Press Releases

    GA/9890*
    13 July 2001

    "TIME HAS COME TO TRANSLATE RHETORIC OF CONFLICT PREVENTION INTO CONCRETE ACTION", DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

    Assembly Considers Secretary-General’s Report on Prevention of Armed Conflict

    NEW YORK, 12 July (UN Headquarters) -- The time had come to translate the rhetoric of conflict prevention into concrete action, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the General Assembly this morning as she introduced the report of the Secretary-General on conflict prevention.

    She went on to say that it was both her hope and the Secretary-General’s that the United Nations and Member States would be able to work together towards the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report.

    She said the Secretary-General had stressed that to be most effective, preventive action should be initiated as early as possible. In addition, he had underscored that the primary focus of prevention should be the multidimensional causes of conflict. The root causes were more likely to be found in socio-economic inequities, ethnic discrimination, denial of human rights, disputes over political participation, or long-standing grievances over land, water and other resources.

    Singapore’s representative said that recent failures in conflict prevention showed that, if conflicts were to be prevented, they had to be prevented at an early stage and probably through a multidimensional process. There was no shortage of studies saying how that should be accomplished; unfortunately, deeds had a great difficulty matching words in that area. The United Nations record in the last 15 years had been dismal, after much previous discussion of preventive diplomacy.

    The representative of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) urged the Secretary-General to make full use of the prerogatives he had and his authority under the Charter to play a more dominant role in conflict prevention.

    In a similar vein, Morocco’s representative said the Secretary-General, who personified the United Nations and the international community, was in a better position to suggest platforms for agreement based on justice and equity.

    Therefore, it was advisable to strengthen his authority in the area of mediation and conciliation.

    Egypt’s representative said the Secretary-General’s report limited action in the prevention of armed conflict to those conflicts occurring within States. He did not agree with that limitation, as many intra-State conflicts had a number of regional and global dimensions at times. He had also not found one single mention in the report on weaponry other than small arms. The document should not have omitted nuclear disarmament or weapons of mass destruction. He called on the Secretary-General to close that gap as soon as possible.

    Also this morning the Assembly paid tribute to Humayun Rasheed Choudhury, President of its forty-first session, who recently passed away. The Assembly observed a minute of silence and conveyed its deepest condolences to the Government and people of Bangladesh and the bereaved family of the past President.

    The representatives of Rwanda (on behalf of the African States), Qatar (on behalf of the Asian States), Bulgaria (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Grenada (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), Finland (on behalf of the Western European and Other States), and the United States (on behalf of the host country) paid tribute to the memory of Mr. Choudhury. The representative of Bangladesh also expressed thanks on behalf of the Government and people of Bangladesh for the kind tributes extended to the deceased past President of the Assembly this morning.

    The Assembly also took note of a letter from the Secretary-General to its President, Harri Holkeri (Finland), informing him that 16 Member States were in arrears in the payment of their financial contributions to the United Nations within the terms of Article 19 of the Charter.

    Under Article 19, a Member of the Organization which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions shall have no vote in the Assembly if the amount of the arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.

    Also speaking in this morning’s debate were the representatives of Bangladesh, Sudan, United States, Philippines, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, China and the Republic of Korea.

    The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue its exchange of views on the prevention of armed conflict, after consideration of reports and draft resolutions concerning training and research and the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries.

    Background

    As the General Assembly took up the issue of prevention of armed conflict this morning, it had before it the report of the Secretary-General on that topic (documentsA/55/985 and Corr.1), requested by the Security Council in its presidential statement of 20 July 2000. he report reviews progress that has been achieved in developing the conflict prevention capacity of the United Nations and presents specific recommendations on how such capacity could be further enhanced, with the cooperation and involvement of Member States, who ultimately have the primary responsibility in this area.

    In fact, conflict prevention, according to the report, is one of the primary obligations of Member states set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, with civil society playing an important role. The main role of the United Nations is to support such national efforts and assist in building national capacity in conflict prevention, through its mandate to maintain international peace and security.

