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S. Redo: Religion and the Sustainable Development Goals

Originally presented at a conference on
“The Importance of Interfaith Cooperation for Securing Peace in the 21st Century”
Vienna International Center, Vienna, Austria, February 6, 2015

Abstract: “Delivering as One” on the United Nations 2016-2030 Sustainable Development Goals through Interreligious and Inter-Civilizational Dialogue

Equitable (distributive/restorative) practical sharing of natural/material and social (non-material) resources and their community-centered management can reduce inequality and its various manifestations, for example, violence and crime in its many glocal forms, from civil conflicts in general down to domestic and other local violence, organized or not. From the interplaying perspective of public international law and the field perspective, this presentation proposes practical modalities for a more harmonious process of “Delivering as one,” the UN SDG mandate which responds to the contemporary needs of interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue (ID).  In particular, the statement: (a) advocates equitable (distributive/restorative) practices for sharing of natural/material and social (non-material) resources and their community-centered management; (b) identifies potential secular/ID synergies between 17 draft UN SDGs and suggests how they can be advanced through the ID. The ID may autonomously contribute to and facilitate the intergenerational SDG peace-oriented equity process by countering socio-economic inequality/exclusion through promoting in a positive way more equitable distribution of material and non-material resources. The ID partner non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) may identify practical modalities and synergies between non-secular and secular actors for the target groups addressed by the SDGs. Because of that ECOSOC status, those non-governmental organizations are formally involved in the implementation of the UN Charter; hence they are officially a part of the mandate of the Organization. There is a need to connect words with deeds through the ID for the amelioration of poverty.


In UNESCO’s 1996 report entitled “Our Creative Diversity,” the World Commission on Culture and Development emphasized that culture as “ways of living together” is a core element of sustainable development.[i]

Since people in all cultures have a set of beliefs that go beyond both the self and the natural world, religious beliefs among them have a strong influence on the culture of living together in a community. Indeed, the UNESCO report notes that, for many people around the world, religious beliefs are central to their culture and provide the moral codes by which they live. Even where people in the contemporary world believe that the traditional beliefs of their parents and societies are not so relevant to their everyday lives, underlying religious beliefs about human dignity and how to relate to other people and the Earth are still important parts of their lives, and those of succeeding generations.

Delivering justice by the United Nations

In the above intergenerational and intercultural context set out not only by the various intergovernmental organizations, but shared as well by non-governmental organizations, this paper identifies potential synergies between the draft 17 UN sustainable development goals and the matching contributions that can be made via the UN interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue (ID), pursued by the UN Secretary-General since 2005, and as of 2010, mandated by General Assembly resolution 65/7. What follows in this paper is an attempt to interrelate the ID with other parts of positive public international law (statutory and customary).

UN justice” may eventually skirt the academic, theological or traditional moral concerns[ii]when from the UN modern welfare perspective this contributes to a new global morality, as proposed by the SDGs. This is, in a way, the UN ecumenism. It was essentially and originally first expressed at the 1945 San Francisco Conference founding the Organization. One of its framers, Joseph Bech, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, praised the establishment of the United Nations in the following words:

A man was passing near the site of a new cathedral. He asked one of the workmen what he was doing, and the man replied: “I am breaking stones.” A second workman said: “I am earning my salary,” and a third, to whom he put the same question, turned his eyes, bright with religious fervor, toward the half-finished cathedral, and answered, “I am building a cathedral.”[iii]

In its evolving since then, UN ecumenism has served the progressive implementation of the UN Charter, including its provisions on international technical cooperation and humanitarian assistance. They both practically contribute to the UN way of non-secular modernization. Thanks to those non-secular and secular currents (more often than not very subtle), “justice” within the UN purview may be motivated, if not powered, by them. The draft SDGs are a case in point. They show the Organization’s own intercultural and aspirational place for “justice” (a part of “peace and security”).

“Delivering Justice as One” in 2016-2030: The role of the ID in ameliorating poverty

The Universal Peace Federation and a number of other non-governmental and faith-based organizations (FBOs) may contribute to the implementation of the forthcoming 2016-2030 SDGs in many ways. As noted by the recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report on “Religion and Development Post-2015,” they are not well paved. Moreover, the UN track record in attempting to engage with religious actors in situations of tension colored by religious dynamics is, at best, checkered.[iv]

The same report further notes potential religious ambiguities in times of conflict that may further worsen it through the instrumental role of religious interpretation. The report calls the FBOs to work for the reversal of the role, so that the religious actors and interpretations can provide solutions to conflicts.

