The United Nations should explore greater use of conflict prevention and mediation tools enshrined in its founding Charter, speakers told the Security Council today, as it examined the Organization’s long-standing culture of spending billions of dollars on addressing crises after failing to contain them before they fester.
“When we act early, and are united, we can successfully prevent crises from escalating, saving lives and reducing suffering – fulfilling the most fundamental mandate of the United Nations, as set out in the Preamble to the Charter,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
Along with successful constitutional transfers of power in Mali and Madagascar, the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the revitalized agreement in South Sudan have created a sense of renewed hope, he said. Elsewhere, however, such as Yemen, Syria and Libya, serious challenges remain. Governments must make full use of the broad range of conflict prevention and resolution tools set out in Chapter VI of the Charter and the Council should use its authority to call on parties to pursue them.
Citing examples of his good offices and those of his envoys to help parties peacefully resolve differences, he said members of his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation have given discreet counsel to him and his representatives on various political processes. Mediation advisers on the Standby Team have supported processes in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Papua New Guinea and Syria. The United Nations has also deepened its strategic and operational partnerships with regional and subregional organizations, with a special focus on Africa. However, prevention and mediation will not work without broader, more unified political efforts by all States. “That is the only way to meet our responsibilities to the people we serve,” he emphasized.
Mr. Guterres’ predecessor, Ban Ki-Moon, who is now Deputy Chair of The Elders – a group founded by Nelson Mandela of independent global leaders that promotes peace, justice and human rights – warned that the risk of nuclear conflict is at its highest in decades. Deeply concerned about the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal, he said there is a very real risk that the global arms control and nuclear non-proliferation architecture is in danger of collapse through neglect, hubris and ill-founded threat analysis. That issue goes to the heart of the Council, whose five permanent members are all nuclear armed States with a unique and heavy responsibility.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Chair of The Elders, said the Council should be seen as an instrument of deliverance, a defender of rights and a provider of protection. “But too often over the decades the Council – and, particularly, its five permanent members – has failed to live up to its responsibilities and has favoured realpolitik or short-term power stratagems rather than meeting the solemn commitments outlined in the United Nations Charter,” she said. Moreover, insufficient attention has been paid to the role and voice of women on the ground in preventing conflict.
Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait and Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said conflicts today are increasingly complex and intertwined, but they could have been prevented through effective use of such Council tools as Chapter VI, which reaffirms the Council’s preventative role, and Chapter VIII, which encourages the peaceful resolution of local conflicts through regional mechanisms, as well as Article 99 which refers to the Secretary-General’s good offices. Mediation can save a lot of trouble, sorrow and pain, as well as the billions of dollars spent on peacekeeping operations and humanitarian action.
The representative of the United States, supporting that view, said mediation is an “underappreciated tool” that can save billions of dollars and many lives. More women should participate, he said, pointing to a study that showed peace agreements are 35 per cent more likely to last for 15 years when women are involved. His own country has been a leader in mediation efforts, he said, citing successes in Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Indonesia’s delegate said the Organization should focus on helping national and regional efforts to peacefully settle disputes, noting that his country and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have relied fundamentally on dialogue and consultation. Regional entities enjoy unique bonds of history and knowledge, he said, adding that “neighbours know best” and urging the Council to engage such entities from the earliest signs of potential conflict. Greater funding and more reliable support from the United Nations regular budget should underpin prevention and mediation efforts.
France’s delegate said that greater investment is also needed in post-conflict peacebuilding, including reconciliation, transitional justice and reconstruction to prevent conflict from reoccurring.
The speaker for the Russian Federation warned that conflict prevention is not a panacea and should not be used as a shield for interfering in States’ internal affairs. The situations in Iraq, Libya and Syria are examples of the consequences of shameless outside intervention, he said, adding that the most successful mediation in Venezuela is being conducted by States that are not taking sides there. United Nations mediators should be selected on the basis of objective criteria and with respect for regional balance, he stressed.
Also speaking today were representatives of China, United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Germany, South Africa, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire and Belgium.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said conflict prevention and mediation are vital to reduce human suffering. “When we act early, and are united, we can successfully prevent crises from escalating, saving lives and reducing suffering – fulfilling the most fundamental mandate of the United Nations, as set out in the Preamble to the Charter,” he said. Along with successful constitutional transfers of power in Mali and Madagascar, the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the revitalized agreement in South Sudan have created a sense of renewed hope. Elsewhere, however, serious challenges remain. The Stockholm agreement by the parties to the conflict in Yemen was an important step that must now move to a negotiated settlement. His Special Envoy for the country is working extensively with the parties to support the agreement’s implementation and prevent a return to open conflict. In the Central African Republic, the United Nations is helping the parties to implement the African Union-mediated peace agreement, and in Burkina Faso, it is working with a wide range of national stakeholders to strengthen local infrastructures for peace as part of the response to rising sectarian violence.
