23 June 2016
2016 Annual Session, 1st Meeting (AM & PM)

United Nations Must Abandon Old Ideas about War, Overhaul Outdated Peacebuilding Architecture, Speaker Says at Commission’s Annual Session

The Peacebuilding Commission committed this afternoon to better support nations moving from violent conflict to sustainable peace by providing a policy forum for all relevant stakeholders and strategic and targeted advice to the Security Council.

In a draft statement at the close of its annual session, the Commission warned that the drawdown of peacekeeping missions in particular could dramatically reduce international political, mediation, security and justice support, putting pressure on national capacities in countries where institutions were still weak.  Therefore, it was critical that the international community sustain assistance during all stages of conflict to help national authorities achieve nationally identified priorities.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, delivering the session’s keynote address, said the United Nations must abandon old ideas about war and overhaul its outdated peacebuilding architecture if it was to effectively address the challenges of modern warfare.

“It is important that the United Nations, as an institution, come to terms with the folding reality around us and that we collectively respond to the crisis that many countries face,” said the former Under-Secretary-General.

Norms and standards were needed to deal with the new technologies of war, from the use of drones and acts of terror by non-State actors to unprecedented personal cyberattacks on human rights defenders and extensive surveillance of local and international actors, she said.  Human shields to justify attacks on civilians and massive refugee flows were deeply problematic.  She called for laws for acts of war that had no guidance.

“What is counter-terrorism?  Do we have conceptual clarity or is it now a term that embraces everything so that we lose focus on the fact that what we are trying to do is to combat acts of terror and not rebuild societies in our own image?”, she warned.

In its early days, the Organization focused on socioeconomic programmes to help societies heal and rebuild, she said.  Today, in certain parts of the world, it was called upon to be equal partners in nation-building and preventing future conflict.  “We must candidly admit that we are often not up to the task,” she said, pointing to limited resources, outdated paradigms and a one-size-fits-all approach that at times had no direct effect on communities in conflict areas and was counterproductive.

The United Nations programmes and policies were still framed by the wars in Africa in the 1990s, with Liberia and Sierra Leone as the prototype, even though the most devastating wars today were being fought in Asia, where there were strong State structures and militaries, she said.  The focus in Asia States on sovereignty gave the United Nations and non-governmental organizations less flexibility and range of activities.

For the Organization to be relevant in preventing conflict and sustaining peace, it must carefully calibrate and negotiate that difficult terrain in a way to meaningfully strengthen human rights and democratic institutions, she said.   All Resident Coordinators and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General should have extensive training in that regard, she said, drawing on case studies where the Organization had succeeded and failed.

In pursuing truth and accountability, which aided healing and allowed for sustainable peace, people must feel that they had ownership of the process, she said.  It was once unthinkable to speak about such matters in her country, Sri Lanka — where a 25-year civil war finally ended in 2009.  After a Government‑appointed task force went around the State asking people what they felt a truth and justice mechanism should look like and a diverse group of independent‑minded people were selected, the rhetoric had lowered.  A democratic leadership and committed civil society had pushed the process forward and everyone felt that they had ownership.

The United Nations 15-year review on women, peace and security showed that women’s participation was also crucial to long-lasting peace, and reasonably suggested that 15 per cent of all peacebuilding and project finance funds be earmarked for women, she said.  In the end, the older women of the community were usually trusted by all parties to keep the peace and deliver the goods.  Peacebuilding during and after conflict must involve socioeconomic development tailored to local needs.  Prevention was the most important part of peacebuilding and peacekeeping, yet little was invested in analysis, resources and personnel; the Organization was basically an “emergency response machine”, and there were attempts to do prevention under the veil of countering violent extremism.  “The need to counter hateful violence is important, but we have to be cautious,” she said.

Extremism and acts of individual hate always existed and should only raise global concern when its destroyed communities, violated international laws and States were unable to cope, she continued.  Without precise definitions, there was a risk of disrupting communities and feeding into perpetual cycles of violence.  Security experts, peacebuilders and human rights specialists should work together to create clear norms and standards.  A special unit in the Secretary-General’s office should be set up to analyse information coming from United Nations bodies in conflict areas.

Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said all relevant actors of the Organization must be brought together to address violent conflict.  “We have to work more horizontally and less vertically,” he said, stressing that a smooth transition required joint conflict analysis, strategic planning and resource mobilization.  The recent joint United Nations-World Bank-European Union mission to the Central African Republic that laid the groundwork for addressing political, security, humanitarian and development needs was a good example of that.

