New York

21 February 2022

Remarks at the Third General Assembly Thematic Consultation as a Follow-Up to the Report Entitled ‘Our Common Agenda’: ‘Frameworks For A Peaceful World — Promoting Peace, International Law And Digital Cooperation‘

Delivered by Volker Türk, Under-Secretary-General for Policy

Mr. President of the General Assembly, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Every morning thousands of our colleagues get up all around the world, often in remote corners of our planet, and work tirelessly for peace, provide humanitarian relief, support development efforts and promote human rights. Many a time they risk their lives, they endure hardship, often away from their families and loved ones, and yet they continue.

They do this work in response to mandates entrusted to them by Member States. They believe in the purposes and principles of the United Nations, its fundamental values, and the aspirations of the UN Charter. They witness first-hand what a difference we, the United Nations, can make in the lives of real people out there. Ultimately, this is about the search for a better world, for peace and the betterment of lives everywhere.

When we discuss the issues today and tomorrow — in the solemn hall of the General Assembly — let us not forget what this Organization has been able to do on the ground, day in, day out, often invisible and away from the limelight, not least because of what you and people all around the world expect from us. Let us not forget what tools we have at our disposal and how we can strive to improve and innovate them.

And allow me a personal remark; in my own UN work over the years, I have been able to spend quite a bit of time listening to and learning from people affected by conflict and violence. Their stories remind us of the volatility of life; how from one day to the next, violence and conflict can massively disrupt an existence. Each of the stories confronts us with the stark realities and unimaginable choices that so many people face in zones of conflict or instability around the world.  They make us feel, in our bones, the profound importance of the ability to live in peace. And peace is the central promise of the Charter and one of the principal global public goods the UN was established to deliver.

Mr. President,

As the Secretary-General has said, the Charter of the United Nations is “an exceptional achievement in the annals of history”. Its purposes, principles and provisions epitomize all that we stand for and guide all that we do. The United Nations was founded to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and the Charter entrusted the Security Council with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

No doubt, today’s world is infinitely more complex and interconnected than 76 years ago. The Secretary-General described many of these complexities in his remarks at the Munich Security Conference last Friday, as well as in his January priorities speech.

Apart from inter-State conflict, we have been confronted with a myriad of internal conflicts, internecine strife, the threat of terrorist groups and organized crime, the negative side of a digital world gone awry, challenges around disarmament, skyrocketing inequalities and socioeconomic vulnerabilities, threats from biorisks, disinformation, hate speech and cyber-attacks; and often a combination of all. Geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations are a complicating factor as are evolving threats stemming from climate change, environmental degradation and competition over critical resources, including water, arable land or precious material. And let us not forget systematic violence against women and girls.

We all have a stake in finding solutions: what may be local today could very well become a regional or global issue tomorrow. 

It is against this backdrop that we need to keep asking ourselves: how can we learn from history and galvanise the action necessary to anticipate problems, prevent crises, build peace and reshape our responses?

The proposals for consideration before you include a New Agenda for Peace, a dialogue on peaceful use of outer space, a global digital compact for an open, free and secure digital future, a roadmap for international law, and a global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information. What these proposals have in common is a desire to build on the instruments we have so that they are adapted to contemporary and future challenges, while also discussing gaps that have emerged.

Mr. President,

Let me briefly elaborate on some of these proposals.

First, in 1992, at a critical inflection point in world history, the Secretary-General of the time put forward an Agenda for Peace that would shape the peace and security work for decades to come. As this Secretary-General has said in his Our Common Agenda report, we are at a similar inflection point.  The monumental nature of the challenges today requires us to be even more ambitious.

What could a new Agenda for Peace look like today? Would it be a catalyst to respond to existing and future challenges? Would it be an inspiration to tackle the governance of frontier issues, such as digital technologies in modern warfare?

The Our Common Agenda report makes a number of suggestions. They include addressing strategic risks, foresight, efforts to reduce all forms of violence, an overhaul of prevention and peacebuilding. It is critically important that women and girls are at the centre of our peace and security agenda. Other elements in the report regarding trust, the social contract, sustainable development and misinformation are equally relevant. The report includes proposals to strengthen the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund. We have also heard from many of you that the problem of terrorism warrants more in-depth consideration.

A new Agenda for Peace would also build on wide-ranging internal reforms to the peace and security pillar instituted by the Secretary-General, including Action for Peacekeeping, a new Office of Counter-Terrorism, the Hate Speech strategy and the focus on prevention. It is crucial that factors fueling conflict and violence are addressed as a priority. The focus on prevention also highlights the need for an integrated approach within the United Nations system, as well as closer cooperation with national, regional and international stakeholders. 

Mr. President,

Second, our discussion today is also linked to a strong rule of law orientation. We know that international law is the backbone of an interdependent world, and indeed the Charter envisages the progressive development of international law and its codification. In line with commitment 4 of the UN75 Leaders Declaration, the Our Common Agenda report proposes a global roadmap for the development and effective implementation of international law. It also suggests regular dialogues on legal matters of global concern, building on the work of the 6th Committee.

A number of recommendations relate to making fuller use of human rights mechanisms, recognizing the strong appreciation of Member States for the Universal Periodic Review. In this connection, let me also refer to the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, which has identified seven areas for action, with attention to the full breadth of rights — economic, social, cultural, civil and political — their universality and indivisibility.

Third, nowhere has the need for international standard-setting become so apparent as in relation to the technology revolution, notably the digital world, cyberspace, artificial intelligence and other frontier issues — with non-state actors having emerged as powerful entities. It is in these areas where the gap between extreme risk and opportunity widens in the absence of norms and standards. These areas could find reflection in the New Agenda for Peace, the Global Digital Compact and the Outer-Space Dialogue. Our Common Agenda also suggests to update or clarify the application of human rights frameworks to address frontier issues and prevent harms.

At the same time, there is an urgent need to bridge the huge digital divide so that everyone can benefit from the immense opportunities the digital world can offer. This requires accelerated action to connect, by 2030, the remaining 3.8 billion people who are currently offline.

Fourth, we have unfortunately seen how disinformation and other harmful practices have been used to serve personal and commercial agendas, with a polarizing impact on societies. And as mentioned earlier, the proposal is to advance a global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information.

Mr. President,

In short, many of the proposals before you have the potential to be brought together as tracks for the proposed Summit of the Future in 2023. We look forward to hearing your views and reactions to this cluster of ideas. My colleagues in the UN system will be listening carefully and will be ready to share our initial thinking tomorrow and in the weeks to come.

Let me conclude by stressing how deeply we appreciate these consultations. We have embarked on an important collective learning and organic growth process, uniting behind a search for what the United Nations in all its facets needs to deliver on in the 21st century so that we can proudly claim “good ancestor-ship”.  

Thank you.