Warning against a resurgence of populism and policies that contribute to resentment, marginalization and extremism, even in societies that are not at war, he also cautioned against attempts in some countries to roll back human rights and progress over recent decades on gender and inclusion. Space for civil society is also shrinking. His Special Representative in Libya has detailed the heavy toll in human lives due to armed clashes and fighting there and the lack of “moral motivation” to end the war. The continuing crisis in Venezuela, and its humanitarian impact, are a grave concern. In Syria, cycles of instability, violence and suffering are ongoing. He urged Governments to make full use of the broad range of conflict prevention and resolution tools set out in Chapter VI of the Charter and the Council to use its authority to call on parties to pursue them.
Citing examples of his good offices and those of his envoys to help parties peacefully resolve differences, he said members of his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation have given discreet counsel to him and his representatives on various political processes. Mediation advisers on the Standby Team have supported processes in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Papua New Guinea and Syria. The United Nations has also deepened its strategic and operational partnerships with regional and subregional organizations, with a special focus on Africa. The United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia is working to resolve transboundary issues and implement the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
As progress on women’s participation in formal peace processes is still lagging, creative strategies are still needed to advance women’s participation, building on previous efforts, including the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board and the Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group, he said. Regional women mediators’ networks, like the African Union’s FemWise-Africa network, are an important development and his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation is available to support their efforts. Turning to the role of youth in mediation and peacebuilding, he said some 600 million young people living in fragile and conflict-affected States have a vital contribution to make. The first International Symposium for Youth Participation in Peace Processes earlier this year was an important step forward. Independent actors and non-governmental organizations, including The Elders, are a critical complementary element to the United Nations efforts.
Noting that the human and financial costs of conflict are high and rising, forced displacement is at the highest levels since the Second World War, and hunger is resurgent after years of decline, he said that “we cannot afford to reduce the energy and resources we invest in prevention and mediation”. However, prevention and mediation will not work without broader political efforts, he stressed, urging Council members, and all Member States, to strive for greater unity so that prevention and mediation efforts are as effective as possible. “That is the only way to meet our responsibilities to the people we serve,” he concluded.
MARY ROBINSON, Chair of The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela of independent global leaders that promotes peace, justice and human rights, said that the Security Council should be viewed as an instrument of deliverance, a defender of rights and a provider of protection. “But too often over the decades the Council – and, particularly, its five permanent members – has failed to live up to its responsibilities and has favoured realpolitik or short-term power stratagems rather than meeting the solemn commitments outlined in the United Nations Charter,” she said. Prevention is by far the most effective way to deal with conflicts. But this should not be narrowly viewed in terms of securing immediate security and stability, or distorted to justify deals with unscrupulous leaders who pay lip-service to peace and mediation as a way to retain power without ever taking the necessary steps to address the root causes of conflict and division. Insufficient attention has been paid to the role and voice of women on the ground in terms of conflict prevention.
“Together with nuclear weapons, there is no greater existential threat to our planet than climate change,” she warned, saying that the United Nations has shown commendable leadership, brokering the Paris Agreement in 2015 and ensuring that climate is an integral element of the Sustainable Development Goals. She expressed support for the creation of an institutional focal point, in the form of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General, to pull together expertise on climate change from across and beyond the Organization to help the Council assess the diverse, complex and shifting impact of climate change on conflicts. Drawing attention to the impact of technology, including artificial intelligence and automation, she stressed the role of young people in preventing conflict. Youth unemployment in the Middle East and Africa has been a driver of social unrest. Social media has been used as a tool to enable violent extremism. There is an urgent need to develop global norms and rules around cyber conflict prevention, as there is no international mechanism to regulate offensive cyberthreats. Both States and non-State actors are able to operate with a large degree of impunity. The Council is uniquely placed to lead the efforts to find a progressive, inclusive consensus, she stressed.
BAN KI-MOON, Deputy Chair of The Elders, said that when the Council speaks with a common voice, its decisions can have a decisive impact. Such a strong common voice is needed more than ever, given the deceptive allure of populism and isolationism that is growing across all continents. It is perhaps understandable that many people feel overwhelmed and seek solace in simplified narratives of a bygone golden age, but what is most irresponsible is for politicians to collude in or deliberately stoke such illusions for their own aims, in full knowledge that no one country can meet global challenges alone. It is, therefore, essential that Member States, especially permanent Council members, fulfil their responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations and act in the service of all humanity, rather than national, ideological or sectarian interests.
