DESA Expert Group Meeting on Conflict Prevention, Peacebuilding and Development on 15 November 2004

The DESA Task Force organized a one day Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Conflict Prevention, Peacebuilding and Development on 15 November 2004 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The EGM was Chaired by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and attended by a cross-section of experts, from the United Nations, academia, practitioners, and IFI's.

EGM photoThe EGM examined the current approaches of different UN entities in the integration of development with conflict prevention and peace-building and in that light considered how DESA could contribute to these efforts while keeping in mind, its own comparative advantages and strengths in the area. In specific terms, the EGM was expected to contribute to the following:

  • Development of a clearly defined framework/approach to consolidate and deepen the on-going activities of DESA in the area and to give a clear direction for its future work;
  • Promotion of intra-departmental coherence, coordination and common approach to the issue;
  • Development of mechanisms to strengthen institutional linkages with other organizations and departments working in this area;
  • Identification of specific initiatives and/or approaches on which DESA could focus on in order to deepen its work and contribution in this field.

Based on DESA's expertise, strengths and the institutional challenges that it faces, the following thematic areas were chosen by the Task Force for discussions in five sessions of the Expert Group Meeting:

  • Structural causes of conflict and the role of sustainable development: conflict prevention and peace-building perspectives (a) socio- economic development policies and conflict prevention;
  • Structural causes of conflict and the role of sustainable development: conflict prevention and peace-building perspectives (b) natural resource governance and conflict prevention;
  • Socio-economic and institutional challenges of post-conflict peace-building and development: a long term perspective
  • Partnerships and civil society: roles and capabilities in conflict prevention and peace-building
  • Institutional approaches and mechanisms for conflict prevention, peace-building and development

EGM photoOpening the deliberations, Under Secretary-General, Mr. José Antonio Ocampo remarked that while DESA was actively involved in issues of conflict prevention, peacebuilding and development, these efforts were as yet fragmented and disparate. There is an urgent need for a strategic framework to deal with the issues in a coherent manner within DESA and to contribute more effectively to other UN Departments. The task of the EGM was to reflect upon how to build such a DESA Framework as part of a broader UN framework for integrating peace with development.

The EGM identified several policy challenges and issues.
Firstly, the interrelationship between underdevelopment and eruption of violent conflicts is fairly complex and requires multidimensional analysis and approaches. DESA is well positioned to contribute to the understanding of the socio-economic causes of conflict.
Secondly, while efforts at the national level are important, there is a widely recognized need to develop sub-regional, regional and global approaches. Related to this, the evolution of a more conducive global policy framework to enable better integration of conflict-prone and countries emerging from conflict in the global economy is crucial. Thirdly, systemic causes of conflict should be addressed in a more comprehensive manner and policy actions should seek to attain equality of outcomes and be responsive to grievances.
Fourthly, translating the conceptual side of conflict prevention and peacebuilding into operational priority is a challenge for DESA.
Fifthly, the trend of privatization of conflicts, including the business sector involving itself in conflict issues, needs to be arrested and reversed including by engaging the business sector, within the existing conflict prevention fora.
Finally, given the complexity and multi-dimensionality of the inter-face between security and development issues, integration and coordination within the UN system and with outside actors should be pursued effectively through flexible means rather than through rigid structures

The deliberations clearly brought out that various aspects of conflict prevention were very closely interrelated requiring them to be addressed in a holistic manner and through an integrated approach based on a long-term perspective. Structural causes cannot be addressed without a long-term strategy for both pre-conflict and post-conflict peacebuilding and development. Likewise, issues such as: governance; social cohesion; management of natural resources; involvement of the business sector; engagement of the CSOs; and coordination within the UN system, are integral to conflict prevention and their resolution. Together, they provide a tool box to prevent societies from falling prey to conflicts, as well as in assisting countries that emerge from conflicts.

By all standards, the EGM was innovative and inclusive. It was the first attempt by DESA to bring together UN Departments, think tanks, and BWI's to exchange views on how to strengthen and systematize the integration of development with conflict prevention and peace-building. It was also an exercise in which every Division of DESA participated, serving to mainstream conflict prevention and peacebuilding within DESA's own work. Participants were unanimous in positively acknowledging DESA's efforts at broad-based and open-ended consultations on this issue.