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United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Statements

Deputy Secretary-General: Statements

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 10 October 2015 - Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at Beirut Institute Conference on “Re-configuring the Arab Region and its Global Space Beyond Political Economy and Security Threats" [as delivered]

First I want to thank the Beirut Institute and its driving force, our dear and irrepressible friend Raghida Dergham, for bringing us together today.    I am glad and honoured to meet so many old and new friends at this conference. 

I will first say a few words about the current conflicts and crises in the region and then move on to more structural challenges, in the spirit of the theme of this conference.

We all know that the wars and conflicts are endangering domestic, regional and international peace and security.  But we should realize that they also undermine economic and social progress for the region’s people and societies.

Violent extremists in the region are targeting religious and ethnic communities and anyone who disagrees with their perverse ideologies. They are killing civilians in great numbers and erasing priceless cultural heritage from the map and history of this great region, the cradle of civilization.

Conflicts in this area have growingly become global with the rise of foreign intervention – with strong elements of proxy wars.  This trend is also fueled by fears of increased terrorism elsewhere in the world.  The fear factor has become a global provocation – a trap we must not fall into.
Much of the refugee flows across the Mediterranean and into Europe is another consequence of the current turmoil in the region. It took far too long for the world to realise the infectious character of the Syria nightmare.

The Syrian war has already killed almost quarter of a million people, and has led to massive destruction, the use of chemical weapons, the rise of Daesh and the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, primarily affecting Jordan, Libya and Turkey. 

As hostilities escalate further – most recently through the Russian military intervention – the international community, the Security Council as well as regional powers, must now work in a more determined way towards a credible political transition in Syria.  An end to this war is in everybody’s enlightened self-interest.  Enough is enough. The United Nations, and our Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, are prepared to assist in these efforts.

In Iraq, the vast majority of people in need are internally displaced.  All actors must now do more to promote stability and reconciliation.  Earlier failures to address marginalization and other grievances have been strong reasons for the upheavals in Iraq.

In Yemen, aerial attacks and assaults on the ground continue to have a devastating impact on civilians and the country’s infrastructure.   The United Nations is struggling to reach people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  Meanwhile, terrorist groups – mainly Al Qaeda – are seizing territory and critical infrastructure.  All this underlines the urgency of ending the fighting and starting the political talks this month.  Our Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is prepared to do everything to move the political process forward, and so are we in New York.

Terrorist groups, along with criminals and human smugglers, are also gaining a foothold in Libya.  Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance.  All parties must now support the recent political agreement.  It gives the Libyans an inclusive and workable roadmap for the remainder of the transition process.

And of course, and overarchingly, resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict – the infected wound in the region and the world – remains crucial, as a matter of justice and as part of our efforts to counter and prevent violence in the whole region.  We already see alarming confrontations around Jerusalem.

The relationship between Iran and the GCC and Arab countries, not least Saudi Arabia, is a fundamental factor for security – or insecurity – in the region. The nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran has the potential to lead to cooperation on crises in the region.  As a general rule, there is much to gain from dialogue and diplomacy, particularly between neighbours.   History and geography are determining factors for foreign policy.  I am, however, deeply aware of the need for trust-building in view of present tensions in this fundamental relationship.

Beyond these immediate crises, there are a number of medium or long term structural steps that could be taken to deal with the roots of the region’s instability.   

Respecting cultural differences and characteristics, I would note that important factors are the defense of pluralism and diversity, as well as promotion of well-functioning institutions, access to justice, the empowerment of women and respect of other democratic rights.  The deficits in these areas over the years have been highlighted by the region’s own leading scholars in a series of Arab Human Development Reports since 2002.   Here I would like to congratulate the National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia on its well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize – sending a powerful signal about the need for reform and the importance of the rule of law and strong institutions.

There also needs to be a focus on conditions and opportunities for young people.  Seventy-five per cent of this region’s population is under the age of 30.  Yet, their voices are often absent from political decision-making.  Wide-spread youth unemployment and marginalization is a breeding ground for frustration and powerlessness and can become a source of violent extremism.

At the same time, many young Arabs are engaged in various forms of societal change, often through social and economic entrepreneurship.  Imagine the positive change which would be possible if they were to be further empowered!

Finally, nations benefit from an environment that allows civil society to flourish.  Youth and women, religious and community leaders should be involved and given a role in charting the road ahead.  In some places, the trend unfortunately is running in the opposite direction, with new constraints and laws which keep civil society and the media from doing their vital work. 

At the end of the day, the only viable road towards peace, prosperity and dignity for all is through political dialogue and through the inclusive and transparent building of our societies.

Both in the world and in our nations, there is no peace without development and no development without peace.  And there is neither lasting peace nor sustainable development without respect for human rights and the rule of law, as was stated at the UN Summit 2005 at which I had the honour to preside.

These are the three pillars on which the United Nations is built.   But they also form the foundations for stability and well-being for all its Member States and their peoples.  Let us never forget the first three words of the UN Charter: “We the Peoples”.  It is to our peoples that we should ultimately be accountable.

I thank you.

Statements on 10 October 2015