This paper goes further in this direction and seeks to traverse a path of equity, equality and justice.[v]It argues that religious actors, interpretations and actions should pursue the amelioration of poverty – an intellectual shortcut term for excessive economic inequality which is the core destabilizing force of peace and security, hence of justice. There are many ways to counter inequality, among them “equity” – that is, the procedural emphasis on the role of peaceful settlements of conflicts over global and local resources (environmental and of [non]material value) via various interculturally restorative justice practices, also with the aim of creating more prosperous societies. One of the most recent cases in point is the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice, adopted in 2012 by General Assembly resolution 67/187.[vi]

From the standpoint of this meeting, it is important to draw attention to Principle 10 entitled “Equity in access to legal aid.” In paras. 32 and 33 this principle reads:

32. Special measures should be taken to ensure meaningful access to legal aid for women, children and groups with special needs, including, but not limited to, the elderly, minorities, persons with disabilities, persons with mental illnesses, persons living with HIV and other serious contagious diseases, drug users, indigenous and aboriginal people, stateless persons, asylum seekers, foreign citizens, migrants and migrant workers, refugees and internally displaced persons. Such measures should address the special needs of those groups, including gender-sensitive and age-appropriate measures.

33. States should also ensure that legal aid is provided to persons living in rural, remote and economically and socially disadvantaged areas and to persons who are members of economically and socially disadvantaged groups.

All these principles and guidelines are directly addressed to a State. This is because the UN is an intergovernmental organization through which its Member States can be addressed to meet and eventually implement such principles and guidelines. But others need not wait for any governmental recommendation to do what is written in the UN principles and guidelines to assist in delivering justice in this way. As explained in the Annex to that resolution: “The Principles and Guidelines also suggest that States involve a wide range of stakeholders as legal aid service providers in the form of nongovernmental organizations, community-based organizations, religious and non-religious charitable organizations, professional bodies and associations and academia.”[vii]

These practices share in common the need to settle glocally[viii]the access to those resources in a fair manner accounting for the need to include in the settlements vulnerable to resource deprivations various glocally relevant actors. In other words, the nature of these restorative justice practices is equity. Equity is “a direct emanation of the idea of justice.”[ix]It is distributive justice done in practice (“in concreto”) applicable as “if it were law,” that is as a part of customary international law.[x]Despite varying interpretations, and a wealth of differences in perspective that can be divisive, a belief in the fundamental dignity of human beings is a theological tenet in most major religions. The 2006 World Bank report notes that while there are important differences in how this belief manifests itself across faiths, and even among different groups within the main religions, some analysts see a growing emphasis on this principle of equality within various faiths.[xi]

In line with this argument, the core idea is that the equitable (distributive/restorative) practical sharing of natural/material and social (non-material) resources and their community-centered management can reduce inequality and its various manifestations, for example, violence and crime in its many glocal forms, from civil conflicts in general down to domestic and other local violence, organized or not. The ID may autonomously contribute to and facilitate this intergenerational peace-oriented equity process whereby the partner non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN ECOSOC should identify practical modalities and synergies between non-secular and secular actors for the target groups addressed by the SDGs. Because of this ECOSOC status, these non-governmental organizations are formally involved in the implementation of the United Nations Charter; hence they are officially a front part of this ecumenical mandate – which now stresses the “oneness” of the Organization. Distributive justice done in practice is in the opinion of the United Nations Secretariat a part and parcel of “Delivering as One,”[xii]as reemphasized in the follow-up report of the Secretary-General.[xiii]

So far this emphasis has not been fully recognized by Member States in terms of the complementary or supporting role of the ID. The response to the above S-G report, a 2,850-word-long intergovernmental United Nations Declaration on the Rule of Law,[xiv] mentions the word “religion” only one time. In para. 3 the Declaration gives a cursory mantra-type recognition to religion.[xv]

If the founding and ecumenical “Spirit of San Francisco” for the implementation of the UN sustainable-development goals in the next 15 years should prevail, then the following three ideas by a lawyer and former UN staffer prompted by the Secretary-General’s six elements of sustainable development[xvi] (Planet; People; Dignity; Prosperity; Justice; Partnership) could be considered by the ID partners by focusing on one priority goal:

  • Poverty amelioration (“Dignity”) for the maintenance of peace, security (“Justice”) and for “Prosperity,”
  • to be pursed via the practices and instrumentalities modeled after Environmental Justice which considers our mother, planet Earth, as a resource to be kept in good order through the intergenerational equity and intercultural advancement of the rights of women,
  • “Justice” and “Dignity” as a developmental leitmotif.