“This Council needs to be bold and asset its collective voice to meet common challenges,” he said, adding that, in The Elders’ view, the Council should improve its working methods to encourage joint common positions to address conflicts in their early stages. Elaborating, he said it should explore ways to be more efficient and effective, and to asset its collective voice through statements that reflect consensus. It is unrealistic and illogical when binding resolutions require only nine affirmative votes and no vetoes, he said, stating that the Council must speak for and to the entire United Nations and not be constrained by the respective agendas and priorities of Member States.
Speaking on the importance of conflict prevention, he said Council members should do more to support the Secretary-General in using his good offices. They should also recognize that the Council’s work is undermined when its members undermine the United Nations’ own peace envoys and peace processes. “The human cost of these machinations are all too painful to see,” he said, citing Libya and Yemen as two grim examples. Underscoring the essential role of strong regional institutions, such as the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), he said the lack of dialogue between States and the absence of inclusive forums for dialogue is one reason that conflict persists in the Middle East. He commended Kuwait for its commitment to the values underpinning the Gulf Cooperation Council and urged other members of the organization to act in the same spirit to restore its vital role as a guarantor of regional stability.
Warning that the risk of nuclear conflict is at its highest in decades, he said, regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, that he is deeply concerned by the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That decision not only weakens regional stability in the Middle East, but also sends the wrong signal to ongoing negotiations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He added that there is a very real risk that the global arms control and nuclear non-proliferation architecture is in danger of collapse through neglect, hubris and ill-founded threat analysis. That issue goes to the heart of the Council, whose five permanent members are all nuclear armed States with a unique and heavy responsibility vis-à-vis non-proliferation and disarmament. Their failure to make progress under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons risks undermining that instrument, he said. “It is in the interests of the P5 to get serious about disarmament if they wish to maintain the near-universal international commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation, particularly in the lead-up to next year’s NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Review Conference,” he said, adding that the consequences of failure do not bear contemplation.
SABAH KHALED AL-HAMAD AL-SABAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said conflicts today are increasingly complex and intertwined, but they could have been prevented had tools available to the Council been used effectively. The United Nations Charter contains many such tools, he said, pointing to Chapter VI, which reaffirms the Council’s preventative role, and Chapter VIII, which encourages the peaceful resolution of local conflicts through regional mechanisms, as well as Article 99 which refers to the Secretary-General’s good offices. Noting that the Council will hold a meeting on Thursday on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States, he said the use of mediation to prevent conflict can save a lot of trouble, sorrow and pain, as well as the billions of dollars spent on peacekeeping operations and humanitarian action. Mediation efforts must be swift, comprehensive, and deal with root causes, he said, adding that they must adopt a neutral and clear approach, away from private agendas. He went on to say that nothing prevents the Council from adopting innovative approaches, such as sending small Council delegations to conflict zones. How many crises could have been prevented by the Council had it used the Charter tools at its disposal, and how many human lives and resources could have been saved if Council members had put aside political calculations and narrow interests, he asked. Successful use of those tools depend on Council unity, but often the Council has failed to reach consensus due to the use of the veto on such issues as the Palestinian question and the Syrian crisis. Council unity, especially among its permanent members, is very important, he said, emphasizing that “international challenges require international solutions”.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that since assuming his post five years ago as his country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York he has wondered how the United Nations can better prevent conflict. The Organization’s efforts are bearing fruit in some places. It helped avoid a political crisis in Madagascar and its peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic played a vital role in the African Union-facilitated peace agreement. Underscoring the importance of regional dialogue, he expressed support for the Organization’s good offices through the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives and Envoys in Syria, Yemen and other places. The need for mediation is enormous in Africa, particularly in Sudan, Burkina Faso and Cameroon. He also called for greater women’s participation in preventive diplomacy and more women mediators, as well as greater investment in post-conflict peacebuilding, including reconciliation, transitional justice and reconstruction to prevent conflict from reoccurring.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that with conflict and disasters having recently affected millions of people in more than 42 countries, discussions are often focused on how to use the Council to resolve crises through measures such as setting up peacekeeping missions. The Council rarely discusses how to prevent conflict in the first place. His country has been a leader in mediation efforts, he said, citing successes the United States helped to create in Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mediation can only be successful when the right stakeholders are represented, he said, stressing the need for greater participation of women, who can make peace agreements more durable. According to a study, peace agreements are 35 per cent more likely to last for 15 years when women are involved. Mediation can be used to address unresolved issues between South Sudan and Sudan. It is an underappreciated tool that can save billions of dollars and many lives.
