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SG/SM/20885
8 September 2021

Only National Leadership, Ownership Can Keep Transitions from Peacekeeping on Track, Secretary-General Tells Security Council Ministerial Open Debate

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council ministerial open debate on “Peacekeeping and United Nations Transitions”, held today:

My thanks to Ireland for convening today’s debate on the important issue of peacekeeping transitions.

As this Council knows well, United Nations peacekeepers are an extraordinary group of women and men who put themselves in harm’s way to protect people.  To create space for dialogue and political trust.  And to plant the seeds of peace for the future.

But, their missions are never intended to be permanent.  And transitions come with no “on-off” switch.  Transitions are complex processes — individual to each country context.  They involve a careful reconfiguration of the UN’s presence, strategy and footprint in a country.  And they begin not only when a mission is nearing its end, but when the first boots hit the ground.

Success depends on early and sustained collaboration among field missions, host Governments, United Nations country teams, and local and global partners.  And it depends on building trust with the people and communities we are there to serve.

The drawdown of United Nations peacekeeping can be an exciting moment for a country emerging from conflict and looking forward to peace.  But, it is also a moment of heightened risk.  Years of peacebuilding and protection gains are at stake.  Global attention and focus can wane — including, perhaps, the focus of this Council.  And there is still work to do to make sure the seeds of peace can blossom.

Consolidating peace, building resilience and averting conflict relapse are at the heart of my prevention agenda.  Three years ago, I launched the Action for Peacekeeping initiative to make our operations more efficient and impactful, including after mission transitions.  And earlier this year, I launched the Action for Peacekeeping Plus initiative to focus on key areas of work and protect hard‑won gains as countries make this shift.

We are committed to constantly improving the transition process and learning from the lessons of past missions.  The first lesson is that political engagement needs to be sustained throughout a transition and beyond.  After a transition, we need to intensify our focus on collaborating with local and national governments to rebuild vital systems.

The work of the Peacebuilding Commission, United Nations country teams, regional offices and envoys is more important than ever.  For example, the tireless work of the United Nations Office of West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) was critical to sustaining engagement in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau.

And in Sudan, the United Nations managed one of the most complex reconfigurations in recent history — drawing down the peacekeeping mission while scaling up a special political mission.  A mission dedicated to a sustainable and nationally owned peace process as that country continues its journey to recovery and sustainable development.

That brings me to the second lesson:  the importance of national leadership and ownership of the transition.  Peacekeeping missions can help put a country on the right track.  But, only national stakeholders can keep it there over the long term.  This idea is at the heart of our Action for Peacekeeping Plus initiative.

We want to make sure that national Government institutions, partners and civil society groups — especially those representing women, minorities and young people — are all working together to carry peace forward and build truly representative, responsive and accountable institutions.

For example, the conclusion of MONUSCO’s [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] mandate in the Kasaï Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was followed by a detailed, benchmarked transition plan for full withdrawal by 2024, should the conditions for peace be met.

The plan was developed with the national Government working shoulder to shoulder with the United Nations country team and this Council.  And it includes support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo as it strengthens economic, security, legal and justice systems and institutions for the future.  The leaders and people of countries in transition must be the ultimate architects of peace, with the United Nations and global community playing a supporting role.

The third lesson is the importance of sustainable transition financing.  As global attention wanes, donors’ attention can soon follow.  The closure of a United Nations mission so often coincides with shrinking and less predictable aid flows.  This “financial cliff” can be a huge risk for a country still taking those first tentative steps towards sustainable peace and development.

The Peacebuilding Fund aims to partially close these gaps.  Support for transitions is one of three priority windows for the Fund – with a target of 35 per cent of annual investments dedicated to these contexts.  But, much more resources would be needed.  I welcome the General Assembly’s decision to convene a high-level meeting on financing for peacebuilding next year.  As demand for support from the Peacebuilding Fund continues to outpace available resources, we must build momentum.  We need to match the rhetorical commitment of Member States to peacebuilding with concrete outcomes in how this commitment is financed.

The fourth lesson is to support national authorities as they protect people and rebuild for the future.  When a United Nations mission closes, the risks to civilians and vulnerable groups do not simply vanish.  We need to help Governments establish stronger security and protection systems.  We need to ensure that parties to conflict live up to their obligations under international law.  And we need the help of this Council to address any remaining threats to civilians.

For example, the situation in Darfur is a stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant.  The Juba Peace Agreement signed in October 2020 was an inspiring sign of progress.  But, the drawdown of the peacekeeping mission and the establishment of the political mission have been accompanied by recurring intercommunal violence.

This and many other deeply concerning situations remind us that peace is a long process.  The path is seldom straightforward.  And the role of the United Nations and the global community remains essential as these countries continue their journeys.

Peace is possible.  Peace is necessary.  Peace is the only pathway to a sustainable future.  I look forward to working with this Council to continue strengthening the transition process and pursuing our shared goal of peace.  For all people in all countries.

For information media. Not an official record.