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SDG 16 - Through a digital lens

Our world is increasingly digital, interconnected, and reliant on technology, and as we journey further into the 21st century, the transformative potential of digitalization becomes ever more undeniable. It touches all aspects of life, altering how we communicate, conduct business, and govern our societies. In this ever-evolving landscape, it is imperative that we strive to harness the power of digitalization to create a more just, inclusive, and sustainable future for all.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a commitment to address the world's most pressing challenges. Our work at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) falls under the umbrella of SDG 16, which seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. In many ways, SDG 16 is the cornerstone for achieving a sustainable, equitable, and just world, as enhancing good governance, human rights, and justice is imperative for peace and development.  Consequently, in this digital era, achieving SDG 16 takes on a renewed and dynamic significance.

For many years now, UNICRI has explored the promise and pitfalls of traditional information communications and technology and, more recently, emerging technologies in the context of justice, security, and the rule of law. In fact, our 2023-2026 Strategic Programme Framework identifies promoting the responsible use of new and emerging technologies to address crime and exploitation as one of the Institute’s key priorities. In line with this, our Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in the Hague has been at the forefront of the discourse around the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the context of law enforcement, exploring how we define, institutionalize, and foster responsible AI innovation in policing.

This report, SDG 16 Through a Digital Lens, zooms out from UNICRI’s niches in justice, security, and the rule of law to explore broadly the intricate interplay between the trend toward digitalization and the pursuit of peace, justice, and strong institutions. It delves into the complexities, providing much needed analysis as we reach the half-way mark for the SDGs, and outlines a high-level vision for how we can ensure that digital transformation advances, rather than hinders, our progress towards SDG 16. As the title suggests, this report emphasizes that we must look at SDG 16 ‘through a digital lens’. Failure to consider both the digital enablers and barriers of progress will only result in the international community falling short of its commitments to the SDGs.

This report, however, is an initial contribution in terms of the research, analysis, and action needed on digitalization and SDG 16. We will continue to explore the digitalization aspects of our work at UNICRI through research and training, and we hope that this report also serves as a catalyst for others to do likewise.