    As for the role of the principal organs of the United Nations in this effort, the Secretary-General recommends that the General Assembly consider a more active use of its powers, while enhancing its interaction with the Security Council, particularly in developing long-term conflict prevention and peace-building strategies. He further encourages the Security Council to consider innovative mechanisms, such as a subsidiary organ or an ad hoc informal working group to discuss prevention cases on a continuing basis, particularly with regard to periodic regional or subregional reports that the Secretary-General intends to submit to the Council.

    Long-term strategies to address the root causes of conflict, the Secretary-General recommends, should be developed by the Economic and Social Council, with a future high-level segment of its annual substantive session devoted to the question. The role of the International Court of Justice, as an indispensable element of the system of peaceful settlement of disputes, also plays a crucial role. The Secretary-General urges Member States to resort to that Court earlier, accept its general jurisdiction and take advantage of its treaty-dispute and advisory capacities.

    As for his own role, the Secretary-General intends to enhance it in this area through increased missions to volatile regions, the development of regional prevention strategies, the establishment of an informal network of eminent persons and the improvement of the Secretariat's capacity for preventive action.

    According to the report, preventive action should be initiated at the earliest possible stage of a conflict cycle in order to be most effective. One of its principal aims should be to address the deep-rooted socio-economic, cultural, environmental, institutional and other structural causes that often underlie the immediate symptoms of conflicts. n effective preventive strategy requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both short-term and long-term political and institutional measures, along with other measures taken by the international community, in combination with national and regional actors.

    Conflict prevention and sustainable -- and equitable -- development, according to the report, are mutually reinforcing activities, and a successful preventive strategy depends on the cooperation of many United Nations actors. They include the major organs mentioned above plus all agencies, offices, funds and programmes, as well as the Bretton Woods institutions. However, the Organization is not the only possible actor in this area and may often not be the one best suited to take the lead. Member States, international, regional and subregional organizations, as well as the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other civil society actors also have very important roles to play. The Secretary-General recommends a range of mechanisms to build capacity within, and capacity among, all these actors.

    Introduction of Report

    LOUISE FRÉCHETTE, Deputy Secretary-General, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the prevention of armed conflict (documents A/55/985 and Corr.1). She said the costs of not preventing violence were enormous. They were counted not only in damage, but also in opportunities lost. The international community spent about $200 billion on the seven major interventions of the 1990s in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, the Persian Gulf, Cambodia and El Salvador. Such calculations did not, of course, reflect the human cost of war and the repercussions.

    She said that drawing on lesson learned, the Secretary-General had suggested 10 principles that should guide future approaches to conflict prevention. Among those principles, he stressed that to be most effective, preventive action should be initiated as early as possible. In addition, he underscored that the primary focus of prevention should be the multidimensional causes of conflict. The proximate cause of conflict might be an outbreak of public disorder or a protest over a particular incident. The root causes were more likely to be found in socio-economic inequities, systematic ethnic discrimination, denial of human rights, disputes over political participation, or long-standing grievances over the allocation of land, water and other resources.

    Ms. Fréchette said the Secretary-General also stressed that preventive action by the United Nations required sustained political will on the part of Member States. That included, first and foremost, a readiness to provide the Organization with the necessary political support and resources for undertaking effective preventive action and developing its institutional capacity in that field.

    Among other prescribed actions, said the Deputy Secretary-General, the report of the Secretary-General also called on the General Assembly to contribute to the establishment of prevention practices at the local, national, regional and global levels; promote a culture of prevention; enhance its interaction with the Security Council; and to consider authorizing the Secretary-General, as well as other United Nations organs, to take advantage of the advisory competence of the International Court of Justice. Member States were also urged to resort to the Court earlier and more often to settle their disputes, to accept the general jurisdictions of the Court and, when adopting multilateral treaties to adopt clauses providing for disputes to be referred to the Court.