Poverty amelioration as the priority goal for the maintenance of peace, security and for prosperity

Economic development has since the 1820s globally yielded in GDP US$ per capita terms a sixth-fold, and since 1900 an eight-fold improvement in people’s quality of life (there are now respectively 6 to 8 rich to 1 poor vis à vis 6 to 8 poor to 1 rich).[xvii] It is now intended to move up the poorest ones on the UN Millennium Development/Sustainable Development standard of life scale for the years 2000-2030 from US $ 1 to 1.25. Although the reformists’ ID advancements cannot be measured by per capita dollar impact on the well-being of people, there is statistical evidence by the World Bank that inequity has a substantial adverse impact on people’s well-being.[xviii] Hence there is little doubt that restorative justice practices are the way to go forward. In this regard, the ID should be an interface between the civil society and government.

Our mother, planet Earth, as a base for Environmental Justice, the intergenerational equity and intercultural advancement of the rights of women

At the cost of belaboring the obvious, before ID serves as such an interface in the intergovernmental SDG agenda for the above goal, one pre-condition must be squarely faced. Because ID and multiculturalism both rest on the essential similarities and, paradoxically, differences everywhere, implementing and creating new ID-abiding commitments within this “unity in diversity” premise has its religious limit. And this limit is narrower than a secular one.

But there are two ways through which one and another may be separated without genuinely disturbing their status quo. First, by setting aside conservative local custom from faith; second by modifying conservative local custom and encouraging religious leaders to convey through Environmental Justice (EJ) instrumentalities the aspirations for equity by a constructive settlement of disputes and intergenerational learning.

Regarding the first approach, for a long time local custom and faith had a conservative stance regarding female genital mutilation (FGM) and femicide. By the UN action (General Assembly resolutions included), conditions have been created for the interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue partners to disconnect custom from religion. Moreover, under the UN and other auspices, the respective educational technical assistance is provided to governments confronted with customary law practices of the above kind.

Regarding the second approach, EJ is the strongest, the most essential, viable and progressive current involved in the protection of our mother – planet Earth. In comparison with gender mainstreaming (GM) which has its separate roots in the United Nations ideology, advancing women’s rights issues through EJ, offers a better avenue for negotiations (including the ID) for balancing almost any resource equality and equity than “stand-alone” GM can.

To various degrees this GM is possible in Judeo-Christianity and Buddhism. Many other beliefs are even more restrictive, particularly regarding women’s rights. In this connection, the UNPA report reminds us:

[F]aith-based organizations themselves are divided on positions towards specific issues of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Tensions between faith-based/faith-inspired women activists and more secular-leaning women activists on these issues remain unresolved; it can be heightened particularly at the global level where intergovernmental negotiations and outcomes take place.[xix]

In effect, the FBOs may be quite restrictive on the 2030 UN “Road to Dignity” – advancing globally the human rights of succeeding generations, that is men and women, or “women and children.” Consequently, interfaith dialogue may benefit from entering the UN “Road to Dignity” not by directly confronting the afore-mentioned politically divisive issues, but by using more often a technical EJ vehicle, perhaps the most accommodating is in Buddhism, as far as the natural environment is concerned. As noted by the Chair of UNFPA-led Consultation among Donor Organizations, United Nations Development Agencies and Faith-Based Organizations, “[M]oral positions that revolve around climate change in particular and environmental issues in general, are beginning to influence” that road.[xx]

Justice and Dignity as a developmental leitmotif

The EJ road may help the ID partners to overcome conservative SDGs attitudes not only regarding women – after all, the providers of basic care, but also general public participation in the implementation of the SDGs. The harmonizing of secular and non-secular SDGs’ approaches modeled after the EJ may enjoy a great public acceptability, so there indeed may be a chance that the dignity issues will proliferate effectively and positively on other walks of life, even in the short term. Given that a 15-year time is a short term in comparison with thousand-year-old non-secular and secular beliefs and practices, choosing the EJ as a driver for proliferating the precepts and policies of “Rio+20” sustainable development across the UN agenda seems to be one of the least contentious strategies for the prosperous future of humanity.

