UN political missions: Addressing the roots of conflict


So often at the root of armed conflicts around the world are political issues requiring political solutions.Guided by that principle,UN political missions were present in nearly a dozen countries during 2006, making important contributions to conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding.


Political missions occupy an important place, therefore, in a spectrum of UN peace operations that also encompasses its well-known peacekeeping operations. Some work with mandates to help prevent and contain tensions within societies before they lead to violent conflict. In other cases conflicts are already underway, and the role of the UN mission is to foster dialogue and compromise between rival parties. Still other missions are active in the peacebuilding phase, lending UN support to national programmes of political and institutional reform that will be critical to ensure enduring peace.


Though each situation is unique, political missions are distinguished by their largely civilian character, and frequently include mandates to employ the “good offices”of the Secretary-General towards bridging political differences that underlie conflict. A focus on governance is another common denominator, given the acknowledged importance of inclusive political systems and democratic institutions for preventing conflict – or avoiding its recurrence.


With important current exceptions in Afghanistan, Timor-Leste and Sierra Leone, most UN political missions today are overseen and supported by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the lead UN department for peacemaking and preventive diplomacy.


With the support of Member States, DPA took important strides forward in 2006 in outfitting itself to better support the work of political missions, as well as other diplomatic envoys of the Secretary- General, based in the field.The year saw the establishment within DPA, for example, of a new Mediation Support Capacity created to strengthen the good offices functions of the Secretary-General. DPA also launched a new and comprehensive public website on peacemaking, www.un.org/peacemaker, which places an array of peacemaking tools, information and advice at the service of peace envoys and their staff.


The strategic presence of UN political missions around the globe and the wide range of situations covered by their activities are illustrated in many articles of this magazine. In Africa alone, political missions were active in several conflict-prone areas, working to encourage regional peace strategies in West Africa and the Great Lakes Region; and to accompany the peacebuilding process in countries such as Guinea-Bissau.


The United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), deployed in the aftermath of a crippling civil war in the late- 1990s, has continued its effort to help the West African nation cast off a legacy of violent conflict and establish a stable civilian democracy.


Among its activities during the past year, the United Nations Office in West Africa (UNOWA), based in Dakar, Senegal, continued its support to the resolution of the long-standing border conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon.An important step forward was taken in August of 2006 with the long-awaited withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the disputed Bakassi peninsula.


The work of the Office of the Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region culminated in December of 2006 at the Second Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. Leaders from 11 countries signed a Pact on Security, Stability and Development,which has received praise for its potential to help bring lasting peace to a region that has seen some of the world’s bloodiest wars.



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Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

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