    Ms. Fréchette stated that the Secretary-General also recommended that the future high-level segment of the annual session of the Economic and Social Council should address the root causes of conflict and the role of development in promoting long-term conflict prevention. The time had come to translate the rhetoric of conflict prevention into concrete action. It was both her hope and the Secretary-General’s that the United Nations and Member States would be able to work together towards the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report.

    Statements

    ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that preventive action would have saved hundreds of billions of dollars spent in the aftermath of wars in the 1990s, in addition to the incalculable human cost of war. Bangladesh supported most of the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report. Core issues in that regard include role of the Security Council and its ability to take decisions on the merit of a case; the mustering of political will; the relationship between conflict prevention and sustainable development; investment in prevention; and the shift from a culture of reaction to one of prevention.

    Priorities in those areas, he said, include addressing the root causes of conflicts, fully implementing plans and programmes of action of recent United Nations conferences, providing the Organization with the human and financial resources necessary, giving attention to the least developed countries; and curbing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Every war challenged the foundations of the United Nations, he said. The international community must act on the useful recommendations of the Secretary-General.

    ELFATIH MOHAMED AHMED ERWA (Sudan) said there was a close link between the Secretary-General’s report and the one concerning the reasons for conflict in Africa. Dealing with the root causes of conflict was essential, as was staying within the dictates of the United Nations Charter. The main responsibility in conflict prevention lay with the States, and the main role of the United Nations should be in supporting the States in that role, as well as in sustainable development, a related area. He hoped that the leading role in conflict prevention at the United Nations would be maintained by the General Assembly.

    In that regard, he supported the Secretary-General’s recommendations on the role of the Economic and Social Council and other organs of the Organization. He agreed with the recommendations on human rights; however, he cautioned against acceptance of the unequal and unreliable reporting on human rights violations. Often, he said, NGOs worked to inflame conflicts. That had happened in the Sudan, and such NGOs should be monitored. The Government of the Sudan had supported efforts to allow the inflow of humanitarian supplies; actions of the rebels were causing suffering.

    JEAN DE RUYT (Belgium), for the European Union and the associated States of Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia Cyprus and Malta, said greater efforts should be made in conflict prevention, since the human and financial costs would be considerably less than those associated with conflict settlement. The European Union also agreed with the Secretary-General when he said that the primary responsibility for conflict prevention lay with viable governments. A complementary role, however, must be played by civil society in that process, since it was well paced to identify the causes of conflict at the earliest opportunity. The European Union also agreed with the links made between conflict prevention, poverty and sustainable development.

    He said the promotion of human rights, and preventing the violation of those rights, must be an integral part of conflict-prevention strategies. The Union attached particular importance to promoting the protection of the rights of children who must not be recruited and used as fighters. The Secretary-General should make full use of the prerogatives he had and his authority under the Charter, to play a more dominant role in conflict prevention. Preventive action, nevertheless, must be carried out with full respect for the principles of the Charter. Members of the Union who were major contributors to official development assistance (ODA) would continue with their contributions. The Secretary-General could also count on the Union for its active cooperation in the future.

    AHMED ABOULGHEIT (Egypt) said the Secretary-General’s report limited action in the prevention of armed conflict to those conflicts occurring within States. His delegation did not agree with that limitation since, at times, many intra-State conflicts had a number of regional and global dimensions. It was also unacceptable to propose that the United Nations system undertake global action without adequate financial resources. Also, he had not found one single mention in the report to weaponry other than small arms. The document should not have failed to mention to nuclear disarmament and weapons of mass destruction. He encouraged the Secretary-General to close that gap as soon as possible.

    While he said he acknowledged the importance of cooperation between the Security Council and the Assembly in preventing armed conflict, he stressed the need for those two bodies to use information published by human rights organizations and other institutions. He also underscored the importance of such organizations checking out the credibility of their sources, since they had to reach objective conclusions.

    JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) said the report provided useful background and recommendations that the United States would consider carefully. Leadership and political will were most essential elements in conflict prevention. The point that national governments were the most responsible parties was easier said than done, but the report was correct in stating that the United Nations must help build capacity within nations. Cooperation between Member States, NGOs and different bodies of the United Nations system was crucial. He strongly supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to enhance his own role in conflict prevention.

    An enhanced early warning system and greater availability of information in the Secretariat were other important recommendations. The involvement of the private sector was also necessary. The overall goal was to need fewer peacekeeping and post-conflict missions in the future. He hoped the international community would succeed in meeting that objective.

    ENRIQUE MANALO (Philippines) said that a coordinated and coherent approach was needed, in conflict prevention, from all organs of the United Nations. He supported the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report in that regard. In addressing the root causes of conflict, he agreed that the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly had great roles to play, if properly coordinated with the activities of the Security Council.

    In such a coordinated and coherent approach, he said, the best means should be sought for each situation, and conflict prevention should not become a catch-all term, or be confused with other kinds of peace-building. Recommendations on disarmament should be more focussed on weapons of mass destruction, and those on the role of the private sector needed to be refined. The consent of national entities and the recognition of the diversity and complexity of situations were particularly important. Conflict prevention should not become an open-ended exercise, but it should be grounded in an historical approach, taking into account the full context of potential conflict.

    LUIS E. CAPPAGLI (Argentina) said the culture of prevention must take root at all levels of the Organization. The gist of such a culture was investing in the future, and moving towards a comprehensive approach that dealt with the underlying causes of conflict so that they could be prevented. Within such a process, there were two key components: the financial resources needed to move forward; and the real political determination of all those involved in the conflict to resolve it. In the absence of the latter, outsiders could do very little no matter how well meaning their intentions. The culture of impunity must also be removed.

    He said the United Nations must deal fully with new threats and come up with adequate responses. The Assembly, through its many bodies, had both a moral and legal responsibility to do that.

    JORGE EDUARDO NAVARRETE (Mexico) said while it had been accepted that prevention was the pillar of collective security, it had not been translated into anything tangible. The Assembly must retain its central role in conflict prevention. It was the most representative and universal body of the Organization and it should, therefore, be granted the broadest of powers. It was, therefore, called upon to play a preponderant role in all realms of action by the United Nations.

    He called for a "brainstorming" of the Secretary-General’s recommendations so that the Assembly could become an effective body of conflict mediation and prevention. Close cooperation between that body and the Security Council was also essential. It was obvious that to prevent conflict the underlying root causes must be removed. Those, however, were diverse and multifaceted questions. The issues affecting prevention must, therefore, be put on the forefront of the work of the Assembly. The objective was to set in motion a large-scale effort to single out the causes of conflicts and thus prevent them from erupting.

    ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia) referred to Columbia’s comments in the recent Security Council debate on conflict prevention. In addition, he underlined the central role of national governments, and the danger of confusing conflict prevention with other areas. It was imperative to strictly define the scope of conflict prevention, so that everyone was speaking about the same topic, and so that all parts of the United Nations system could cooperate in the creation of a culture of prevention in the long term.

    He stressed the importance of sustainable development in conflict prevention, as well as the role of the International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction Colombia wholeheartedly accepted. He supported the Secretary-General’s call for curbing the illicit trade of weapons and drugs and many other recommendations of the report.

    VLADISLAV MLADENOVIC (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) said the report was a good basis for consideration of this important issue. He fully supported the shift from a culture of reaction to one of prevention. The end of the cold war might make this fundamental change possible, along with the reform of the principal organs of the United Nations. Prevention should be broadly based, looking at all possible causes of conflict. States were most important in that effort, but the roles of the various organs of the United Nations should not be overlooked. They should be continuously studied and developed in accordance with the Charter and international law.

