22 June 2001


NEW YORK, 21 (Following is the text of this morning’s statement by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette in the Security Council’s open debate on conflict prevention:

Recent debates – including those at the Millennium Summit and the Security Council Summit last September -- have shown wide agreement on the need to make conflict prevention a central pillar of our collective security system in the 21st century. So, Mr. President, I welcome this opportunity to present the first report on this subject, which the Secretary-General has submitted, to both the Security Council and the General Assembly.

If this report has one message, it is that we must intensify our efforts to move from a culture of reaction to one of prevention. Drawing on the lessons we have learned, the Secretary-General proposes the following 10 principles, which in his view should guide our future approach to conflict prevention:

1. Conflict prevention is one of the primary obligations of Member States set forth in the Charter, and our efforts in conflict prevention must be in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter.

2. Conflict prevention must begin with national governments and local actors; otherwise it is unlikely to succeed. They have the primary responsibility. The United Nations and the international community should support their efforts and assist them in building national capacities.

3. The most useful instruments of prevention are those described in Chapter VI of the Charter, which deals with the peaceful settlement of disputes. Measures under Chapter VII are normally taken only after a conflict has broken out -- though they may still have a preventive effect by deterring other potential conflicts. There may also be cases where certain measures under Chapter VII, such as economic sanctions, can be used preventively.

4. To be most effective, preventive action should be initiated as early as possible. The sooner a dispute or problem which might lead to conflict can be identified and addressed successfully, the less likely it is that it will deteriorate into violent conflict.

5. The primary focus of prevention should be the multi-dimensional root causes of conflict. The proximate cause of conflict may be an outbreak of public disorder or a protest over a particular incident, but the root causes are 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.

6. An effective preventive strategy requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both short-term and long-term political, developmental, humanitarian and human rights programmes.

7. Conflict prevention and sustainable development reinforce each other. An investment in prevention should be seen as a simultaneous investment in sustainable development, since it is obvious that the latter is more likely to happen in a peaceful environment.

8. There is therefore a case for looking at United Nations development programmes and activities from a conflict-prevention perspective. This, in turn, requires greater coherence and coordination in the United Nations system, with a specific focus on conflict prevention.

9. The United Nations is not the only actor in prevention, and may not always be the actor best suited to take the lead. Member States, international and regional organizations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other civil society actors also have very important roles to play.

10. Finally, effective preventive action by the United Nations requires sustained political will on the part of Member States. This includes first and foremost a readiness to provide the United Nations with the necessary political support and resources for undertaking effective preventive action and developing its institutional capacity in this field.

Now, how can this Council -- which has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security -- enhance its role in conflict prevention? The Secretary-General proposes a number of means to help identify and capitalize more easily on windows of opportunity for preventive action:

  • One is the practice, which the Secretary-General intends to initiate, of providing periodic regional or subregional reports to the Council on disputes with a potential to threaten international peace and security.
  • Another is the proposition that the Council consider the establishment of new mechanisms, such as an ad hoc informal working group, another subsidiary organ, or some other informal technical arrangement, for discussing prevention cases in a more sustained and structured way.
  • The Council may also wish to consider sending fact-finding missions with multidisciplinary expert support to potential conflict areas, with the aim of working out comprehensive prevention strategies.

The report calls on the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to play a more active role in conflict prevention, and to enhance their interaction with the Security Council in this field. One of the recommendations made to the General Assembly is that it should authorize the Secretary-General and other United Nations organs to take advantage of the advisory competence of the International Court of Justice. Needless to say, Member States themselves are also urged to resort to the Court earlier and more often to settle their disputes.

As to his own preventive role, the Secretary-General thinks that it could be enhanced:

  • by increasing the use of inter-disciplinary fact-finding and confidence-building missions to volatile areas;
  • by developing regional prevention strategies with regional partners and the relevant United Nations organs and agencies;
  • by establishing an informal network of eminent persons;
  • and by improving the capacity and resource base for preventive action in the Secretariat.

I would like to draw your attention to two other recommendations in the report. One is that Member States should support the follow-up processes launched by the last two high-level meetings between the United Nations and regional organizations, which dealt with conflict prevention and peace-building respectively, and provide increased resources for the development of regional capacities in these fields.

The other is that donor States should increase the flow of official development assistance, which has dropped to alarmingly low levels in recent years. Development assistance cannot by itself prevent or end conflict. But it does facilitate the creation of opportunities and the political, economic and social environment within which national actors can build a peaceful, equitable and just society.

Having said all that, Mr. President, let me emphasize that effective conflict prevention requires action beyond what is recommended in this report, and indeed beyond any institutional mechanism. The international community has a moral responsibility to ensure that vulnerable peoples are protected. On two occasions at least, in the recent past -- in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia -- we failed to live up to this responsibility.

The question remains: why is effective conflict prevention still so seldom practised, and why do we so often fail when there is a clear potential for a preventive strategy to succeed?

Past experience offers two main answers to this question. First, if the government concerned refuses to admit that it has a problem which could lead to violent conflict and rejects offers for assistance, there often is very little outside actors, including the United Nations, can do. Second, the international community, including the Security Council and the Member States of the United Nations, all too often lacks the political will to take effective action in time.

But such attitudes alone are not the only obstacle to effective preventive action. No less significant are the ways in which the Member States define their national interest in any given crisis. As the world has changed in profound ways since the end of the Cold War, our conceptions of national interest have failed to follow suit.

A new, more broadly defined, more widely conceived definition of national interest in the new century would induce States to find far greater unity in the pursuit of the fundamental goals of the Charter. As the Secretary-General has stressed, "in a growing number of challenges facing humanity, the collective interest is the national interest".

Preventive strategies are not easy to implement. The costs of prevention have to be paid in the present, while its benefits lie in the future. In addition, the benefits are often not tangible: when prevention succeeds, little happens that is visible. Yet, the report clearly demonstrates that conflict prevention is the most desirable and cost-effective approach for promoting the peaceful and just international order envisaged in the Charter.

According to a study by the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the international community spent about $200 billion on the seven major interventions of the 1990s, in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, the Persian Gulf, Cambodia and El Salvador, exclusive of Kosovo and East Timor.

And such calculations do not, of course, reflect the human costs of war -- death, injury, destruction, displacement -- and their repercussions for families, communities, local and national institutions and economies, and neighbouring countries.

The message is clear: governments which peacefully resolve a situation that might deteriorate into a violent conflict, and call for preventive assistance as soon as it is needed, provide the best protection for their citizens against unwelcome outside interference. Used in this way, international preventive action can significantly strengthen the capacity of Member States to preserve and exercise their national sovereignty.

It is my hope, and the Secretary-General’s hope, that the United Nations system and Member States will be able to work together towards the implementation of the recommendations contained in this report.

The constructive stance that the Security Council has already taken in its three open debates and subsequent Presidential Statements on this subject over the past two years is heartening. But the time has come to translate the rhetoric of conflict prevention into concrete action.

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