Photo: ECOSOC's new president Ambassador Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava. Credit: UN - Photo: 2020

Breaking the Culture of Violence to Advance SDG 16 On Peace & Security

Viewpoint by P. I. Gomes*

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (IDN) – In the Preamble of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reference is made to what is called the 5P’s of People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. They capture with such lucid precision what is referred to as “all areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.”

These are all areas deserving of concerted attention, but the widespread and insidiously yet blatant impact of violence, as the negation of “peace”, might benefit from some reflections.

Manifested increasingly in such multiple forms as gender-based violence (GBV), trafficking in persons, ruthless assaults of gun violence, armed conflict, racial supremacist abusive language, ethnic profiling and violent extremism – all span a range of human behaviour that is violent in intent and in effect, resulting in loss of life or life-long injury, at times physical, psychological or both.

Across this spectrum of violence, taking effect in language, massacre, maiming and bodily harm or instilling mental trauma can be seen in their cultural and ideological underpinnings, a deep-seated, widely-promoted denial and negation of what can be generally understood to be associated with Peace and respect of human life. These that are hitherto generally understood to be self-evident and the basis of human security, respect and protection of human life.

These are related themes are incisively addressed in the critical essays of the late-Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest historians of our time, that he described as “areas which require clear and informed thinking today”, and included, “the general question of war and peace in the twenty-first century… and the question of political violence and terror.”[1]

In addressing the notions of violence and terror, I am of the view that these are notions that need to be understood in historical and cultural dimensions.  whereby one can use the lens of a “culture of violence” to grasp norms, ideological or religious justifications and material factors from which result loss of life, pain and mental harm and anguish.

In such thinking, it can be understood why Agenda 2030 in its call to action forcefully places the determination to foster “peaceful, just and inclusive societies, which are free from fear and violence.”  It is a plea so patently desired, for our societies to be “freed of violence”, in this the early 21st century so characterised as an age of violence.

Incidents of Violence -not sporadic but Systemic

Innumerable incidents of “violence and terror” are given widespread media attention and convey upsetting images, giving rise to moments of sadness and grief. No doubt greeted with official responses of regret and promises that measures of more police and military force of the state will be deployed. 

The regularity and gravity of the loss of life, of personal harm, pain and grief to victims, who survive, or families seen as episodic occurrences also manifest hate crimes, greed and alienation linked to organizational and institutional forms that reject the dignity and rights of all humanity.

To elucidate this perspective, and understand systemic ideological and organizational forces underlying violence and terror, whether it be gender-based violence or violent extremism, consideration could be given to the present negotiations for a partnership agreement between the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and the European Union (EU).

In those negotiations, the first listed of six strategic priorities of the two organisations is Human Rights, Democracy and Governance in People-centred and Rights-based Societies. This thematic area closely mirrors SDG 16 of the UN’s Agenda 2030 in which peace and security and access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all level is clearly stated. The distinct importance of institutions as indispensable to realise peace, security and ending or curtailing violence in society cannot be overemphasized.

As expressed in the proposed negotiations of the OACPS & EU, there is explicit attention to situating violence, peace and security within a wider holistic cultural framework. Thus, the agreement proposes to address: “new or expanding security threats, including terrorism and its financing, violent extremism, organised crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, piracy and trafficking in persons, drugs, arms and other illicit goods, and cybercrime and cybersecurity.”  These are all element taken together with linkages that comprise a “culture and totality of actions” the results and impact of these are unlikely to be defeated and overcome by ad hoc responses, however well-intended.

Additional discussions on Peace & Security, in the agreement, propose that the organisations should “take all suitable action in a coordinated way to prevent an intensification of violence, to limit its territorial spread and to facilitate a peaceful settlement of disputes” (art1. para 4.)

The proposed new agreement further discusses Terrorism & Violent Extremism reiterating “firm condemnation of all acts of terrorism and violent extremism…and undertake to combat these acts through international cooperation, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law, relevant conventions and instruments.  

It is further recognized “that the fight against terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations is a shared priority, and agree to work together at all levels to prevent and combat terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation. … and the importance to tackle all factors contributing to violent extremism, including religious intolerance, hate speech, xenophobia, racism as well as other forms of intolerance.

Acknowledging such a combination of factors, intended actions by the OACPS and EU would include measures that oppose violent extremism and “foster religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue.” Moreover, it is perceived as essential that the fight against terrorism be conducted with full respect for the rule of law and in full conformity with international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, the principles of the UN Charter, relevant UNSC resolutions and statements and relevant international counter-terrorism related instruments.

Recognising there is both a super-structure of ideological factors, attitudes of race hate and critical infrastructures of terrorism that transcend borders and national jurisdictions, explicit attention in the proposed agreement is given to “related challenges affecting borders as well as strengthening civil aviation security.”

In addressing Organised Crime, the OACPs & EU express the intention to “ work together under an integrated approach to address root causes and provide alternatives to crime” including “the links between organised crime and human trafficking and migrant smuggling, the illicit trafficking of weapons, hazardous materials, narcotics, precursors, wildlife, timber, cultural goods, and other illegal economic and financial activities.”


From the preceding remarks, readers may sense the comprehensive approach to building people-centred societies, envisaged in the new agreement being negotiated by the OACPS and EU.

The thematic factors addressed and elements of crime and violence taken together, in a structural and systemic way, rightly testify to the notion of a “culture of violence”. This is the paradigm advocated as the major thrust of these remarks. They may hopefully be a partial contribution to the advancement of sustainable development that “significantly reduces all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere” (SDG 16.1) as the quest for “rights-based” societies would be championed by the OACPS in partnership with Europe and throughout the global South. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 December 2020]

*The writer, Dr Patrick I Gomes, was Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States for five years until February 29, 2020. The 79-nation inter-regional body officially became the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) on April 5, 2020. Dr Gomes was previously Ambassador of the Republic of Guyana, to the EU in Brussels.

Image credit: International Development Law Organization

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This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

 [1] Eric Hobsbawm, Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism, London, 2007 (reprinted 2008, 2009, 2010,2011).

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