    He said it was important to uphold, however, those provisions of the Charter that respected national integrity. Recently, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was faced with the infiltration of Albanian extremists and had provided for the solution of the crisis by peaceful, democratic and transparent means, with the goal of building a multi-ethnic society. It was an example of how a government, in cooperation with the international community, could prevent an internal dispute from transforming itself into widespread armed conflict.

    MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco) said the Secretary-General’s report was of crucial importance as far as the credibility and future of the Organization was concerned. The Secretary General, who personified the United Nations and the international community, was in a better position to suggest platforms for agreement based on justice and equity. Therefore, it was advisable to strengthen his authority in the area of mediation and conciliation. In all attempts to settle a dispute, he went on to say, "we have to avoid any mixture between the political issues under discussion and the humanitarian problems to which urgent solutions musts be found to alleviate the suffering of people".

    He said "we cannot hold hostage issues where elementary rights of human beings are at stake" in order to bargain in whatever political negotiation might be taking place. If the primary responsibility of prevention was incumbent on national governments and on local actors, it was the responsibility of the United Nations to support and direct efforts in the right direction. That was the only way the Organization could progressively expand the culture of prevention called for by the Secretary-General.

    WANG YINGFAN (China) said the present report of the Secretary-General focused on the important role of the United Nations in the prevention of armed conflict and represented a vigourous effort to strengthen the Organization’s leading role in maintaining international peace and security. Nevertheless, a blind eye could not be turned to the fact that in today’s world, partial armed conflict continued to happen in quick sequence in different regions or countries. The world was by no means peaceful, and Member States still had a long way to go towards the prevention of armed conflict.

    He said the Secretary-General had asked a very sharp question at the end of his report: "Why is conflict prevention still so seldom practised, and, why do we so often fail when there is very clear potential for preventive strategy to succeed?" That was a question that Member States should really continue to think about in greater depth. In addition, stronger practical disarmament measures should be taken, and the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons should be curbed. He hoped that a programme of action would be passed by the Assembly to provide for specific activities in that field. Also, the causes for the failure or unsatisfactory results of conflict-prevention operations might be found in their wrong prescriptions. More exploration must be made of that issue.

    KISHORE MAHBUBANI (Singapore) said that recent failures in conflict prevention showed that, if conflicts were to be prevented, they had to be prevented at an early stage and probably through a multidimensional process. There was no shortage of studies saying how that should be accomplished; unfortunately, deeds had a great difficulty matching words in this area. The United Nations record in the last 15 years had been dismal, after much discussion of preventive diplomacy.

    To ensure that today’s discussions were not equally futile, he said, the high cost of not preventing conflicts, as pointed out by the Secretary-General, must be taken seriously. Clear responsibilities for conflict prevention must be assigned between United Nations organs. The Security Council should act to deal with imminent conflicts, possibly with the General Assembly dealing with structural causes, particularly poverty. Dialogues between the Security Council and other organs of the United Nations, such as the Economic and Social Council, was also necessary. The Secretary-General’s call for such coordination received the strongest support.

    SUN JOUN-YUNG (Republic of Korea) said the most effective preventive strategy was a comprehensive one that entailed short-term measures to foster political dialogue, the rule of law, respect for human rights, socio-economic development and good governance. Of the recommendations of the Secretary-General, he stressed the importance of the proper interaction between the Security Council and the General Assembly. He also supported a broader, more holistic approach to conflict prevention, addressing the root causes of conflicts.

    Greater resources, he said, should be devoted to humanitarian agencies, in the effort to maintain stable social environments. A wide array of actors, in addition, have a role to play, in particular regional and subregional organizations, whose relationships with the United Nations system should be strengthened. Emphasis should also be placed on early-warning systems and preventive deployment, as well as the enhancement of the Secretary-General’s own preventive role. Calling for strong political will to be exercised, he said the Republic of Korea was a contributor to the Trust Fund for Preventive Action and was strongly committed to the efforts of the international community to end armed conflicts.

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    * Press Release GA/9888 of 29 June should have been GA/9889