Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council briefing on “purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter in the maintenance of international peace and security”, in New York today:
Allow me, in this very important debate, related to the Charter and to the maintenance of international peace and security, to convey a personal emotion I cannot hide before reading my statement.
I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ghouta — 400,000 people that live in hell on earth. I know that very important consultations are taking place in this Council, aiming at a cessation of hostilities during one month in Syria, with a number of conditions, and of course I fully support that effort, but I believe eastern Ghouta cannot wait.
And so, my appeal to all those is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in eastern Ghouta, allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need, allowing for the evacuation of an estimated 700 people that need urgent treatment that cannot be provided there, and creating also the possibility for other civilians to be effectively treated in the site. This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don’t think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way.
I thank the Government of Kuwait for organizing this briefing. I would like to express my appreciation to Kuwait for hosting last week’s conference on Iraq. I reiterate the call I made there for global solidarity with Iraq in the task of reconstruction.
Let me also acknowledge that the liberation of Kuwait from the forces of Saddam Hussein took place 27 years ago this month. This anniversary — of an undertaking in which the international community used the Charter to uphold the Charter — is a fitting backdrop to today’s discussion.
The Charter of the United Nations has stood the test of time. Drafted following the utter collapse of international order, it helped to stitch the world back together. Drawn up as the full scope of the Holocaust was emerging, it is part of the global bulwark against international crimes today.
But, of course, the founders of our Organization understood that recovering from the Second World War was not only a matter of preventing crimes. They placed people at the heart of the Charter, and proclaimed that the true basis of peace was to be found in promoting respect for human rights and securing social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom for all.
Today, the Charter’s Principles — non-use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-intervention, cooperation, self-determination and the sovereign equality of Member States — remain the foundation of international relations.
The values it proclaims — equal rights, non-discrimination, tolerance and good neighbourliness — remain guideposts for global harmony. However, the challenges we face have evolved, the drivers of conflict have become more complex, new threats have emerged and the consequences of instability now flow far beyond their source.
Addressing the challenge of migration, as well as the threats of climate change and inequality, will test the Charter and our capacity to secure a better world for all. So, while the Charter’s Principles are as relevant as ever, we must continue to update its tools, we must use those tools with greater determination, and we must go back to the Charter’s roots for inspiration as we strive to deliver for “we the peoples”. That work starts with prevention.
As I said to this Council at the beginning of my mandate, the international community spends far more time and resources responding to crises than in preventing them. We have to rebalance our approach to international peace and security.
Our goal must be to do everything we can to help countries avert the outbreak of crises that take a high toll on humanity. And this vision extends beyond wars and conflicts, to natural disasters, fragility and other kinds of stress.
Our commitment must be to all human rights — civil, political, economic, social and cultural — and to eliminate discrimination based on gender, religion, race, nationality or other status.
Across this work, we must recognize the great power of women’s participation, which makes peace agreements sturdier, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous. Preventing crises is primarily the responsibility of Member States. Chapter VI of the Charter describes the tools that are available to them for that purpose.
Negotiation. Enquiry. Mediation. Conciliation. Arbitration. Judicial settlement. And other peaceful measures and means. And the United Nations is there to offer support to States in resolving their disputes and preventing the emergence of crises.
The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. I encourage Member States to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court and to make greater use of the Court and of other international courts and tribunals to help settle and avoid the escalation of their disputes.
The United Nations prevention efforts in the Gambia, Guinea and Burkina Faso over the past several years, always taken in coordination with, and often in direct support of, the activities of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), highlight the conditions under which these efforts are most successful.
The role played in those contexts by the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel underscores the value of United Nations regional political presences, as in other contexts does the work of the United Nations Office for Central Africa and the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.
Mediation is among the paths suggested by Chapter VI. In recent weeks, a new bilateral mediation advisory board undertook its first initiative. We have planned a number of other bilateral missions — with the agreement of the countries concerned — to Member States facing stability challenges.
My own good offices are available to you at all times to help prevent, manage or resolve conflicts. And, of course, the Charter confers upon the Security Council powers and responsibilities in the field of conflict prevention.
At this time, it is especially urgent for the Security Council to uphold its responsibility to bring about a political settlement on Syria in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015) under United Nations auspices.
Sustaining peace is a key part of prevention. My report on sustaining peace is now before the entire membership, and I look forward to taking forward its proposals. Prevention also depends crucially on advancing sustainable and inclusive development. The 2030 Agenda offers an integrated framework for addressing the economic and social drivers of conflict, and for building stable societies including through a focus on institutions and the rule of law.
The word peacekeeping does not appear in the Charter. But, this flagship United Nations activity is firmly rooted in the Charter’s ideals — and demonstrates the Charter’s flexibility.
Peacekeeping has a solid record of service, sacrifice and success, and it has ably served as a tool to assist in the peaceful settlement of disputes, as well as to achieve more robust objectives. However, today peacekeeping faces major challenges.
Often, peacekeepers are deployed indefinitely in dangerous environments where there is little peace to keep, where there are no political solutions in sight, where there are multiple armed groups and where casualties are rising sharply from attacks on peacekeepers. For these and other reasons, the United Nations ends up serving as a “crisis baby-sitter”, or focus on simple containment — and this is simply not sustainable.
A detailed plan of action to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers is being implemented by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and our missions. The Department is also carrying out a series of strategic reviews under the guidance of the Security Council. There is no one-size-fits-all operation.
Our aim is to refocus peacekeeping with realistic expectations; with well-structured, well-supported and well-equipped forces; and with the support we need from host countries. We look to the Security Council to provide clear and focused mandates, and we call for greater engagement from all Member States in providing personnel as well as political, material and financial backing.
At the same time, peacekeeping is not the solution for all crisis situations. Different contexts may require other kinds of action, including peace enforcement and counter-terrorist operations undertaken by partner regional organizations or coalitions of Member States. Here, too, clear mandates and predictable, adequate funding will be critical.
Today, we have the highest number of United Nations sanctions regimes in the history of the Organization. Simple implementation goes beyond Member States, greater attention may need to be paid to the private sector, in particular the financial industry. We must be careful to avoid unintended consequences, including humanitarian ones.
Let me turn now from Chapters VI and VII to Chapter VIII. Even before most regions had created regional or subregional organizations, the drafters of the Charter recognized the value of regional arrangements and agencies as a first resort for the pacific settlement of local disputes. Regional perspectives are critical in understanding challenges. Regional capacities are crucial for rapid deployment. And regional ownership is essential for solutions to take root.
Among the most vital and dynamic of today’s partnership is our work with the African Union. Our organizations have signed two new framework agreements — on peace and security, and on the alignment of the 2030 Agenda with Africa’s Agenda 2063. I again call on the international community to ensure predictable and adequate financing for African forces operating in Somalia, the Sahel and around Lake Chad. We are also forging closer ties with the European Union and several other regional organizations.
The purposes and principles of the Charter speak to today’s challenges as firmly as they spoke to people who had just lived through the most horrible war the world has ever seen. The reforms in which we are all engaged, spanning peace and security, development and management, aim to make us more effective in fulfilling the Charter’s vision.
The Charter is our living template for serving “we the peoples”. The Secretariat stands ready to help Member States embrace the full spirit of the Charter and use it to its full potential across all pillars of our work.