Retreat organised by Peacebuilding Support Office and Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
– Prepared for delivery –
Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at Retreat organised by Peacebuilding Support Office and Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
Thank you, Ambassador Tae-yul.
I flew back to New York, between two back-to-back missions, to be here this evening. I’m not saying this to get sympathy. Though I will apologise in advance to my dining partners, as I won’t be at my most alive. Actually, I’m telling you this because I want you to know just how highly I prioritise this retreat.
Before I read out my statement proper, I want to be a bit more personal. We are here to talk about Sustaining Peace. For a moment, I want to look behind this term, to remind us all of what it really means.
What we are talking about is real peace. Positive peace. The kind of peace that can be taken for granted. The kind of peace that won’t disappear at the next election cycle. The kind of peace that is measured – not in days, weeks, months or years, but in generations.
For certain places in the world, some might say this is impossible. But it is not. I have seen this first-hand. When Montenegro split from Serbia, peace was not a given. In fact, some people were predicting war. But through intense diplomatic efforts, and real political will, peace persevered. And it lasted – with no signs that it will waver in the future.
So, this is why peace and prevention are at the top of my agenda as President of the General Assembly. And this is why I am here to address you all through my jetlag.
Here, I want to thank the organisers – in particular the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
I was invited to focus my address on the High-Level Meeting on Sustaining Peace, which will take place in April. In doing so, I will try to answer three questions you may have.
One, why are we doing it?
Two, how will we go about it?
And three, what do we want to achieve?
So, first, why are we doing this?
As you know, the mandate to convene this event comes from the Sustaining Peace resolutions, adopted in April 2016. This is my technical mandate.
My personal mandate extends beyond this, however. It comes from a conviction that the United Nations can – and must – do more for peace.
The UN Charter was signed in June 1945. World War II was still raging in the Pacific. Already, however, the signatories were envisioning a world without conflict. A world in which disputes and differences are resolved in meeting rooms – not battlefields. A world in which our main priority is to stop conflict before it starts. And a world in which the United Nations is the global broker for peace.
Frankly, we have not done enough to make this vision come alive. Too often, the UN has seen meeting rooms bypassed, in favour of battlefields. Too often it has acted when peace has already been lost. And too often it has put conflict response ahead of conflict prevention.
More than 10 years have passed since our first major attempt to rectify this situation. The establishment of the UN’s peacebuilding architecture in 2005 was a milestone. It created a new path, which would allow the UN to better support countries in making peace last. By adopting the 2016 resolutions, we took the biggest steps yet down this path. But there is a long journey ahead.
Today’s retreat is a landmark along the way. The High-Level Meeting in April will be another one.
This brings me to answer the second question, which is, how will we go about all of this?
My team and I have put together what we are calling a Roadmap for Sustaining Peace. It is intended to feed into the High-Level Meeting in April. Moreover, it acts as an overarching strategy for my work on Sustaining Peace throughout the 72nd Session.
The roadmap outlines various initiatives that I will convene. These include meetings, workshops, and missions to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and Europe. It is also being used to map out all other planned activities on Sustaining Peace, such as today’s retreat. In this way, we can ensure an holistic and complementary approach.
In speaking about my roadmap, I want to outline five main priorities, which are mainstreamed throughout.
First: Outreach. Sustaining Peace does not belong to one government or one UN body. Inclusive and extensive outreach will, therefore, be a main priority. This means a focus on discussions with Member States and UN officials. And also on outreach to women, youth, the private sector and international financial institutions.
Sustaining Peace is not owned by the United Nations. Rather, it must be owned by people – women in Papua New Guinea, young people in Nigeria, or business executives in Jordan. The UN must support and promote this ownership. That is why it needs to engage and learn from countries, communities and people all over the world. It needs to find out what Sustaining Peace means for those who will own and implement it.
So, while my team and I will convene this event, it is you, and others like you, who will own it.
