13 July 2001


Introduces Secretary-General’s Report on Prevention of Armed Conflict

NEW YORK, 12 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a statement today by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the General Assembly on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Armed Conflict:

Recent debates in this Assembly -- most notably during the Millennium Summit last September -- have shown wide agreement on the need to make conflict prevention a central pillar of our collective security system in the twenty-first century. Indeed, there is a broad consensus that the most promising approach to preventing armed conflict is to develop long-term and integrated strategies, combining a wide range of measures aimed at eradicating or reducing the underlying causes of conflict. In the Millennium Declaration, world leaders pledged to enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations in this field.

The United Nations system already contributes significantly to the prevention of armed conflict. Yet, if the report that I have the pleasure to present to you today has one message, it is that we must intensify those efforts.

The costs of not preventing violence are enormous. They are counted not only in damage inflicted, but also in opportunities lost. 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.

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

Drawing on the lessons we have learned, the Secretary-General suggests that the following 10 principles 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. 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.
  5. The primary focus of prevention should be the multidimensional 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. United Nations development programmes and activities can also be viewed from a conflict prevention perspective. This, in turn, requires greater coherence and coordination in the United Nations system.
  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. And finally,
  10. 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.

Let me turn now to what this Assembly, based on these principles, can do to enhance its role in conflict prevention. The report recommends a wide range of actions, including:

  • Considering a more active use of the Assembly's powers, in accordance with Articles 10, 11 and 14 of the Charter.
  • Contributing to the establishment of prevention practices at the local, national, regional and global levels. The Assembly has already created norms that have a bearing on the prevention of conflicts, for example, resolution 43/51, which contains an annex entitled "Declaration on the Prevention and Removal of Disputes and Situations which may threaten international peace and security and the Role of the United Nations in this field".
  • Promoting a culture of prevention. A number of items on the Assembly's agenda, such as development, disarmament, human rights, humanitarian assistance, democratization, environmental degradation, terrorism and HIV/AIDS, have a conflict-prevention dimension.
  • Enhancing its interaction with the Security Council, particularly in developing long-term conflict-prevention and peace-building strategies. General Assembly members should have an opportunity to express their views on conflict prevention more often in the Council.
  • The Secretary-General also urges you to consider authorizing him, as well as other United Nations organs, to take advantage of the advisory competence of the International Court of Justice. Needless to say, Member States themselves are urged to resort to the Court earlier and more often to settle their disputes, to accept the general jurisdiction of the Court and, when adopting multilateral treaties under United Nations auspices, to adopt clauses providing for disputes to be referred to the Court.

The report contains further recommendations regarding the role of other principal United Nations organs, which I encourage you to examine carefully if you have not already done so. For example, the Secretary-General recommends that a 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.

Because of their proximity and greater grasp of the historical background of a conflict, regional organizations can also contribute significantly to conflict prevention. The Secretary-General calls on Member States to 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.

He urges non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with an interest in conflict prevention to organize an international conference of local, national and international NGOs on their role in conflict prevention and future interaction with the United Nations in this field.

And he encourages the business community to adopt socially responsible practices that foster a climate of peace in conflict-prone societies, help prevent and mitigate crisis situations, and contribute to reconstruction and reconciliation.

The United Nations system has made a promising start in engendering a culture of prevention in its day-to-day activities. Yet, an adequate capacity for conflict prevention is still lacking. This capacity should be strengthened in the Secretariat, and in other relevant parts of the United Nations system. There is also a need for United Nations conflict-prevention activities to be placed on a more stable and predictable financial basis.

Effective conflict prevention clearly requires action that goes beyond what is recommended in this report and, indeed, beyond any institutional mechanism. The international community has a moral responsibility to ensure that vulnerable people are protected. We must prevent genocides such as that perpetrated in Rwanda from ever happening again.

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. 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 is often very little outside actors, including the United Nations, can do. Second, the international community all too often lacks the political will to take effective action in time.

But such attitudes alone are not the only obstacle. No less significant are the ways in which the Member States define their national interest in any given crisis.

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, including conflict prevention. 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.

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

The time has come to translate the rhetoric of conflict prevention into concrete action. Moving from a culture of reaction to one of effective prevention will require sustained political will and a long-term commitment of resources, not least in the field of economic and social development. Indeed, development assistance plays an important role in reducing poverty and inequalities, and enhancing
justice, governance, human rights and security. As such, it is a powerful preventive tool. It is, therefore, essential to increase the flow of official development assistance which, as a percentage of gross national product, has dropped last year to the lowest level ever.

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.

I thank you very much, Mr. President.

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