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Support, Activism of Faith-Based Entities Essential to Achieving Sustainable Development Goals, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Act Alliance Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the ACT Alliance General Assembly, in Uppsala, Sweden, today:

I am pleased to join you today, and I thank the organizers for inviting me to take part in this third General Assembly of the ACT Alliance.

Three years ago, the international community agreed the transformational and universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Considered an agenda of the people, by the people and for the people, the 2030 Agenda was developed by what is often considered the largest consultation process carried out by the United Nations.

The 2030 Agenda rests upon the integration of three interdependent and complementary pillars:  economic development, social development and environmental protection — with human rights at its core.  At its core is the prosperity, dignity and well-being of people, with the promise to leave no one behind and to reach those furthest behind first.  This is how we will prevent conflicts, avert humanitarian crises and tackle challenges, such as the migration of people who feel compelled to leave their homes because of persecution, crime, environmental degradation or lack of opportunity.

Faith organizations and their leaders have long played a critical role in addressing the needs of those left behind.  I wish to acknowledge the dedication and contributions of faith-based organizations, such as the ACT Alliance, to issues very close to my heart — social justice, human rights and sustainable development.  And I would like to commend and thank you for the important role faith-based organizations played in the formulation of the 2030 Agenda.

For example, as part of the most widespread consultation process conducted by the United Nations, the Baha’i community noted on its website in 2015 that “to craft a development agenda that is ‘accepted by all countries’ and ‘applicable to all countries’ is to acknowledge the interdependence and fundamental oneness of the human race”.  The continued support and activism of faith-based organizations will be essential as we forge ahead in our quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all people.

Today’s development challenges are complex and greater than any one Government or organization can solve.  Multilateralism is under siege and the human rights agenda is losing traction.  Our global village is strained by intolerance, discrimination and the rise of populist nationalist politics.  More than 700 million people — or 10 per cent of the global population — still live in extreme poverty.  The situation is worst in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but no region is immune.  See, for example, the plight of many indigenous peoples living in the United States and Canada, some of whom still live without electricity and piped drinkable water.

More than 800 million people live with hunger, which is on the rise due to climate change, conflict and economic volatility.

Imagine the pain of parents whose child is crying from hunger, knowing they can do nothing.  Hundreds of millions more lack access to safe water and dignified sanitation, or adequate housing, health care, education and employment opportunities.  In many instances, the burden of deprivation is disproportionately borne by women and girls or marginalized social groups — including youth, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants.

These are people who are being left behind for whom the SDGs are — or should be — a beacon of hope.  So, when we speak of “putting people first”, we must especially consider how the promise of the SDGs can be made real for these marginalized groups.  For, as the Bible says, we should “love our neighbour as ourself”.  We also learn from the Book of Proverbs that “whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God”.  These precepts are a guide for people of all faiths and underpin the SDGs.

The way to keep the SDG promise is through partnerships.  That is the objective of SDG 17.  It calls for strengthened collaboration among national Governments, the international community, civil society, the private sector and other actors.  While Governments must create an enabling environment and lead in the formulation of inclusive development policies, transformation requires the efforts of all stakeholders, with inclusion as a guide.

We must harness the unique capabilities of a wide range of actors, from all parts of society, through innovative, multisectoral and multithematic partnerships to achieve the SDGs.  And we must create the space to leverage these partnerships.  Faith-based organizations have a critical role to play.  Your core values are largely in line with the 2030 Agenda.  This is true whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslim or any other major faith.

Your efforts have earned you the trust of the communities you serve, and you are often directly engaged with those left furthest behind.  You are well placed to carry innovations and lessons learned across communities and national borders.  The United Nations recognizes — and benefits from — the reach of faith-based organizations.  The Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes, launched last year by the Secretary-General, is one example of how the United Nations and faith-based groups can work together.  And the members of the United Nations Task Force on Religion and Development and other United Nations entities work with hundreds of faith-based partners in carrying out work at national, regional and global levels.

So, I am grateful to the ACT Alliance for making the SDGs a focus and inspiration for your activities.  As an organization working in more than 100 countries, you have a broad reach into communities around the world and a tremendous ability to help bring the SDGs to life.  Indeed, your members are actively contributing to the achievement of each of the 17 Goals through advocacy, development interventions and humanitarian assistance.  I particularly commend ACT members for your deep engagement on SDG 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  I urge you to continue to scale up your work on the SDGs for the benefit of all.

We share a common objective — a future of dignity, prosperity and peace on a healthy planet.  To reach this end, we must deliver for the people we serve, stay true to our ambitious global goals, and make good on our collective pledge to leave no one behind.  Let us continue to work together and let us deepen our partnership.  The challenges are vast, but so are the opportunities — especially when we work together in common cause to make the SDGs a reality for all people everywhere.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.