Ministerial Breakfast of the Group of Friends of Mediation

– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, Ministerial Breakfast of the Group of Friends of Mediation


Thank you all for welcoming me here this morning. I want to thank Minister Soini and Minister Çavuşoğlu, in particular, for their commitment to this important issue.
I know people say this a lot at the UN, but it really is a pleasure to be here!

Mediation is an issue I feel very strongly about. In my career, I’ve had direct experience with mediation in the Balkans. This doesn’t make me any kind of expert. It does however give me a firm belief in the strength of mediation – and the value of investing in it.

There will always be disagreements. There will always be grievances. One party will always feel that it has been wronged by another. These phenomena are part of human nature, and we can’t change that. What we can change, however, is our response.

We can address tensions before they turn violent. We can prevent any party from feeling like their only choice is to take up arms. We can stop a conflict that has already broken out from doing more damage. And the United Nations must be a leader in all of this.

This annual meeting of the Group of Friends allows us to reaffirm our commitment to mediation. I want to make three main points to frame our discussion this morning.

First I want to reinforce the case for mediation. It can be made in three different ways.
One, the human case. Mediation can prevent and stop conflicts. It can avoid, or bring about an end to human suffering. And the need for this is growing. 2014 was the deadliest year we’ve experienced since the Cold War. Last year we also saw the highest levels of displacement on record, with 65 million people being forced from their homes – most of them running from conflict or its effects.

Two, the case made by UN doctrine. The UN Charter is based around peace – not war. It focuses on actions to sustain peace – rather than on responses to conflict. Moreover, the UN Charter also mentions mediation as one of the first means for the peaceful settlement of disputes. This primacy of peace and mediation has been reflected in various UN texts since 1945. A recent, and important, example was seen through the adoption of the Sustaining Peace resolutions last year. Through these texts, the Security Council and General Assembly both called for the UN to do more to stop peace slipping out of reach.

And three, the financial case. Conflict response and management is expensive. It involves tanks, and troops, and secured compounds. We spent almost 8 billion dollars last year on peacekeeping operations. A fraction of this went to conflict prevention activities. That is not to say that mediation is free. Peace talks or national reconciliations come with their own budgets. But these pale in comparison to the cost of responding to conflicts once they have broken out, or recommenced.

Mediation can prevent and stop conflicts. It can avoid, or bring about an end to human suffering.


President of the UN General Assembly

So, I believe, the case for mediation is beyond debate. It is important to stress, however, that this case does not end with a request for more capacity.

This brings me to my second point, which is that we don’t need to buy or invent more tools to do this. Instead we need to concentrate on using the ones we have for better results.

That’s not to say that we are overflowing with mediation resources. We need to make sure the UN’s Mediation Support Unit remains in good financial health. However we must also take a harder look at the other tools and mechanisms we use on a daily basis. This will include work across the UN’s three pillars of peace and security, development and human rights.

We also need to look closer to the ground. The peaceful settlement of disputes is a primary responsibility of Member States. One of the UN’s roles is to offer support to these processes. We must support local or national initiatives from an early stage. We have seen that local mediators have been very effective in stopping disputes from turning into inter-communal violence. Nationally-driven mediation and reconciliation processes have also been crucial to preserving peace. International support can therefore allow national and local actors to use their own mediation and prevention tools – for the common goal of peace.

My third point is that all of our efforts must be inclusive.
Women must participate. They must have decision-making power. This applies all along the peace spectrum – from conflict prevention to peace talks. I welcome the goal of the Secretary-General to increase the numbers of UN women mediators.

Alongside this, we must remember that many actors are mobilizing youth for conflict. The UN needs to do more to mobilize them for peace. This includes ensuring youth participation in mediation and conflict prevention. Their energy, experiences and ideas will benefit us all.

My last point on inclusion is that we cannot afford to overlook regional and sub-regional organizations. They bring unique expertise and experience. Recently the United Nations and African Union signed a joint framework in the area of peace and security. We need to explore how this can strengthen partnerships in the area of mediation.

Before I wrap up, I want to look ahead. This is another thing everyone says at the UN, but the future does look bright!

We have a Secretary-General who has stressed the importance of mediation. He has called for a “surge in diplomacy”. And he has turned these words into action. On this note, I want to welcome his initiative to establish a High-level Advisory Board on Mediation

Also, as many of you know, I will convene a high-level event on Sustaining Peace next April. This will take stock of what the UN is doing, isn’t doing, and should be doing, when it comes to conflict prevention and sustaining peace. Mediation will be a major focus. I will consult with many members of the Group of Friends in the planning process. Again – maybe another cliché – but my door will always be open to you. And I mean this.

Finally, I want to again thank Finland and Turkey for inviting me here today. I hope it is the first of many engagements with the Group of Friends of Mediation.