MA ZHAOXU (China), expressing support for multilateralism, said that prevention is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Conflict prevention requires measures to tackle the root causes of conflict, including poverty and inequality. Reducing poverty is a way to prevent conflict, he said, stressing the need for countries to make development a priority and enhance their capacity to reduce poverty. All countries must mutually respect the principles of the United Nations Charter, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-aggression and non-intervention. Conflict prevention requires synergy of efforts and international cooperation. The United Nations is the most representative body and regional organizations are uniquely positioned to play a vital role.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said mediation, if properly deployed and executed, can and does work, but it must be one element of a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy. The importance of mediation is a question that unites all Council members, he said, saluting the work of special representatives and special envoys and agreeing with Mr. Ban on the importance of standing behind United Nations mediators when the going gets tough. He also praised the role of regional and subregional organizations and expressed his country’s strong support for ongoing African Union efforts in Sudan. Underscoring the United Kingdom’s financial support for the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’ mediation capacity, he called for more progress with regard to women’s participation in peace processes and highlighted the role of the Commonwealth Women’s Mediation Network. The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Cameroon is an example of a development crisis where there is scope for quick action by the United Nations and regional and subregional bodies to encourage and support a credible political dialogue. Describing climate change as a growing driver of instability, he said the United Kingdom announced today its intention to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that despite the best prevention efforts, all regions of the world seem to be on the brink of conflict, endangering international peace and security. That raises the question of what the Council can do to be more effective. In that regard, the role of the United Nations is beyond question, he said, urging Council members to innovate and develop effective mechanisms for mediation. That will require unity and fraternity, with positions that make human dignity a common goal. Cataloguing the tools at the Council’s disposal, he said it must, through the Secretary-General, strengthen cooperation with different actors. Early warning is essential, alongside the replication of successful efforts in such places as Burkina Faso and Colombia. Involving women and young people is another challenge, he said, suggesting the Latin American and Caribbean region should consider establishing a women’s mediation network like the ones in Africa and the Mediterranean.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said the Organization’s focus should be on helping national and region-led efforts to prevent and mediate conflict. Emphasizing that dialogue, mediation and prevention must be based on international law and justice, he warned that the Council cannot pursue technical elements of peacemaking on one hand while the other hand remains impeded by the narrow national interests of some members. He underlined the importance of building stronger partnerships with regional and subregional organizations, noting that Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have relied fundamentally on peaceful dispute settlement through dialogue and consultation. Regional entities enjoy unique bonds of history and knowledge, he said, adding that “neighbours know best” and urging the Council to engage regional entities from the earliest signs of potential conflict. Among other things, he also stressed that the roots of conflict should be more meaningfully addressed and that prevention and mediation should be underpinned by a significant funding increase and more reliable support from the United Nations regular budget.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding must be viewed as a continuum, with mediation helping to create entry points for dialogue. Noting the crucial role that human rights can play in identifying grievances which can lead to conflict, he said human rights standards must not only be used for naming and for shaming, but also as a framework for finding solutions. On the role of the Council, he said it should aim more often for early action, and that mediation should be included when a United Nations presence shifts from peacekeeping to peacebuilding. More time and effort should be invested in the role of police officers in peacekeeping operations. He went on to say that peace processes cannot be sustainable if they only involve those who hold power or who hold guns. The most successful peace processes are the ones that are supported by the population, with a buy-in by all groups.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said that resolving disputes and assisting in the implementation of peace accords should be the hallmark of the United Nations approach to resolving conflict. Before considering the use of force under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Council must consider a peaceful political solution to conflict. Settling disputes through these means has the added advantage of helping parties to a conflict recognize and address its root causes. Underscoring the importance of regional cooperation, he noted the African Union’s role in helping prevent, manage and resolve conflicts. The recent operationalization of the African Union Peace Fund seeks to boost the Union’s capacities and efforts in mediation and conflict prevention. The Fund is structured around three thematic windows: mediation and preventive diplomacy, institutional capacity and peace support operations. He further underscored the role of women and young people in peacebuilding and mediation. “It is common knowledge that where women are involved in peace processes such processes are more sustainable and effective,” he added, urging the Council to support the development of female mediators, particularly those from countries and regions affected by conflict.