Press Releases

    SG/SM/9376
                                                                                                                     SC/8129
                                                                                                                     23 June 2004

    UN Engagement with Civil Society Vital to ‘Turn the Promise of Peace Agreements into Reality of Peaceful Societies’, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

    NEW YORK, 22 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks, as delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at today’s Security Council debate on “The Role of Civil Society in Post-Conflict Peace-Building”:

    Let me first start by saying how pleased we are to see you in our midst today and to congratulate you and your delegation on organizing this timely debate -- and, given its subject, I’m very glad that civil society representatives will participate in it.

    The partnership between the United Nations and civil society has grown considerably in recent years. This reflects the increasing role of civil society in helping to shape and scrutinize government policies, and in holding governments accountable. It also reflects the need, in an era marked both by global integration and by state fragmentation and failure, for civil society to contribute to international decision-making.

    Of course, civil society actors come in all shapes and sizes. Many make outstanding contributions to peace. Others -- which I have in the past called “uncivil society” -- are drivers of conflict.

    If peace-building missions are to be effective, they should, as part of a clear political strategy, work with and strengthen those civil society forces that are helping ordinary people to voice their concerns, and to act on them in peaceful ways. By the same token, they should seek to reduce the influence of forces that promote exclusionary policies or encourage people to resort to violence.

    The aim must be to create a synergy with those civil society groups that are bridge-builders, truth-finders, watchdogs, human rights defenders, and agents of social protection and economic revitalization. This can build reconciliation and lessen the appeal of those who might try to reignite conflict. It can help ensure that national and international actors are held accountable. It can assist in building national consensus on the design of post-conflict structures and programmes. It can help prepare local communities to receive back demobilized soldiers, refugees and internally displaced persons. And it can give a voice to the concerns of the marginalized.

    That is why there should be a two-way dialogue between the United Nations and civil society -- not so that one can direct the other, but to ensure that our efforts complement one another.

    However, Mme. President, we should not see civil society groups as peace-building partners only after we have arrived in a country with a mandate in our pockets. On the contrary, civil society organizations -- local as well as international -- have a role to play in the deliberative processes of the Organization, including this Council.

    In recent years, civil conflicts and complex emergencies have taken centre stage in the work of the Council. This has deepened the need for the Council to have a real understanding of the places and situations in which it is engaged. I believe that the Council members can benefit from the expertise, focus and insight which civil society groups bring to the table.

    I therefore welcome the efforts the Council has made to strengthen its informal relations with civil society groups. But the time may have come for the Council to deepen its dialogue with them, and to place its relations with them on a firmer footing.

    It is here that I would ask the Council to pay serious attention to the report released yesterday by the high-level panel on UN relations with civil society. I am extremely grateful to the panel members and all who contributed to the report. Its recommendations are practical and forward-looking. We in the Secretariat are studying them carefully. I trust the Members of the Council, and indeed all Member States, will do the same.

    I am particularly pleased that the panel has proposed a number of concrete measures to increase the participation of civil society representatives from developing countries. And the report offers many innovative ideas to strengthen the partnership with civil society in our humanitarian and development work.

    The report also has a number of practical suggestions on how the Security Council might engage more effectively with civil society -- ranging from making better use of the “Arria formula” to holding seminars on issues of emerging importance to convening independent Commissions of Inquiry after Council-mandated operations.

    The Security Council is, of course, a Council of sovereign governments, dealing with the most sensitive matters of war and peace. It should view the input of civil society organizations not as an attempt to usurp the role of governments, but rather as a way to add quality and value to its decisions, and to help ensure that they will be effectively implemented.

    And I would like to remind the Council that many civil society organizations -- not just from the north, but also from the south, and not just international, but also local -- have shown that they can make a real contribution to the work of the United Nations in peace and security. I therefore have high hopes for the international conference on conflict prevention which civil society groups have decided to hold next year, in response to the recommendation in my 2001 conflict prevention report.

    Engagement with civil society is not an end in itself, nor is it a panacea. But it is vital to our efforts to turn the promise of peace agreements into the reality of peaceful societies and viable states. The partnership between the United Nations and civil society is therefore not an option; it is a necessity. I hope that, through this debate, the Council will be able to develop more comprehensive and concrete strategies for strengthening its partnership with civil society.

    * *** *