Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2616
    Release Date: 21 July 2000
      Secretary-General Says Conflict Prevention Should Be Cornerstone
    Of Collective Security in Twenty-first Century

    NEW YORK, 20 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address delivered today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the open meeting of the Security Council on conflict prevention: 

    We should all be grateful to you, and to your country’s admirable Permanent Representative, for convening this second open debate of the Security Council on conflict prevention.  

    Interest in this subject is on the rise -- and with good reason.  In the last decade alone, 5 million people lost their lives in wars -- mainly internal ones -- and great suffering was inflicted on countless others, most of them civilians.  We struggle to relieve the suffering, and to resolve the conflicts.  But everyone agrees that it would be far better to prevent them.

    We can do better.  Indeed, the Charter requires us to do better.  In Article 1, paragraph 1, the founding fathers made it one of the primary purposes of this Organization "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace".  It is high time we gave prevention the primacy, in all our work, that those words imply.

    But how?  There is, by now, a consensus that prevention strategies must address the root causes of conflicts, not simply their violent symptoms.  And it is also widely understood that, since no two wars are alike, no single prevention strategy will be effective everywhere.  There is no panacea. 

    Prevention is multidimensional.  It is not just a matter of putting in place mechanisms such as early warning, diplomacy, disarmament, preventive deployment, or sanctions -- necessary though all these may be, at one time or another.  Effective prevention has to address the structural faults that predispose a society to conflict.

    A recent study by the United Nations University suggests that simple inequality between rich and poor is not enough to cause violent conflict.  What is highly explosive is what the authors of the study call “horizontal” inequality: when power and resources are unequally distributed between groups that are also differentiated in other ways -– for instance, by race, religion, or language.  

    So-called “ethnic” conflicts occur between groups which are distinct in one or more of these ways, when one of them feels it is being discriminated against, or another enjoys privileges which it fears to lose.

    Increasingly, therefore, we see that democracy, human rights, good governance, justice and the rule of law are not rewards to be claimed at the end of the development process, but essential ingredients of development itself.  And while we do not see poverty alone as a sufficient cause of conflict, we consider it no accident that the majority of wars today are fought among the poor.  Social despair provides fertile soil for conflict, especially when irrigated with undemocratic governance and violations of human rights. 

    As I have said before, the best form of long-term conflict prevention is healthy and balanced economic development.  And, since peace and development are the two great responsibilities of the United Nations, that gives this Organization a special role to play.

    Since taking office, I have attempted in various ways to adapt the Organization to play that role:

    --  The Department of Political Affairs, which I have designated as the focal point for conflict prevention within the United Nations system, has set up a prevention team that meets regularly to identify situations where United Nations preventive action could help.  Other United Nations departments and agencies have taken similar measures to strengthen their preventive capacity.
    --  I have established a framework for coordination to improve interdepartmental and inter-agency links. 
    --  We are working more closely with regional organizations.  
    --  More than 400 staff from throughout the system have gone through a new training course in prevention and early warning, organized by the United Nations Staff College in Turin.  
    --  I intend to continue to strengthen the information gathering and analysis capacity of the Secretariat, and I look forward to a systematic exchange with members of this Council on ways to do this.
    --  And, of course, all our work in post-conflict peace-building is, in fact, prevention, since it is designed to prevent the resurgence of conflict in countries that have escaped from it.  This can be the hardest form of prevention, since conflict invariably leaves behind it a legacy of unavenged wrongs, unassuaged grievances, and unachieved ambitions.

    But I am pleased to note that the Secretariat is not alone in taking prevention more seriously.  This Council too is playing its part.  A recent and striking example was your decision to ban all direct or indirect imports of unlicensed diamonds from Sierra Leone, following the similar ban imposed on diamonds from the UNITA-controlled area in Angola, and the ground-breaking investigation led by Ambassador [Robert] Fowler.  You have also requested me to establish an expert panel on the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I am now in the process of doing so, and I hope this may soon enable you to take action to restrain such exploitation, as you have done in Angola and Sierra Leone. 

    I also hope that the diamond bans will, from now on, be more strictly enforced, and that the dealers will respond by cleaning up their business.  Greed may be one of the driving forces behind some of today's armed conflicts, but we are not helpless in confronting it.

    In my statement at the previous open meeting on prevention, I suggested a number of steps the Council could take.  They included making greater use of fact-finding missions; encouraging States to bring potential conflicts to the attention of the Council; and setting up an informal working group or a subsidiary organ to study early warning and prevention.

    Let me now add a few more suggestions.  I believe, in the light of recent experience, that some of the Charter's provisions relating to prevention have been under-utilized:

    --  The Council could hold periodic meetings at the foreign minister level, as provided for in Article 28, to discuss thematic or actual prevention issues.
    --  It could also work more closely with the other principal organs of the United Nations.  For instance, prevention issues could be put on the agenda of the monthly meeting between the Presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly.  This Council might obtain useful information and other assistance from the Economic and Social Council, as envisaged in Article 65.  And, under Article 96, the Council can request an advisory opinion, on any legal question, from the International Court of Justice.  Could you not make greater use of the Court's capacity to move conflicts from potential battlefields to peaceful arbitration rooms?
    --  In the same spirit, the Council could examine ways of interacting more closely with non-State actors that have expertise in prevention or can make a difference to it.  Prevention cannot be achieved by States alone.  Civil society, including the corporate sector, has a vital role to play in defusing or avoiding conflicts 
    --  as we saw, to take just one example, in South Africa in the 1980s.

    I believe the time has come to review all these proposals, as well as those put forward by the members of the Council at this and previous debates.  Let us agree on the most practical ideas and then let us act.  

    There is no shortage of ideas for avoiding the sort of human suffering, killings and wanton destruction that so disfigured the twentieth century.  But there remains a worrying lack of political will among governments, which hold most of the levers of prevention in their hands, either to show political leadership when it is needed, or to commit the necessary resources. 

    Let me thank those governments that have contributed generously to the Trust Fund for Preventive Action.  Unfortunately, there are only seven of them - for a total of $7.4 million in three years.  

    Yes, prevention costs money.  But intervention, relief, and rebuilding broken societies and lives cost far more.

    We must move from declarations of intent to real leadership at the political level.  Leaders must recognize the need for preventive action, sometimes even before any signs of crisis are evident.  They will have to sell prevention policies to their publics, even if the costs must be borne today and the benefits do not arrive for months or even years, and then not in tangible form.  How does one quantify, or even recognize, a conflict that does not occur?

    Leaders will also have to acknowledge -- as increasingly I believe they do -- that the international community can play a constructive role in internal situations, and that this can strengthen sovereignty rather than weaken it.  And States will have to give the institutions that exist for prevention -- from the United Nations to local community-relations councils -- the backing they so urgently need.

    We must make conflict prevention the cornerstone of collective security in the twenty-first century.  That will not be achieved by grand gestures, or by short-term thinking.  It requires us to change deeply ingrained attitudes. 

    I trust you will have a fruitful debate on this most urgent issue, in which your Council has an essential role to play.

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