Analysis of the UN concept ‘leave no one behind’

‘Leave no one behind’ in the context of the United Nations’ (UN) humanitarianism poses a noble ideal yet a challenging practice, writes Salla Turunen, Doctoral Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI).

The term ‘leave no one behind’ is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by UN member states in 2015, and the phrase is often used in the humanitarian realm. Turunen explores this concept in two recently published CMI working papers.

In the first publication, “Conceptualising ‘Leave No One Behind‘”, Turunen examines how this term is conceptualised and the political dimensions that lie behind it. It is argued that the objective of leaving no one behind seems unattainable in contexts where humanitarian needs are overwhelming and humanitarian actors have limited resources and access, and that instead of aiming to ‘leave no one behind’, the issue, rather, is who to leave behind and on what grounds.

In a subsequent working paper, “Gains of the Unfeasible: Manifestations of ‘Leave No one Behind’ in the United Nations’ Humanitarianism“, Turunen asks if the concept is not a feasible aim, what then does it provide? Here Turunen concludes that the concept of ‘leave no one behind’ presents gains for humanitarian action in terms of political and economic support, even though it lacks operational potential for universal implementation.

These publications are part of the project “Humanitarian Diplomacy: Assessing Policies, Practices and Impact of New Forms of Humanitarian Action and Foreign Policy” funded by the Research Council of Norway and led by Antonio De Lauri (Research Professor, CMI).