Second: Supporting the UN’s work. The High-Level Event cannot stand alone. It must be linked to everything else that the UN is doing for Sustaining Peace – before, during and after April 2018. This includes a broad range of activities: from mediation, peacebuilding or peacekeeping activities in the field, to initiatives taking place in New York. Supporting the work of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund will be crucial.
Close cooperation with Secretary-General Guterres is also a priority of my roadmap. His report on Sustaining Peace, due out early next year, will act as the springboard for our discussions in April.
Third: Focusing on experiences and best practices. We may have the bulk of our discussions in New York, but they should be led by experience from the ground. We need to shine a spotlight on what the real peacebuilders are doing – from those running women’s peace huts in Liberia, to those organising mediation workshops in Kyrgyzstan. That is why I have put an emphasis on field trips throughout my roadmap. And that is why the High-Level Meeting will pool stakeholders from across different countries, sectors and societies, and allow them to share their experiences from the ground.
Fourth: Making a strong financial case for Sustaining Peace.
Currently, it is vastly under-resourced. The UN-World Bank Pathways to Peace Report confirmed this. In fact, it highlighted that the amount we spend on preventing conflict is a mere fraction of that which we spend on responding to conflict, or on rebuilding societies after they have been torn apart. This is why the UN is known for conflict response, rather than conflict prevention. Frankly, this does not make financial sense. In fact, the UN-World Bank report estimates that an increase in prevention investment in even a handful of countries can result in billions of dollars of savings for the international community as a whole.
So, the financial case for Sustaining Peace is clear. We need to keep making this case – loudly and clearly. We need to ensure that the options to be provided by the Secretary-General are seriously considered. And we need to move into a new era of financing for peace.
And, fifth: strengthening links to human rights and sustainable development. Simply put, we cannot have peace without development or human rights. This message was delivered clearly by the Sustaining Peace resolutions. It was seen again in the recent UN-World Bank report. This report highlighted that SDGs offer an entry point for investment in Sustaining Peace. It also pointed out that a loss of dignity and human rights can make people turn more easily to violence. My roadmap therefore places strong focus on the relationship between the UN’s work in human rights, sustainable development, and sustaining peace.
Finally, I must also add a note on logistics. The event will be convened on 24 and 25 April 2018. As many of you know, the Chef de Cabinet will hold a briefing with Member States on 21 November, which will outline more details.
So, on to answering the third and final question: what do we want to achieve?
In one word: visibility. Sustaining Peace is under-prioritised and under-resourced. If we want this to change, we must increase its global profile. This is why we are engaging as many actors as possible in the lead-up to the High-Level Meeting. I am confident that all of you here are sending weekly reminders to the highest levels of your governments or offices regarding participation.
Another word to sum up what we want to achieve is consistency. As you have heard clearly today, Sustaining Peace is not a concept – it is a real practice, happening right now, on the ground. But we need best practice to become regular practice. We need to move away from our ad hoc methods. We need to revamp our current model of conflict response, so that it can be used to prevent conflict from breaking out or recurring. And we need Sustaining Peace to be a permanent and consistent feature of the UN’s work.
As we have seen at the UN, no outcome document, or summary report, can act as an achievement in and of itself. It must be accompanied by change. In this case, we need change in the visibility and consistency of the UN’s work in Sustaining Peace.
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
Now I want to put a question to you. What do you think most people would say, if they were asked to name the UN’s biggest achievements? My bet, unfortunately, is against peace. The Sustainable Development Goals. Human rights. Humanitarian aid. Or even peacekeeping missions. All of these things are associated with the UN’s blue logo. But not peace itself.
This is simply counter-intuitive. The UN was founded for the very reason of peace. Its flag should herald peace and stability– not soldiers and armoured vehicles. Its success in preventing conflict should be the norm – not the exception. It should be the world’s broker for peace.
As I have said, we have a long journey ahead in getting there. We’ve already started it. But now we need to pick up the pace.