Member States must also rethink the scope of peacebuilding and their participation and they should make full use of the Commission’s potential and its advisory role in preventing violent conflict, he said.  He welcomed the Security Council’s intention to regularly request and draw on targeted advice of the Commission during transition periods in post-conflict countries, when the risks of backsliding or relapse increased.

He also urged all Member States to contribute generously at the pledging conference in September of the Peacebuilding Fund, which faced a desperate funding shortfall despite praise from various reviews and evaluations of its work.  “Much is at stake for people in need and for the credibility of the new direction we are setting for UN peacebuilding,” he said.

The Secretary-General’s Office had set up a group to present options to ensure peacebuilding was adequately resourced.  The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) recently had approved $14 million for peacekeeping operations in five countries, including those undergoing important transitions, such as Haiti, to support mandate implementation through United Nations country teams.

He said that in today’s troubled world, everyone should celebrate the peace agreement expected to be signed in the afternoon that would end more than half a century of conflict in Colombia.  He hoped to see progress this year, as well, in Cyprus, Yemen and Syria.  The resolutions adopted in April by the General Assembly and the Security Council on sharing peace provided a vision and road map for the United Nations system to move in a new direction.  “We now need to implement what we have agreed and move from words to action,” he said.

Macharia Kamau (Kenya), Chair of the Commission, agreed that, in Colombia, where 220,000 people had been killed and 5 million displaced, the signing of a peace agreement should be celebrated.  In South Sudan, peace had returned to the war-torn country in which tens of thousands of people had been killed and 2 million displaced.  Yet, hundreds of millions of people continued to live in circumstances where there was no peace and the resultant suffering, exploitation, abuse and even death was staggering.  “The cries of the millions who suffer and who die on our watch because of the absence of peace in large parts of the world must not go unheeded,” he said, calling for greater efforts to building and sustaining peace worldwide.

Sustaining peace was a shared task of Governments and national stakeholders that required continuous international attention and assistance, he said.  During its two working sessions, the Commission would address the specific challenges faced by conflict-affected countries and how the drawdown of peacekeeping operations could impact those nations’ development paths.  The intergovernmental body would work to bridge policy and operational gaps among the principal organs working for global peace, and draw regional, non-governmental and private-sector partners to support peacebuilding efforts, particularly during transitions and long after the international community had withdrawn.

In closing remarks at the end of the session, he asked that the General Assembly hold a special event on peace in September, when the International Day of Peace was observed.

Marlene Moses, General Assembly Vice-President, said that, during the body’s high-level debate on peace and security in May, the emphasis was placed on the need for political solutions, new partnerships, overcoming fragmentation and putting women in leadership positions.  There was also a strong call to identify concrete ways in which the United Nations could tackle violent extremism.  It was crucial to sustain the momentum to implement the recommendations outlined in the recent reviews of the Organization’s peacebuilding architecture.

Moving forward, the Assembly must stay abreast of steps towards implementation, she said, adding that the next Secretary-General should outline his or her vision and proposals to enhance the Organization’s effectiveness, including by adapting the response to the terrorist threat, particularly where peace operations were deployed.  Member States must remain mobilized and supportive of appropriate tools needed by the Organization, including the Secretariat.  The Commission, she said, was well placed to provide moral authority and its partnership with the General Assembly was mutually beneficial.

François Delattre (France), President of the Security Council for June, said it had held two meetings on Wednesday with the Commission, taking stock of the views of the outgoing and current chairs of the Commission, and holding an interactive debate on the relationship between the two bodies.  The Commission’s missions on the ground could be useful to the Security Council, and the two bodies should work closely and hold more regular and diversified exchanges regarding joint missions.

The role played by Morocco as chair of the Central African Republic country-specific configuration and its recent efforts to support the financing of elections and the Special Criminal Court, as decided by the Security Council in coordination with transitional authorities, was exemplary, he said.  Similarly, regular visits to the Great Lakes region organized by the Swiss chairmanship of the Burundi configuration were a useful complement to the Council’s initiatives to find a solution to the crisis.  The Commission should be given greater flexibility so that it could better support the Council’s work.

Moreover, United Nations peacebuilding interventions must be closely coordinated with international agencies, and integration strengthened to ensure countries successful transitioned out of crisis.  The Peacebuilding Fund could help combat the trend towards fragmentation, he stressed, thanking Member States that had contributed to it.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Commission adopted its agenda.

For information media. Not an official record.