New York

06 December 2012

Secretary-General's Remarks to IPU Annual Parliamentary Hearing [Delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, with his personal comments]

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the United Nations on behalf of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is on travel in the Middle East.

First of all, I want to thank you for your abiding commitment to the cooperation with the United Nations and for your wide-ranging contributions to our work.

I also want to thank you, Mr. President, for choosing to focus this year’s hearing in New York on conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace-building. And you may not have to be as diplomatic as you indicated in the introduction. I think we should speak with openness about this very important subject.

You work closely with us in so many ways.  And so you know that these are trying times for the United Nations. Our efforts to prevent and resolve conflict have seen painful setbacks in recent weeks and months in Syria, in Eastern Congo and in Mali.

Some observers may be tempted to conclude that the United Nation’s efforts to make, keep and build peace in war-torn societies face insurmountable obstacles.

It is true, we do not always succeed.

But this is also why it is so important to remember that we have seen successful prevention and conflict resolution in many places over the past two decades.

The number of violent conflicts in the world has declined by over 40 per cent since the early 1990s. This figure is well known but it warrants repeating.

Researchers tell us that part of the explanation is the rise of international conflict management by the United Nations and others after the end of the Cold War.

Just last month Sierra Leone went through successful elections. Only a few years ago this country was considered a failed state by many. Now it is well positioned to build on important peacebuilding gains, partly thanks to the engagement of the United Nations and other international organizations and also parliamentary efforts and civil society efforts.

In Yemen, which was facing the specter of civil war just over a year ago, we have helped broker a transition agreement that has led to the country’s first democratic elections in decades.

In Somalia, a country fragmented by internal strife for almost thirty years and I was there myself about twenty years ago during the horrible early nineties. Somalis have concluded their transition in accordance with the Roadmap, with the Djibouti Agreement and the Kampala Accord. In recent months – and I would say in the most inclusive process in a generation -- Somalis have adopted a Provisional Constitution, convened the new House of the People of the Federal Parliament, and selected a new President. The support from Somalia’s international partners, in particular the African Union and the United Nations, has been and will continue to be crucial.  Let us give the new Somali government all the support back to normalcy.

In other countries and places, such as Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Niger, Libya and Myanmar, the United Nations has played and is playing a helpful role in facilitating political transitions after conflicts or the fall of autocratic regimes.

We have learned many important lessons along the way.

We now understand better than ever before that we need multifaceted and integrated responses to reach sustainable solutions.  Conflict prevention and peacekeeping need to be closely linked to long-term work in areas such as rule of law, human rights and of course development.  It is clear, for example, that the crisis in Mali, which poses a threat to the region and to international security, should be faced also at the side of tackling the problems of facing the Sahel as a whole. So the Sahel and the Mali crisis should be seen together.  This is why the Secretary-General has appointed a Special Envoy, Romano Prodi of Italy, to develop a United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel that aims to bring together the political, humanitarian, developmental and human rights dimensions of our work into one coherent response.

Building the right set of nationally-owned institutions is critical for any successful transition to peace. And among those institutions, of course, parliaments are fundamentally crucial.

However much the United Nations can do to promote peace in conflict-ridden countries, success ultimately depends on strong national leadership and strong national commitment to reconciliation and reform. That leadership and commitment often emanate from parliaments.  You have an important role and an important responsibility.

Indeed, it is parliaments that can hold the key to making the necessary changes to avoid conflict or conflicts to erupt again.   Parliaments often stand for the choice of negotiation and dialogue over division and conflict. In new democracies, the onus is on parliamentarians to lead by example and use their position to promote the greater good rather than advance their own partisan interests.

Let me highlight a few areas where I believe parliaments matter most.

First, the exclusion of marginalized groups, which is often at the heart of violent conflict.

When the right electoral systems are in place, parliaments give a voice to minorities and other groups that have been disenfranchised or neglected. By adopting laws and regulations, parliaments can end discrimination and promote human rights. By their control over budgets, they can ensure a fair distribution of resources and promote socio-economic development.

Second, the participation of women in political processes.

When women are empowered by the political system, the prospects for peace improve dramatically. In Nepal, for instance, electoral legislation adopted by parliaments have helped ensure that a third of its legislature is made up of women. Women’s groups have in turn been of great importance for Nepal’s transition to peace. I’ve met by the way also women’s groups when I was in Bamako, Mali.  I was clearly impressed by their work.  You could see their potential contributions to peace, development and the life and dignity of all in Mali.

Parliaments may also play a key role overseeing the peace agreements and thereby maintaining public trust in peace processes. The Indonesian parliament, for instance, has adopted a law successfully establishing a commitment mechanism which institutionalizes major provisions of the peace agreement for Aceh. 

Third, the fight against corruption and the diversion of public funds.

Corruption not only undermines a State’s budget; it directly undermines state authority and trust in public institutions, which are key factors in any peace process. Timor Leste’s parliament has faced this threat by adopting a law introducing transparency over the country’s oil proceeds and also of expenditures by the country’s ministries.

Finally, the need for effective systems of “checks and balances”.

When power is overly centralized in the hands of the Executive, the prospects for conflict become more likely, sadly. After the electoral violence in Kenya, parliament contributed to constitutional reforms that decentralized decision-making and strengthened the legislature’s ability to hold the executive accountable.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing the benefits of having strong Parliaments are self-evident. However, I know you share my view that in too many places, parliaments still face significant difficulties fulfilling their important functions. Particularly in fragile and post-conflict countries, parliaments often lack capacity and resources. Often they also lack adequate authority under their constitution. 

This is why we need to place greater emphasis on strengthening parliaments in fragile countries, and, in particular, their role in conflict prevention and resolution.

This is why the work of the Interparliamentary Union is so important. The IPU has unique expertise and leverage. Your ability to generate collegial discussions, promote exchanges of good practices, deploy experts and provide advice on parliamentary procedures and democratic practices – all these are tremendous assets that I hope you will develop further in the future.

The United Nations looks forward to continuing our strong partnership with the IPU, working together with you to promote development, democracy, human rights and peace across the world.

And finally I want to point to this beautiful Charter of the United Nations and remind ourselves of the first words in that Charter. And those words are well known to you and it’s a great way of ending my welcome to you. The first words of this UN Charter are “We the peoples”…. “We the peoples of the United Nations” and you are the links to the people and that is why your important work is so crucial for all of us.

Thank you so much for coming and I wish you a good conference.