23 September 2008

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the Security Council high-level debate on mediation and the settlement of disputes, today, in New York:

I congratulate the Republic of Burkina Faso for convening this important debate.

For the United Nations, there is no higher calling than the peaceful resolution of conflict.

The Organization has an extensive track record in helping parties to resolve their conflict peacefully.  The most well-known cases culminate in a comprehensive peace agreement, and are often implemented with the assistance of a United Nations peace operation.

Sometimes we are forced to deploy peacekeepers quickly to save lives, even before a peace is reached.  In these cases, robust mediation efforts are vital if we are to avoid further bloodshed and an indefinite commitment of peacekeepers.

There are countless other cases where quiet diplomacy has enabled the parties to step back from the brink of conflict before it erupts, thereby saving the country and the international community untold lives, troops and money.

Today, I would like to call upon the Council, and indeed all Member States, to invest up front in our mediation capacity, so that we can do more of this quiet diplomacy -- and less often cross that Rubicon to where vast suffering and huge peacekeeping expenditures become inevitable.

The United Nations does not claim a monopoly on the settlement of disputes.  Very often, we play a supporting role while regional actors take the lead, as in Kenya and Zimbabwe. 

Increasingly, our regional partners are asking us not only to support them in specific cases, but to help them build their own mediation capacity, which we are gladly doing. 

The Security Council plays a central role in mediating and settling disputes, as laid out in Articles 33 (2) and 36 of the Charter.  From experience, I believe that its most positive contributions come: 

First, when the Council is unified:  A successful outcome is most likely when the Council agrees on common principles for resolving the conflict.  Conversely, risk of failure is high when there is no common vision, or when Council members and other key Member States hold contradictory positions.

Second, when the Council is prepared to use its leverage:  The Council has had a positive impact on peace processes when it has used or been prepared to use its leverage.  Targeted sanctions greatly supported mediation efforts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola. 

Third, when the Council supports one clear lead mediator:  By authorizing the mediator with the best comparative strength for a particular situation or a particular phase of the process, the Council greatly enhances the chances of success.  While the mediator must consult all concerned parties, he or she must be fully supported by all partners.  Competing mediators only encourage forum shopping.

Fourth, when the Council gives the process space, if that is needed:  Once the Council has agreed upon a strategy, it is often important to allow the mediator space and time to work with the parties.  The Security Council, neighbouring countries, groups of friends and Member States must stand behind the mediator in support of a chosen strategy. 

My own Good Offices are always on offer to parties who wish to avail of an honest broker who can help them stay or get back on the sometimes difficult path to peace.

This role, which successive Secretaries-General have played in cases such as Iran-Iraq, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nigeria-Cameroon, and Afghanistan, is a critical tool for the international community in settling disputes.

Such good offices can be useful when intergovernmental bodies are deadlocked or the parties actively resist intergovernmental involvement.  In 1997, the East Timor question was resolved when Indonesia accepted the Secretary-General’s offer of Good Offices to mediate. 

Many peace processes have benefited from the ability of the Secretary-General to speak to all relevant parties, even when no other actor was willing or able to take such initiatives.

Often, these efforts appear neither on the Council’s agenda nor in the press.  They are undertaken discreetly by my envoys or United Nations staff.

This low visibility is often key to success, but it comes at a price for the Organization.  Very often, we struggle to convey to a skeptical world the breadth and depth of our efforts.

Pursuant to the 2005 World Summit decision, a small Mediation Support Unit (MSU) has been established in the Department of Political Affairs to provide operational support to peace processes and be a repository of knowledge for mediators.

In 2008, MSU created a Standby Team of Mediation Experts that can be deployed anywhere in the world in a matter of days.  In the first half of 2008, MSU provided support to some 15 peace processes.  It is also supporting the South African Development Community (SADC), and ECCAS –- the Economic Community for Central African States, and the African Union, to strengthen their mediation capacity.

However, funding for MSU in the regular budget is meagre, and MSU has no funds for programme activities.  Without prejudicing the role of the General Assembly in deciding budgetary matters, I urge the Council to ensure that mediation efforts have the requisite resources.

Past experience suggests that an effective and coordinated mediation effort throughout the conflict cycle is necessary for effective peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

It is thus critical that the [Security Council] provide the same support to enhance the structures, processes, tools and resources required for mediation as it does for peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities.

I am grateful for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you, and look forward to working closely with all of you in this important endeavour.

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For information media • not an official record