangladesh, the judiciary in Pakistan is stronger, though the branch extends its unweaving support for the military power when needed. After November 1, 2007, the separation of judiciary from the executive, the situation of independence of judiciary is a big breakthrough in Bangladesh but the executive control still prevails over the judiciary undermining the notion of separation of powers.

However, on the plea of allegations of human rights violations and abuse of state powers, the sanction imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department on the elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its present and former officers on 10 December 2021 has been a new black spot for the present government to uphold the stature and dignity of the country in abroad. Moreover, the U.S. State Department in its annual report for 2021 has also accused Bangladeshi security forces for their misuse of power, enforced disappearance, and endemic corruption along with the enjoyment of immunity and impunity. The report has also raised severe question on the heavily rigged election of 2018 but it has not touched the severely controversial election of 2014.

It is predictable that the challenge of election commission in Bangladesh in holding a free, fair and credible election ensuring level playing field after abolishing the caretaker government system in 2011 by the parliament based on a judicial decision in compatibility with Bangladesh Constitution 1972 has created furious controversy and unabated debates. The western world especially, the USA and the EU countries are now monitoring Bangladesh with an Eagle’s eye focusing the next general election likely to held in 2023.

Seemingly, the incumbent Awami League government in power since 2009 has resorted the policy of Singapore’s successful politician Lee Kuan Yew who orchestrated the doctrine of discipline over democracy. Apart from more focus on discipline than democracy, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is highlighting the politics of development over the doctrine of good governance involving transparency and accountability amid participation of general mass with strong opposition party in and outside of the parliament. Nevertheless, Sheikh Hasina is relatively less successful in tacking corruption like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.

Arguably, election is not the only criteria of democracy. The other elements such as rule of law, good governance, participation of people, and overall welfare of a country are also valued in true democracy. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who served the country from 1940-1945, once referred democracy as the worst form of government. Truly speaking, many countries including Saudi Arabia and China are developing economically with their own format of governance system.

Bangladesh being about 22 times smaller than India and about 5 times smaller than Pakistan has been struggling to deal with manifold complications due to weaker decentralization of government institutions and imbalance of power between the executive branch and the rest two organs. With the relentless cooperation of overseas countries especially the United States, we have been successful in handling the Covid-19 situation and in vaccinating drive.

But maladministration in handling the issues of money laundering and corruption is getting worse as it is alleged that the ruling elites are mostly engaged in such crimes. Yet, the pace of economic development in Bangladesh surpasses both India and Pakistan. It is laudable indeed.

Unquestionably, the Covid-19 pandemic with millions of dead has adversely affected the governance system worldwide. The rising level of poverty and inequality has uplifted the economic crisis of most developing and least developed countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. All countries in South Asia except Bhutan and Maldives have to bear the tremendous burden of the deadly Covid-19 and its subsequent consequences.

On the contrary, data manipulation by government agencies to portray overstated positive note to outside world is also a threat to assess the trends of access to justice and situation of human rights defenders, journalists, and media professionals while power politics and authoritarian attitude of the ruling party in these countries is putting the democratic process under a worrying threat. Like state-sponsored violation of human rights, politicisation of all statutory and autonomous institutions is also a major impediment to realise the goal 16 in these countries. Use of populism by the ruling party, biased implementation of law towards opposition parties, unethical policing amid brutal use of force invokes a lot of questions towards realization of the rule of law and human rights plus institutionalization of democracy.

However, the entire 17 SDGs with 169 targets as blueprinted by the United Nations in 2015 and particularly the goal 16 comprised of peace, justice, and strong institutions has been turned into a series of lofty commitments for most Latin American, African and Asian countries especially for South Asian nations including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. These countries are also lagging behind in natural resources. Their poor leadership twinned with the socio-economic, political, and cultural capability hinder to achieve goal 16 of the SDGs by 2030.

Even question arises whether SDGs are opportunity or burden for these countries when they are striving to achieve previous 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in true sense. Moreover, the goal 16 is not an isolated island rather this goal is intriguingly connected with other parametres of the SDGs.

In a nutshell, the 16th goal of the SDGs sheds lights on 12 targets and aims to build strong and just institutions amid peaceful and inclusive societies across the world by 2030. Its core commitments include promotion of the rule of law, democracy, human rights, good governance, non-discrimination, equal access to justice, fundamental freedoms, non-violence, anti-corruption, anti-torture, and anti-human trafficking venture with non-discriminatory laws in a bid to accelerate responsive, effective, accountable, and transparent institutions facilitating the way for justice and peace for all with a solemn pledge ‘leaving no one behind’.

The UN acknowledges that the 17 goals of the SDGs affect the outcomes of each other. An estimate citing the UN suggests that the world requires yearly investment of US $5-7 trillion to implement global scheme of the 17 SDGs through sustainable projects.

As per the SDG financing strategy, Bangladesh needs additional US $928 to implement SDGs by 2030. Similarly, India needs US $2.64 trillion investment to realise the SDGs by the agreed time. Proportionate to the people, Pakistan is also in need of substantial amount of money to accomplish SDGs. The position of materialisation of the SDGs in South Asia has improved to a tiny extent in the last 6 years from the beginning of the UN scheme’s journey throughout the globe in 2015.

So, along with national initiatives, the developed countries of the world with regional and international development bodies must cooperate the backward countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan in strengthening their statutory and autonomous institutions plus civil society organisations in streamlining and promoting national entities to achieve the goal 16 as part of 17 SDGs by 2030.

About Author: Emdadul Haque is an Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Previously, he served academia for more than a decade and lastly as an Assistant Professor of Law at Southeast University. He holds Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws from Rajshahi University. He can be reached via email: [email protected] and on Twitter: @emdadlaw

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