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SG/SM/20526
6 January 2021

Call for Global Ceasefire Goes Hand-in-Hand with African Union’s Flagship ‘Silencing the Guns’ Initiative, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council open debate on “Challenges of Maintaining Peace and Security in Fragile Contexts”, in New York today:

Happy New Year!

I thank the Tunisian presidency for organizing this debate.

Addressing the links between fragility and conflict is an essential component of international peace and security.  Fragility and conflict are among the greatest obstacles to implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the conflict landscape was deteriorating.  Conflicts have become more complex, fuelled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-State armed groups, and their linkages with criminal and even terrorist interests.

They last longer and become more difficult to resolve.  According to the World Bank Fragility and Conflict Report, one of every five people in the Middle East and North Africa lives in close proximity to a major conflict.  As a consequence, humanitarian needs have multiplied, reaching the highest levels since the Second World War.  The number of people at risk of starvation has doubled.  International conflict management mechanisms have been stretched to the breaking point.

These trends have placed a number of countries in a vicious cycle.  Conflict continues to breed poverty and foster institutional fragility, which in turn decreases the resilience of these societies and the prospects for peace.  By 2030, the World Bank estimates that two thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile or conflict-affected countries. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these trends.  In 2020, and for the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty was on the rise.  The contraction of economic activity in fragile and conflict-affected settings is expected to push an additional 18 to 27 million people into extreme poverty.  The gender equality gap is widening, and women’s labour force participation — a key driver for inclusive growth — has been set back decades.

The climate emergency is a further driver of insecurity.  It is no coincidence that of the 15 countries most susceptible to climate risks, eight host a United Nations peacekeeping operation or special political mission.  From the Sahel and Central Africa to the Horn of Africa, variability in rainfall patterns is disrupting long-existing patterns of transhumance, resulting in tensions and recurring clashes between communities, including across national borders.  If we are to break the cycle of poverty and conflict, we need a more ambitious approach based on two principles enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

First, interdependence.  The 2030 Agenda recognizes that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.  A holistic approach to building and sustaining peace, with targeted and tailored investments across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, is essential.

In the Sahel, for example, the United Nations Integrated Strategy has sought to close the gap between humanitarian needs and development imperatives.  It has focused on helping reassert State authority throughout the Sahel countries, thereby reversing the pattern of growing marginalization of poor rural societies, with particular attention to women and youth.

Second, inclusion.  The pledge to “leave no one behind” must be at the centre of our efforts to promote sustainable development as well as to prevent and resolve conflicts.  Over 20 years ago, the Security Council recognized in adopting resolution 1325 (2000) the need for increased participation of women in peace processes.  This promise has yet to be fully realized.

Guaranteeing equal opportunities, protection, access to resources and services and participation in decision-making are not simply moral and legal obligations.  They are a necessary condition if countries are to truly break out of the conflict trap.

The linkages between conflict and fragility have been particularly visible in the African continent.  In the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, fragility has been exacerbated by transboundary threats such as climate change, terrorism, transnational organized crime, and the proliferation of armed groups.  In the Great Lakes and Central African region, limited State authority, the continued presence and activities of armed groups, human rights violations, illicit exploitation of natural resources and unemployment continue to drive instability.

To address these trends, the United Nations has worked closely with the African Union and regional economic communities.  The United Nations-African Union joint frameworks on peace and security and on sustainable development have been key instruments to prevent and sustainably resolve conflicts in Africa, as well as to strengthen the resilience of States to withstand current threats.

One month ago, Chairperson [Moussa] Faki [Mahamat] and I co-chaired the fourth United Nations-African Union Annual Conference, a clear demonstration of the value we attach to our partnership and to our strategic cooperation.  This meeting was an opportunity for us to identify ways to support the African Union’s Silencing the Guns initiative, a ground-breaking effort to address the root causes of conflicts in the continent, including economic and social disparities.  My call for a Global Ceasefire goes hand-in-hand with this flagship initiative of the African Union.

The United Nations also remains committed to supporting the African Union’s ambitious Agenda 2063.  In this context, we have decided to establish a Joint United Nations-African Union Group on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda and Agenda 2063, including with regard to COVID-19 recovery.

We know that prevention and peacebuilding save lives and are cost-effective, especially when strategies come together across the peace, development and humanitarian nexus in support of national priorities.  But they also require national leadership, political commitment and financial support.

Yet, the international community continues to underinvest in these areas.  That is why I have repeatedly called for increased financing for prevention and peacebuilding.  The Peacebuilding Fund is well placed to help link our responses to multidimensional crises.  On 26 January, I will co-chair a replenishment conference for the Fund and I look forward to your strong support at this crucial moment.

Another area where the lack of sustainable funding continues to hinder our efforts to resolve conflicts relates to the deployment of African peace enforcement operations authorized by the Security Council.  In a number of circumstances, African Member States have heeded the calls of the international community to respond to major crises with significant regional and global implications, from the deployment of AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] in Somalia to the G5 Sahel Force and the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram.

African Union peace support operations authorized by the Security Council require predictable, flexible and sustained financing through assessed contributions.  I call on the Council to finalize its discussion on this matter.

Partnerships with international financial institutions are another critical way to ensure that adequate funding reaches key areas.  I welcome the World Bank’s Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy, which opens the way for much deeper investment in nationally led prevention efforts.

Our country teams and missions on the ground are working closely with Governments and the World Bank in some 40 countries affected by fragility and conflict.  Together, we are focusing on food insecurity, supporting displaced people and host communities, and creating opportunities for women and young people.  I want this partnership to grow in the years ahead.

The Security Council has a critical role to play in addressing the links between fragility and conflict.  By acting early and preventively, engaging strategically to address the root causes of conflict, and speaking with one voice, the Council can mobilize the international community’s political and financial support, shed a spotlight on critical areas of need, and foster the commitment of conflict actors where needed.

I look forward to continuing our engagement in this area.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.