U.N. Sustainable Development Goal No. 16

This page appears as part of the human rights journeys site ‘State & Society Watch”. The purpose of this special page on SDG16 is to make church leadership and students aware of the blind spot in science, business and politics of failing to understand the value of faith and faith institutions in the emergence of just and sustainable political societies. This is an urgent subject in the post-western 21st century as economic and military factors consider themselves paramount. The challenge is to move away from this limited and materialistic worldview, which is rooted in the revolutions in labor productivity and security capability. Their limitations are in evidence in today’s geopolitical environment and in fact recognized by the U.S.A. president on September 1, 2021, when he called an end to “an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” It is easier to take that decision then to figure out what else can promote justice, peace and prosperity.

The United Nations tried that when they set Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) for 2030. In the faith context the most important goal is no 16:

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all citizens and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

For the sake of U.N. Sustainable Development Goal No. 16 the contribution of freedom of faith and religious institutions in the dynamics of establishing enduring societies of justice and human rights should be taken into account. A renewed public theology is called for.

An African proverb says it well: “If you know the beginning well, the end shall not trouble you”. This is particularly true for SDG16. Yet, the emergence of sustainable peace in societies has largely disappeared from view.

Look at achieving SDG16 as a history of social contract. Citizens give a sovereignty mandate to rulers but never without conditions. This is the process of state sovereignty institution and distribution. Today the ancient wisdom of St. Augustine still makes sense: without justice rulers are like wolves.  His tutor St. Ambrose denied the Roman emperor the right to use the church as his mouthpiece.

Christians and religious people in general may mistakenly see the earthly rule for peace and justice through the lens of perceiving God’s intervention or the direct implementation of sacred text. These tendencies can be summarized by the term “theocracy”. St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, both living at the end of the Roman empire, did not confuse earthly rule and declarations of divine intervention. Yet, their goal was nothing less than what SDG16 promotes. And what is more: the importance of their words is still very relevant.

The scientific term for a just social contract or SDG16 is “Open Access”. It is said that today only about fifteen percent of the world population lives in the so-called “open access societies”. These are nations where impersonal and inclusive institutions function in a sustainable way (North, Douglass, etc. Violence and Social Orders, xii). In essence in these societies public trust has developed on an individual scale, thus allowing for a process in which subjects of government become citizens with individual responsibility. Government has no absolute right in such societies.

What does achieving SDG16 in more nations take? Sustainable institutions. What do sustainable institutions ask for? A just and peaceful process of authority and mandate. In the present world of globalization political authority and its mandate come about through territorial sovereignty and citizenry. No nation in the United Nations allows others to run its territory. But not all nations have effective governance and citizenry. Citizen rights cannot be bought or brought in from outside the country.  This is not bad but very good news for those who want SDG16, most importantly for Christians: citizenship is potentially available in all human beings. Responsible citizens who trust each other is the secret of SDG16. Unjust rulers fear effective citizenry. The right institutional process makes a peaceful social contract possible everywhere. As values oriented communities churches have the potential to further SDG16.

The peaceful and effective dialogue between government and citizenry is the key element of SDG16. The evolving post-western order is an opportunity to achieve SDG16 in many more countries. A meta-analysis of the requirements of SDG16, taking into account the list of suggested materials below, brings four necessary factors to the fore:

violence monopoly

economic freedom

freedom of faith and assembly

free partner choice and the nuclear family

The synergy of these four factors determines sustainable peace and prosperity in a given country and thus SDG16. The aim of this web page is to promote Christian research and action to achieve SDG16 in many more countries.

The United Nations plays an important complementary role in as much as it allows for the voice heard of citizens towards their government.

Kindly contact us at genevachallenge@gmail.com


At the installation of bishop Abraham Mulwa of the Africa Inland Church, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the different responsibilities of church and state, in service of humanity and all of creation:


Suggested material:

Annan, Kofi (2013) Equity in Extractives: Managing Africa’s Mineral Wealth. Geneva, Lecture Graduate Institute

Ban Ki-Moon (2012) The Key to Prevention of Atrocities lies within each Society’. Address Stanley Foundation Conference

Berkhof, Hendrik (1946) Kirche und Kaiser. Buchdruckerei Effingerhof

Booth, David (2010) Country Ownership’ When There is No Social Contract: Towards a Realistic Perspective. Amsterdam, SID lecture

Berman, Harold J. (1983) Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition I and II. Cambridge

Center on Foreign Relations (2016) How to Support Democracy in the Arab World.

