The Halving Global Violence Task Force in the New Agenda for Peace
by Luisa Portugal, Program Officer, Pathfinders at the NYU Center on International Cooperation. Luisa is part of the Pathfinders’ Grand Challenge on Halving Global Violence, which seeks to accelerate delivery of peace-related SDG targets (SDG16.1).
Last month, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a policy brief outlining his vision for the New Agenda for Peace. The report has many convergence points with the vision and work of the Halving Global Violence (HGV) Task Force, a group of world leaders and experts committed to achieving the SDG16.1 peace targets and obtaining a 50 percent reduction in violence by 2030.
Since 2021, the HGV Task Force has been convening to leverage their knowledge, expertise, and networks to identify and disseminate evidence-based solutions to significantly reduce global violence. Their Flagship Report, slated to be published ahead of the Summit of the Future, will reverberate, and amplify a number of the topics touched on by this policy brief. In a time of increased challenges to peaceful societies, there are a few topics in particular that we believe to be pivotal to reaching the goals outlined in this document and championed by the Task Force. Below are three issues that will be at the core of our work from now until the launch of the New Agenda for Peace.
1. Address all forms of violence
As highlighted by the secretary-general in the 2030 Agenda, member states made a commitment to reduce all forms of violence. While conflict and war are undoubtedly issues deserving of the significant attention they receive from the international community, we cannot lose sight of the toll of interpersonal violence.
The last few years have seen an uptick in conflict-related violence. According to the 2023 Global Peace Index, the total number of conflict-related deaths increased by 96 percent last year, and 79 countries worldwide recorded higher levels of conflict than the year prior. Although it would be a mistake to reduce the toll of conflict only to deaths, it is relevant to note that these numbers are dwarfed when compared to the violence that happens in our streets and our homes. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of all violent deaths happen outside of conflict, and for each homicide, there are 1,300 more instances of physical assault. One third of ever-partnered women have been subjected to violence by an intimate partner, and one billion children experience violence every year.
When confronted with this reality, the HGV Task Force decided to focus its efforts on finding practical solutions to address these most common and pervasive forms of violence. Initiatives like the Pazos Strategy in Palmira, Colombia, have proven that a significant reduction in the levels of interpersonal and urban violence is possible. By recognizing where violence was concentrated, both in geographic and demographic terms, and offering opportunities to disentangle young men from illicit economies, they have obtained a 60 percent reduction in homicides in less than a decade.
The Task Force endorses the secretary-general’s call to address all forms of violence, and we share in his conviction that halving global violent deaths by 2030 is an achievable goal. However, member states and other actors will only start making true progress in curbing the violence that happens outside of conflict when they acknowledge the universality of violence and recognize that interpersonal violence is present even in countries otherwise considered peaceful. This is often a difficult conversation to have in United Nations (UN) settings, and we applaud the secretary-general for highlighting this issue.
2. Diversify actors in peacebuilding and violence reduction
Another noteworthy point of the policy brief, and one that seemed to resonate with many member states during the launch event for the policy brief, is the crucial role that new and diverse actors play in peacebuilding and violence reduction efforts. While the secretary-general acknowledges that member states have the primary responsibility to build peace, he calls for other actors to be welcomed in these conversations. The HGV Task Force itself is led by ministerial-level co-chairs, but relies on the expertise of members from civil society, mayors and local leaders, international organizations, and academia. We believe that this diversity of stakeholders is essential to the whole-of-society approach necessary to reduce violence and build sustainable peace for present and future generations.
For starters, mayors and local governments can play a crucial role in reducing violence. To that end, the HGV Task Force supports the Peace in Our Cities Network (PiOC), a unique global network of mayors, and international and locally-based partners, working to reduce the most serious forms of violence in their communities. The aforementioned city of Palmira is a PiOC member and an example of a mayor achieving great results to reduce violence in his city. Another example is Pacto pela Paz, an initiative of the city of Pelotas, Brazil, which has obtained a reduction of almost 90 percent of homicides in less than five years by taking a public health approach that balances socioeconomic services with law enforcement.
Regional organizations are similarly highlighted in the secretary-general’s brief as a critical actor. This is another finding confirmed by the HGV Task Force’s experience. Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the African Union High Representative for Silencing the Guns, has recently joined the HGV Task Force as a co-chair. As such, we have renewed our commitment to thinking of the role that regional organizations have in leading peacebuilding efforts. In addition to building trust among member states to prevent conflict, they are primed to create spaces for countries to share national experiences and collectively find solutions to address violence that happens at the national and sub-national level. Silencing the Guns, one of the key projects in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, is an example of an initiative that has the potential to create such spaces, but in order to be effective, member states must recognize the amplifying role that regional organizations can play in bringing peace to the continent.
Finally, the HGV Task Force is exploring the role of the private sector in this arena. From preventing sexual violence in the workplace to aiding in the record and tracing of sales of arms and ammunitions, private companies are in a unique position to support larger efforts to prevent interpersonal violence. On the flip side, there are also many areas in which they have had negative impacts on violence, from marketing gun ownership to young men to the role of private military and security. As such, the private sector needs to be part of these discussions, both for accountability and as a partner to explore resolutions. We commend initiatives such as Interpeace’s Finance for Peace (F4P), which are already working to rethink and amplify the role of the private sector in these efforts.
3. Focus on prevention
A final point that is worth highlighting is the secretary-general’s strong call in the New Agenda for Peace policy brief to make prevention a political priority. We stand in support of nationally-led prevention plans, which when properly crafted, are both evidence-based and sovereignty-enhancing. As a Task Force, we also understand the challenges in building political will towards prevention. It can be difficult to both quantify the violence that did not happen, as well as to fully understand the consequences of the violence that does occur. As such prevention efforts are very often overlooked and there is frequently a lack of political will to invest in this area.
To build a baseline of evidence for the need for prevention, and to understand the full impact of interpersonal violence on people’s daily lives of people, we are currently in the process of producing three national-level cost of violence studies, focusing specifically on the tangible and intangible costs of interpersonal violence in three very distinct national contexts: Costa Rica, South Africa, and Switzerland. As co-chairs of the HGV Task Force, these three countries are proving their commitment to leading on efforts to achieve the ambitious SDG 16.1. To reduce all forms of violence, it is imperative that member states are willing to understand the violence that happens within their own borders, both in terms of prevalence and root causes. Only then, they will have the tools needed to build the necessary will towards prevention and start making significant progress towards halving violence by 2030.