New York

11 September 2015

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at informal briefing to the General Assembly on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Future of Peace Operations [as prepared for delivery]

It is a pleasure to be with you today.  I thank the President of the General Assembly for bringing us together. Let me also on this occasion at the end of your term express my admiration and appreciation to you, Mr. President, for your outstanding work over the past year.  I know first-hand what a challenging position you occupy.  You have provided admirable leadership in a significant, perhaps historic, year for the UN and the international community.

Today the Secretary-General has issued his report on the Future of United Nations Peace Operations.  It comes as we mark the 70th anniversary of the Organization.  And it comes at a time of global turmoil.  Violent conflicts have tripled since 2008.  More than 60 million people have been uprooted because of war and persecution.  Today we remember 9/11, we remember the suffering caused by violent extremists in this city, and we remember the suffering they have caused around the world. 

Conflicts today defy established peace and security responses.  New conflicts are emerging in countries once considered stable, escalating at a pace and degree of violence that confounds our political efforts.  Some countries are relapsing into instability and conflict.  The distinctions between armed groups and criminals are being blurred by trafficking and organized crime.  And civilians are caught in the cross-fire between competing groups, with glaring lack of respect for human rights and humanitarian norms.

In the face of such profound challenges, our traditional UN instruments have come under immense strain.  This concern led the Secretary-General to initiate a comprehensive review of UN peace operations.  He asked an eminent independent Panel to consult widely. He encouraged the Panel to be bold in its recommendations.  I thank Member States for your constructive contributions to the Panel’s work.  Your engagement has helped produce a balanced yet ambitious report.

The Secretary-General asked my good friend and predecessor as DSG, Louise Fréchette, to advise on the preparation of his report to Member States.  Her experience and expertise have been invaluable.  I thank her for her continued service to the Organization and her very skilled and professional staff for excellent work on the report.

I am also joined today by my colleagues Under-Secretaries-General Ladsous, Feltman and Takasu and by Assistant Secretary-General Banbury.  The task of making UN peace operations fit for purpose is a collective one.  Many UN departments and agencies have been involved in the preparation of the Secretary-General’s report.  We will advance only by working together. We are determined to break down the silos that limit effectiveness.  This includes continued close cooperation with the ongoing reviews of peacebuilding and of women, peace and security.  Some of the recommendations of experts from these areas are reflected in the SG’s report as well.

The Secretary-General’s report is a call for change and for adaptation to today’s realities. UN peace operations must change and reform if they are to better prevent and resolve today’s complex conflicts and protect people.  This report sets out an agenda to achieve these goals.

In the coming months, we will have many opportunities to discuss the Secretary-General’s vision and action plan. Today, on the eve of the 70th General Assembly, I want to share with you its key messages.

UN peace operations are guided by the basic norms and values of the Organization. We must remain faithful to those foundations, including the UN Charter and the principles that have guided peacekeeping for decades.

The fundamental aim of UN peace operations is to pursue and sustain negotiated political settlements to conflict.  Only through inclusive political settlements can people’s lives and rights be secured.

UN peace operations must therefore advocate for and protect the lives and rights of people in conflict.

These are the touchstones of any UN peace operation, no matter how diverse our missions are.

Let us remember that peace operations fundamentally are political tools.  Their authority rests on the international support they have.  They are not, however, a magic formula that can make political divisions disappear, nor are they alternatives to Member State engagement.

The Secretary-General is calling for three key changes:

First, we need to bring prevention and mediation to the centre of international peace and security.  Early action saves lives. It allows development to continue.  It prevents the exclusion of people and groups.  And it saves money.  As casualties rise, both among civilians and peacekeepers, and humanitarian needs escalate dramatically in conflict areas, the Secretary-General is calling for a concerted prevention agenda that makes use of the full range of prevention tools, including his good offices.

