Don’t just seek to resolve war once it erupts, prevent it in the first place, says UN chief

Yemenis flee the capital Sana’a with their families and few possessions. Photo: Almigdad Mojalli/IRIN

1 February 2016 – Speaking in a region that is witnessing widespread turmoil – from Syria to Yemen – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Oman’s National Defence College today that preventing conflicts rather than resolving them once they have erupted is the surest path to stability.

“We draw on many tools to help societies navigate differences and achieve peace,” he said. “But we must do better. We know it is far better to prevent a fire than to fight a fire after it has started – yet prevention still does not receive the political attention, commitment and resources that it deserves,” he said.

“Conflict prevention and mediation for peaceful political solutions must move up the agenda. With record-shattering humanitarian needs across the world – including the largest refugee crisis in decades – we need to think differently,” he added, laying out a five-step programme within in the context of reducing the chances of another Syria, another Yemen.

First, to protect the space for prevention and mediation efforts, UN representatives need to be able to talk to a wide range of actors, including those that some Governments will not engage.

Second, The UN needs to be close to the ground to build trust and confidence and expand its network of regional centres of preventive diplomacy, which at present exist only in parts of Africa and in Central Asia.

“I hope to replicate this model elsewhere,” Mr. Ban stressed. “This also helps us form tighter partnerships with the regional organizations that have a frontline role in addressing the tensions and conflicts in their neighbourhood,” he explained.

Third, it is necessary to invest in the UN’s instruments for prevention, peace-making and peacebuilding by providing proper resourcing and support for the Political Affairs department, which is currently stretched thin.

Fourth, a system-wide approach to prevention is crucial, using all available tools – development, human rights and political – to address the root causes of conflict.

Experience has shown that short-sighted policies, heavy-handed approaches, a single-minded focus only on security measures and an utter disregard for human rights have often made things worse,” Mr. Ban said. “Preventing violent extremism means avoiding policies that turn people against each other, alienate already marginalized groups, and play into the hands of the enemy, he said.”

Finally, more must be done to involve women and young people, and ensure the inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups. “Societies that are inclusive tend to navigate social differences peacefully,” he declared. “Societies that empower women, practice tolerance and embrace diversity will promote stability and cohesion,” noted the Secretary-General.


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