We are at the halfway point to 2030. The world we live in today is drastically different from in 2015 when an ambitious set of goals for people, planet and prosperity was agreed.

We know that progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is dangerously off-track and that progress towards goal 16, through which countries aspire to establish more peaceful, just and inclusive societies, is worryingly slow. In some cases, it is even moving in the wrong direction.

Worldwide, trust in institutions is waning as government systems are buckling under the weight of expectations from their citizens. Waves of unconstitutional transitions of power are undermining the rule of law and human rights and weakening governance systems.

In this year’s report on the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations Secretary-General has raised the alarm on the pace of achievement of the goals. “Unless we act now,” he emphasizes, “the 2030 Agenda will become an epitaph for a world that might have been.”

In the case of goal 16, we see that progress on violence reduction, access to justice, inclusive governance and peaceful societies is stagnating or in reverse. The situation for women across some indicators is worse than for men – there are more women victims of sexual violence (though men continue to bear the brunt of overall violence), they feel less safe walking around the area they live, and face significant barriers in achieving equal representation and justice.

When the goals were being formulated eight years ago, goal 16 held the promise of achieving more inclusive, just and peaceful societies, but we lacked the data to track progress.

Since 2015, UNDP, UNODC and OHCHR, as custodians of 18 of the 24 indicators under goal 16, have been working closely with national institutions and experts to develop the methodologies and increase the availability of nationally relevant and globally comparable data on human rights, justice and governance.

This year, for the first time, data are available on all goal 16 indicators, although for some the country coverage continues to be limited and more investment is needed to expand data availability.

Several tools have been developed in a relatively short period of time to meet the demands of measuring governance, corruption, crime, access to justice and to provide guidance on applying a human rights-based approach to data. New initiatives and partnerships have been developed to enhance cooperation on measuring goal 16.

However, much more investment is needed to ensure the production of accurate, reliable and disaggregated data if no one is to be left behind. Such data are critical for informing national policymaking and priority setting, as well as increasing transparency and accountability to citizens.

The data showcased in this report illustrate in stark terms where we are today on goal 16. Countries are backsliding on their human rights obligations, violence and insecurity are pervasive, corruption and unresponsive Governments corrode weakened social contracts and justice continues to be elusive for the most marginalized. Without addressing some of the deepseated causes of inequality and exclusion captured within goal 16, progress on sustainable development overall will not be achieved.

This report draws on available data to urge policymakers to recognize that the current pace of change is insufficient to address some of the most significant challenges facing people today:

  • Violence is rising and the nature of conflict is evolving. Although the perception of safety remained stable in the period 2016–2021, intentional homicide reached a peak in 2021. The following year, according to data on 12 of the deadliest armed conflicts around the world, at least 16,988 civilians were killed in war operations, a 53 per cent increase compared with 2021, and the first increase since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda.
  • Trafficking in persons appears more hidden than before. 2019–2020 saw a decrease in numbers of victims detected in general, but an increase in the percentage of child victims detected, from 28 per cent in 2014 to 35 per cent in 2021.
  • The gap in people’s ability to access justice continues to be significant. Less than half the population report crimes such as robbery, phys- 7 Preface ical assault and sexual assault and the total number of persons in detention has continued to grow over the past two decades, with the share of unsentenced detainees increasing in 2021. With the inclusion of access to dispute resolution mechanisms in the 2030 Agenda, countries are now beginning to collect data on the indicator.
  • There is a clear correlation between bribery affecting individuals and businesses. This illustrates a common pattern of corruption in countries. Notably, the proportion of people who were asked to pay or paid a bribe to a public official differs depending on the income level of countries – with a higher level of prevalence in low- and middle-income countries than in upper middle-income and high-income countries.
  • Women are underrepresented at senior levels of decision-making. Women continue to face glass ceilings that limit their career aspirations in public service. Women are less equally represented in senior levels in public service roles and in supreme and constitutional courts than in lower-level positions.
  • It is becoming more dangerous and deadly for human rights defenders and journalists. There was a 40 per cent increase in killings and a nearly 300 per cent increase in enforced disappearances from 2021 to 2022.
  • Discrimination is prevalent worldwide, with one in six people having experienced discrimination during the previous 12 months. Women are twice as likely as men to experience discrimination based on sex or marital status. One in three persons with disabilities experience discrimination, twice the rate of persons without disabilities. Racial discrimination, related to ethnicity, colour or language, is among the most common grounds of discrimination.

Today, we have more available data on goal 16 than ever before. Far more data are still needed but this clearly shows that urgent action is necessary if wholesale reversals in progress across goal 16 are to be prevented.

The current trajectory is not inevitable. We have seven years in which to make the changes needed and recalibrate our efforts. We have seven years in which to make the changes needed and recalibrate our efforts.

We have increasing evidence of the interlinkages between addressing peaceful, just and inclusive societies and ending poverty and inequality. We know that reducing homicide can have a significant impact on GDP, that the quality of governance systems influences development outcomes, and that the realization of human rights is at the core of leaving no one behind.

If collective action, political commitment and courageous choices are combined, achieving the targets towards peace, justice and inclusion is still possible. However, greater investment in high-quality, timely and disaggregated data on goal 16 is essential if evidence-informed choices are to be made and if the focus is to remain on those most at risk of being left behind.