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), commending the contributions made by The Elders in conflict prevention, said the purposes and principles of the United Nations, such as peaceful settlements of disputes, have not changed. Highlighting the important role of United Nations political offices in many regions, he noted the need for greater synergy with regional and subregional organizations, as well as development organizations. Welcoming the establishment of the High-level Advisory Board on Mediation, he said its members’ contributions can feed into the work of the Council and regional organizations. There is no greater preventive measure than building an open and inclusive society, where such new actors as women and young people are empowered.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) stressed the importance of multilateralism in preventing conflict, expressing her delegation’s support for the Secretary-General’s preventative diplomacy. The United Nations must move away from the culture of reaction to that of prevention, she said, urging all countries to adhere to the doctrine of prevention. Chapter VI of the Charter offers all the requisite tools, including mediation, to resolve disputes. Stressing the need for broad and close cooperation between the Council and other organs, she said synergy makes the work more efficient and transparent. She called for greater participation of women in peace operations, urging countries contributing police and troop contingents to dispatch more women.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) stressed that the Council must be ready to do more and act earlier in preventing and resolving conflicts. Sustainable agreements require the involvement of all parts of society from the most local actors to the highest-ranking officials. Women and young people must be involved in the early stages “to make a real change on the ground and give ownership of the process to those who will eventually implement it”. Regional organizations, individual Member States and non-governmental organizations all have important contributions to make. “We are not alone in thinking that the United Nations should further strengthen partnerships to ensure greater coordination and consistency of the mediation activities of various actors,” she added. Often, women-led prevention initiatives have helped to prevent and mitigate the escalation of violence by engaging in constructive dialogue and peace advocacy. The United Nations already has the right tools to advance mediation, she said, acknowledging the work of various mechanisms, including the Mediation Support Unit and Standby Team of Senior Mediation Advisers.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), emphasizing that the international community must move from conflict management to conflict prevention, said Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter contains a panoply of tools, but greater effectiveness requires a strong national and regional commitment. States bear the primary responsibility for creating the conditions for sustaining peace. He described his country’s post-crisis experience, with the Government putting together a national peacebuilding strategy that included the establishment of a Ministry for Solidarity, Social Cohesion and the Fight against Poverty and a centre for the coordination of early warning and rapid response mechanisms. He emphasized the role of regional economic communities, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in responding to situations in Mali and Gambia. Regional and subregional strategies would be more effective with support from the United Nations in line with Chapter VIII of the Charter, he added.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that from the Council’s experience, it is clear that each situation has its own unique set of factors, and, therefore, there is no universal formula for conflict resolution. Using a set template is not possible, he said, adding that any international assistance requires consent from the parties to a dispute. Such assistance must also be impartial, with no preconditions, double standards or political games aimed at overthrowing legitimate authorities. The situations in Iraq, Libya and Syria are examples of the consequences of shameless outside intervention, but some are refusing to draw lessons from experience, he said, adding that the most successful mediation in Venezuela is being conducted by States that are not taking sides there. While the Secretary-General’s good offices are in demand, United Nations mediators should be selected on the basis of objective criteria and with respect for regional balance. He added that there is great potential for the United Nations to develop partnerships with regional organizations in Central Asia. He went on to warn that conflict prevent is not a panacea and should not be a shield for interference in the internal affairs of States. Many world problems could have been avoided if some Council colleagues did not undermine the authority of the United Nations with unilateral coercive measures. The Organization’s work in conflict prevention would be more effective without such short-sighted behaviour.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said human rights violations, restrictions on political discourse, increasingly rare natural resources, natural disasters and climate change are all indicators of tension that can degenerate into conflict. Such indicators must be the basis for the Council’s action, he said, stressing the need for an exchange of information with the Secretariat, including information from the Organization’s human rights and development pillars. Early response and mediation can take place outside the United Nations system, as seen in Venezuela and Cameroon, but if necessary the Council can put out signals that can generate political will, so long as it is alerted well in advance of developments. Information shared with the Council would be more useful if it includes the regional dimension, he added. Belgium sees value in more frequent Council meetings with the heads of United Nations regional offices, which are ideal vehicles for cooperation with regional and subregional organizations. Supporting the Secretary-General’s efforts to increase mediation capacities in peacekeeping missions, he stressed the importance of an integrated approach that includes engagement with communities, including local authorities and traditional leaders. National ownership of mediation and prevention processes increase the chances of success, even more so when women are on board, he said.
* The 8544th and 8545th Meetings were closed.