Conclusion: Proposal for implementing the SDGs in the ID format[xxi]

One needs to review, inventorize, discuss and reassess in light of the forthcoming SDGs, what kind of complementary ID initiatives endorsing or/and supporting “Justice,” “Dignity” and the other UN four elements of sustainable development are there that already render support for sustainable livelihood. There are numerous such initiatives to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, improve access to water and electricity, help pregnant mothers, educate girls and boys, assist the homeless, treat the drug-dependent and so on. In each and every such instance the communication with a target group may or not carry the connotation of ameliorating the conditions of the poorest in the name of restorative justice that through face-to-face encounters not only assists in problem solving but also for improving people’s capacities for generating self-sustained initiatives unlocking their cycle of poverty. One needs to connect words with deeds through interfaith collaboration for the amelioration of poverty.

This may be the task for the ID working group to obtain the relevant information from the ID partners and others interested in joining them. As a mock-up, the two tables below outline how the ID partners may wish to relate their field projects with the draft 17 SDGs.[xxii]


Table 1. Potential complementary application of interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue (ID) to the post-2015 UN sustainable development agenda

Six elements for delivering on the SDGs

Potential application of ID


to end poverty and fight inequalities

ID can endorse or/and support: initiatives enabling the articulation of rights to achieve the minimum standards for sustainable livelihood with a view to a more consistent global orientation towards poverty amelioration through counsel in reducing resource inequalities and inequities in participation of women and men of all ages, incl. children and elderly in local, national and international sustainable development processes in the above regard for all-inclusive education and participation


to ensure healthy lives, knowledge and the inclusion of women and children

  • Since various faith-based activities may entail stress reduction, ID can support or endorse participation of children, youth and women of all ages in events reinforcing their neighbor-friendly beliefs
  • It is possible to introduce and reinforce ideas of gender equality in patriarchal societies via the younger generations
  • ID can directly contribute to all-inclusive awareness-raising and education, as well as exchange of knowledge between the generations


to grow a strong, inclusive and transformative economy

ID can endorse or/and support:

  • involvement of younger and older women and men in the work force
  • professional training of young women and men in research and development
  • entrepreneurial initiatives by combining traditional knowledge and innovation
  • transfer and reinterpretation of societal values with respect to economic well-being and development


to protect our ecosystems for all societies and our children

ID can endorse or/and support:

  • sustainable, participatory, community natural resource management
  • professional training of young women and men in research and development in various aspects of conservation and sustainable development
  • transfer and use of traditional, sustainable lifestyles, knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, from the older generations to the younger
  • introducing new sustainable approaches via the younger generations to the older


to promote safe and peaceful societies and strong institutions

ID enhances community cohesion, participation and involvement by women and men of all ages in local, national and international sustainable development with a view to contributing to sustainable livelihood standards with a more consistent global orientation for peace through friendly inter-ethnic counsel for reducing resource inequalities and inequities in access to justice


to catalyze global Solidarity for sustainable development

  • Children and youth are open to global solidarity, exchange and cooperation, and these ideas and practices can be facilitated by ID
  • Cooperation and exchange among the older professionals and active youth on an international level can support this


Table 2. The role of interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue (ID) in poverty amelioration and attainment of other SD goals

Proposed SDG

Potential complementary application for ID

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

ID can support philanthropic aspects of humanitarian and technical assistance with a view to contributing those aspects for improving people’s capacities for generating self-sustained initiatives unlocking the cycle of poverty

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

ID can contribute to motivating faith groups to encourage the preservation of traditional agricultural approaches, and support introduction of new sustainable agriculture techniques, both with a view to reducing food scarcity and conflicts over this vital resource

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

ID supports active aging, broadens the interfaith capacity of communities for tolerance, taking into account the goal of poverty amelioration, the shrinking youth population and the extending longevity of the older population

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

ID emphasizes the commonalities of major religions and philosophies through encouraging interfaith representation in local civic events and States-sponsored public meetings that focus on inclusiveness

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

ID can begin considering jointly the question of broadening the participation of women of all ages by finding culture-sensitive avenues introducing ideas of gender equality in patriarchal societies via the younger generations (specifically: FGM, femicide, domestic violence and other derogatory or abusive practices), and generally, by more equal and equitable sharing of household responsibilities and benefits with a view to contributing to goal 16

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

ID can support participatory community water management with a view to mitigating or preventing conflicts over access to water

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

ID can endorse support for donor agencies to professionally train young people in research and development of renewable energy and consideration of traditional knowledge of older generations

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

ID can encourage the involvement of younger and older people in the work force, especially by motivating the succeeding generation in taking its future responsibly and creatively by emphasizing that faith and civil society groups are able to generate jointly community energies for more people-centered, self-sustained and inclusive community development