Second, we need to change the way we plan and conduct UN peace operations.  We need to become faster and more agile.  We need look no farther than Syria or Yemen today to see the horrors that result from slow or insufficient responses.  In South Sudan, Mali and Somalia we can see the way conflicts evolve, continually demanding new forms of collective engagement. Equally, we see that sustaining peace is difficult to achieve, and that peace operations can become static, almost permanent.  The average duration of UN peace operations is on the rise, with many of the largest on the ground for over a decade.  In Liberia, the UN’s engagement had to adjust rapidly to that region’s new threat of Ebola.  We need to be better able to adjust our response and operations according to the evolution of conflicts or situations.

Third, we need stronger and more operational regional partnerships.  No one organization can tackle today’s conflicts.  We need to combine our efforts and our resources.  Our partners are diverse and we need different partnerships with each.  The African Union is a particularly important partner for the United Nations and is, with its partners on the continent, bearing an increasingly heavy burden.  Over two-thirds of the UN’s peace operations are in Africa.  Our cooperation is already wide and deep, across all phases of conflict.  It is time to take our cooperation to a new level, including with earlier and more sustained consultation.

Furthermore, to take forward these priorities, the Secretary General’s report sets out 70 practical actions that he has already taken or has initiated.  

He proposes, for example, a series of new measures to expand and strengthen the UN’s prevention and mediation tools. These include stronger core capacities for prevention and mediation; additional regional offices for preventive diplomacy and work with partners; expanded support to UN development actors for conflict-sensitive and prevention-oriented engagements; a strengthened system-wide Human Rights up Front initiative to support early action in situations of mass violations of human rights; and the deployment of small teams of experts to support national authorities in preventing and addressing crises.

He also identifies several steps to improve the ways in which we plan, deploy, manage, and support UN peace operations.  These include steps to accelerate start-up or reconfiguration of missions in response to changing needs; to ensure regular reporting on efforts to protect civilians; stronger partnerships on capabilities and training to enhance the ability to operate safely in high-risk environments; to tailor missions to specific contexts; to support political settlements through targeted political, human rights, security and development support; to provide more coherent UN support to sustain peace through more joint programmes; to ensure more agile and flexible field support; and to improve communication and engagement with communities.

And, included in these 70 measures, are a series of practical steps that the Secretariat can take today, working with the African Union, to institutionalize and expand the UN-AU partnership.  These includes steps related to consultation and collaboration arrangements for all phases of conflict; joint lessons learned on financing arrangements; support to strengthened AU peace operations management and administration; and more predictable arrangements for cooperation between UN and AU peace operations, whether coordinated, parallel or sequenced.

This effort will not succeed without the active support of Member States and partners.  In his report, therefore, the Secretary-General sets out a number of actions that the Security Council, Member States and contributing countries can take to strengthen UN peace operations.

This includes strengthened efforts to protect civilians, to tailor mandates and bring the political leverage of the Security Council to bear on certain situations.  It includes smart and targeted investments, including effective financing and backstopping arrangements for special political missions.  The Secretary-General is also urging concerted action on the part of the Council and contributors to rid UN peace operations of the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse.  This is essential for the credibility of the United Nations. He appeals to Member States to work with him in this critical area.   

This is a comprehensive agenda. It will extend beyond the tenure of this Secretary-General.  It will succeed only if we come together with a shared sense of purpose.  We must unify around the urgency and complexity of conflicts today.

I am mindful that there are many issues and challenges on the Assembly’s agenda.  The future of UN peace operations is central among them.  Effective peace operations deliver peace and security.  They help advance human rights.  And they help build the peaceful and inclusive societies on which development depends.  Making UN peace operations fit for purpose helps advance all our UN goals.

There is a clear linkage, therefore, between this report and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with the other reviews that will be before you in the coming months.  We in the Secretariat are committed to ensuring that they, separately and together, pave the way for renewed energy and commitment to address today’s troubling challenges.  I hope that this Report will serve as a foundation for taking this work forward.