Dooyeweerd, Herman (1959) Roots of Western Culture. Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options. The Edwin Mellen Press

European Parliament (2020) Peace, justice and strong institutions. EU support for implementing SDG 16 worldwide. European Union

Fukuyama, Francis (2011) The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Fukuyama, Francis (2013) Democracy and the Quality of the State. Journal of Democracy

Franke, Sophia G. and Marc Quintyn (2012) Institutional Transformations, Polity and Economic Outcomes: Testing the North-Wallis-Weingast Doorsteps Framework. IMF Working Paper

Girard, René (1977) Violence and the Sacred. The John Hopkins University Press

Grotenhuis, René (2016) Nation Building as Necessary Effort in Fragile States. Amsterdam University Press

Guterres, Antonio (2019) Comment on Global Wave of Demonstrations. United Nations Secretary General Twitter

Haass, Richard N. (2017) World Order 2.0. Council of Foreign Relations

Henderson Roger D. (2017) A successful application of the Principle of Distributed Authority, or Sphere Sovereignty.  Philosophia Reformata

John Knox Series (2012) Churches and the Rule of Law. John Knox Centre

Kupchan, Charles A. (2012) No One’s World. The West, The Rising Rest, and The Coming Global Turn. Oxford University Press

Lalleman, Pieter (2016) Open letter in 2016 to churches and groups which are not in a denomination, in particular to ‘Baptistic’ congregations. Nederlands Dagblad

Li, Eric (2019), How do you block a country of 1.4bn people?’ Interview in FT

Mahbubani, Kishore (2008) The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. Public Affairs

May, Theresa (2017) Address at U.S. Republican Party Conference  Signalling the end of the nation building era

Moor, Tine de, Zanden, Jan Luiten van (2009) Girl power: the European Marriage Pattern and Labour Markets in the North Sea Region in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period. The Economic History review

North, Douglass C., John J. Wallis and Barry R. Weingast (2009) Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge University Press

Obama, Barack (2010), Best practices in Development allafrica.com

Ossewaarde, Ringo (2007) Three Rival Versions of Political Enquiry: Althusius and the Concept of Sphere Sovereignty. The Monist

Putnam, Robert D. (2007) E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century. The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture

Ramos-Horta, José (2013) Diversity and Statehood.  Geneve Lecture Series. Complexities of Peace Making: The Untold Story

Riesebrodt, Martin (2014) Secularisms: Ideals, Ideologies and Institutional Practices. Geneva, Conference and Conference Note Graduate Institute

Robinson, James A, and D. Acemoğlu (2012) Why Nations Fail. Crown Publishing Group

Robinson, Marilynne (1998) Darwinism. and Puritans and Prigs. (In The Death of Adam). Picador

Sachs, Jeffrey (2019) US no longer defends international rule of law. FT

Shaheed, Ahmed (2020) Special Rapporteur Freedom of Religion or Belief Report to the U.N. General Assembly. UN Human Rights Council

Siedentop, Larry (2014) Inventing the Individual. The Origins of Western Liberalism. Penguin Books

Sun Yanfei (2017) The Rise of Protestantism in Post-Mao China: State and Religion in Historical Perspective. American Journal of  Sociology

Witte Jr., John (2015) Why Two in One Flesh? The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy. Emory Law Journal.

WRR (2009) Doing Good or Doing Better. Amsterdam University Press

WRR (2010) Less Pretention, More Ambition. Amsterdam University Press

Best Practices

Fiedler, Rebekka (2017) Making peace reality – the impact of the Interfaith Peace Platform on the peace process in CAR. Henry Dunant Human Rights Series

Metreau, Clément (2016) Le phénomène évangélique. Un éclairage politique et religieux. Henry Dunant Human Rights Series

Useful links