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

ID can endorse entrepreneurial precepts for technical assistance projects by donor aid agencies involved in professional training of young people which motivates them to pursue initiatives enabling their market competiveness with meta-ethical values (honest entrepreneurship)

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

ID can support the precept of participation of older and younger people in the local, national and international sustainable development processes and encourage authorities of developed countries to consider measures aiming at supporting the development of small business enterprises and micro-credits

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

ID can support participation of older and younger people in residential community planning by emphasizing the role of neighborhood help in making the settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and a place for “House One”–type of interfaith dialogue

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

ID could endorse sustainable lifestyles, knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, supporting sustainable consumption and production, and care for the ecosystems that can be shared between younger and older generations: learning traditional sustainable approaches from the old, and introducing new approaches via the young. In particular, ID could emphasize the importance of the common environmental heritage of humankind and the undivided responsibility of secular and non-secular actors in its preservation

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

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

ID can contribute to social cohesion and participation by emphasizing the non-secular peaceful objective of such societies, as per the sub-goals, and goal 5

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize global partnership for sustainable development

ID should encourage greater cooperation in its own terms by convening local and international conferences and other interfaith events to discuss the precepts for constructive and viable non-secular inroads into the implementation of the post-2015 SD agenda to be approved in Fall 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, starting with 2016 “World Interfaith Harmony Week”


Dr. Slavomir Redo is the Senior Programme Advisor to the Academic Council on the United Nations System. He is a visiting lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Vienna, and a professor of Criminology at Lazarski University in Warsaw, Poland. He worked in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and was involved in technical assistance activities and projects implementing the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice standards and norms. From 1980 to 2010, he was involved in preparations for the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice congresses, and took part in the related meetings of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and the General Assembly, including the implementation of their outcomes.

[i] World Commission on Culture and Development, “Our Creative Diversity,” UNESCO, Paris 1996, p. 14.

[ii] S. Redo, M. Platzer, “The United Nations’ Role in Crime Control and Prevention,” in J. Albanese, R. Reichel (eds.), Handbook of Transnational Crime and Justice, Los Angeles – London – New Delhi – Singapore – Washington, DC, 2013, pp. 292-294.

[iii] The United Nations Conference on International Organization. In: Documents of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, London-New York, vol. 1, p. 504.

[iv] UNFPA, Religion and Development Post-2015, United Nations, New York 2014, pp. vi, 11 and 17.

[v] Ibid., p. 3.

[vi] General Assembly resolution 67/187, United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems (Annex), 20 December 2012.

[vii] Ibid., para. 9 (Annex).

[viii] “The universal idea or concept, the universal feeling or emotion…given a local habitation and a name” (J. E. Walsh, Intercultural Education in the Community of Man, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 1973, p. 106).

[ix] International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Continental Shelf (ICJ Reports 1982, p. 60, para. 71).

[x] M. Bos, A Methodology of International Law, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1984, ch. 1.

[xi] P. Vibha (2005), “Faith, Equity and Development,” IDS. Accessed 25th February 2015, cited in the World Bank Development Report 2006, p. 76.

[xii] A/61/583, “Delivering as One,” Report of the High-level Panel on United Nations System-wide Conference in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment, 20 November 2006, para. 4.

[xiii] A/66/749, Delivering Justice as One: Programme of action to strengthen the rule of law at the national and international levels, 16 March 2012, para. 23.

[xiv] A/RES/67/1, Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels, 30 November 2012.

[xv] In that paragraph it speaks of “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the equal rights of all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and the fulfilment in good faith of the obligations assumed in accordance with the Charter.”

[xvi] A/68/970, Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals, 12 August 2014.

[xvii] D. Acemoglu, “The World Our Grandchildren will Inherit: The Rights Revolution and Beyond,” NBER Working Paper No. 17994 (April 2012),

[xviii] World Development Report 2006, Washington, D.C., 2005, pp. 76-88.

[xix] UNFPA, op. cit., p. xi.

[xx] Ibid., p. 30.

[xxi] This envisioning was inspired by the EJ contribution of Ms. Tamara Mitrofanenko to the forthcoming handbook by H. Kury, S. Redo, E. Shea (eds), “Women and Children as Victims and Offenders: Background – Prevention – Reintegration. Suggestions for Succeeding Generations,” Springer 2015.

[xxii] This presentation does not include benchmarks or indicators for measuring the work’s progress. This requires their separate consideration in light of the approach to be eventually agreed upon by Member States.