International Development Law Organization

SDGs & the Rule of Law: From the 'What' to the 'How'

“The time is ripe to move from the ‘what’ – what we must do to realize sustainable development - to the how,’ IDLO Director-General Irene Khan said at an IDLO event on ‘Equity, Social Justice and the Rule of Law across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’.

Held at the United Nations in New York in early July, the High-Level dialogue aimed to explore aspects of the SDGs that place people at the center of development. The focus was on the rule of law as an enabler of equity and social justice. Under the subtitle of ‘Policy choices, Measuring impact, Tracking Progress,’ the panelists emphasized the need for innovation at all levels to flesh out both policies and implementation mechanisms.



Enrico Giovannini,  Italy’s former Minister of Labor and Social Policies, noted that an expected decline in global growth presaged a spike not only in poverty of income, but also in poverty of opportunities and justice. He emphasized the need to harness the universal nature of the SDGs across geographical and thematic borders in order to stem the threat of rising inequality. “The challenge we have,” Mr Giovannini said, “is not only for emerging or developing countries, but is also relevant for developed countries. This is why I think it was a great choice to have SDGs as universal goals - because more and more countries will be facing problems, but also, I hope, solutions will be shared by these countries.”

Rima Khalaf, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), highlighted the role of the rule of law in fostering inclusivity – an essential prerequisite to both peace and development. “States and laws,” she said, “should empower rather than subdue, free rather than confine, and organize diversity rather than impose uniformity… Only laws that protect the human rights of all - that are both just and perceived to be just - can ensure stability, achieve prosperity, and unleash the potential of all members of society for the common good.”


For her part, IDLOs’ Ms. Khan noted that, if underpinned by a robust commitment to the rule of law, policies, laws, institutions, partnerships and the synergies among them can be used to advance equity and people-centered development, whether in reducing inequalities or fostering social justice and inclusion for peace. “How do you ensure that any goal actually works for the benefit of those who need it most?” she asked. “Goal 16 [on inclusive societies] is a crosscutting goal because it’s not about everyone being equal, but about specific measures to bring those who are being left behind forward. That is where the rule of law can play a fundamental role.”

The event, organized to contribute to the UN High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development, was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Italy and Pakistan to the UN, represented by Emilia Gatto, Minister Plenipotentiary, and Khalil Hashmi, Acting Deputy Permanent Observer, respectively. 

Read more about IDLO's side event and concept note HERE 

Photo: UNMIL_Christopher Herwig