For information only - not an official document.
2 February 2001

Secretary-General Welcomes Greater Attention on Conflict Prevention

NEW YORK, 1 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Colloquium on Peacekeeping and Conflict Prevention, delivered yesterday in Paris on the Secretary-General’s behalf by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations:

No other area of United Nations activities receives more attention and resources than peacekeeping. Yet, it must be noted that our capabilities are inadequate and that, all too often, we are unable to maintain international peace and security as we are required to do under the Charter.

Why is this so? Three major studies, published in 1999 and 2000, help to clarify the needs and the potential of United Nations peacekeeping operations. I am referring to the reports on the Srebrenica and Rwanda tragedies and the report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (Brahimi Report).

The two first reports revealed -- including to the Organization -- the errors which had been made and highlighted certain clear lessons which have since been confirmed by experience: Member States and the Secretariat must work together, while sticking to their respective roles and responsibilities; missions, including peacekeeping operations, must be provided with the human and financial resources they need to carry out their mandate and must be given a credible deterrence capacity. Finally, political will to do what is necessary to ensure that operations run smoothly is also crucial.

The reports on the Rwanda and Srebrenica tragedies also helped us to think about what I referred to, in my millennium report, as "the dilemma of intervention". It is relatively easy for the international community to state, loud and clear, that we must at all costs prevent a recurrence of the Rwanda and Srebrenica tragedies. Yet, we are still far from being able to say what we must do in the event of gross, massive and systematic violations of human rights which run counter to all the principles on which our status as human beings is based.

Many States have serious and legitimate reservations about intervention. Yet, I believe that, basically, it is a question of responsibility: in the event of massive violations of universally accepted human rights, the Security Council has a responsibility to act.

The change in the nature of conflicts over the past 10 years and the new threats to international security arising from mass population movements, international terrorism, the traffic in drugs and weapons, and the AIDS pandemic have complicated the United Nations task. Our peace operations have evolved. They now involve more wide-ranging and complex activities than the traditional tasks of peacekeeping.

Consequently, we are trying to adopt a much more coordinated approach to a wide range of problems. In many countries, United Nations programmes and agencies have been brought together to form a "country team", headed by the resident coordinator. Accordingly, in the field, we have mechanisms which are better able to deal with a fast-changing situation and to react when a crisis erupts.

Last month, the General Assembly gave the go ahead for immediate implementation of some of the recommendations of the Brahimi Report on United Nations peace operations. This unprecedented report clearly identifies the reforms needed and contains, inter alia, proposals for strengthening our early warning capacity and our capacity to deploy in the field as soon as a crisis starts.

At both the human and the financial level, a culture of prevention is more beneficial than a culture of reaction. It is far less costly to engage in preventive deployment than it is to get a country that has been destroyed by war back onto its feet. I know that political leaders have difficulty convincing public opinion of the need to engage in preventive action abroad; the costs are incurred immediately, whereas the advantages are much more difficult to explain and to grasp.

However, the primary responsibility for prevention falls on Member States, and the United Nations cannot help prevent conflicts unless Member States give the impetus for action and provide the necessary resources. That is why I am happy to see that Member States are paying more attention to the question of prevention. This was true during the latest session of the General Assembly and during the public debates which the Security Council organized on the subject in November 1999 and in July 2000. The plan of action adopted by the G-8 last July is also encouraging. What we now need to do is to translate these statements into concrete actions whenever the situation so requires.

With this in mind, next May, I will submit recommendations to the Security Council and to the General Assembly, with a view to developing a practical and comprehensive conflict-prevention strategy. I sincerely hope that Member States will help us strengthen our capabilities and tools, as they pledged to do at the Millennium Summit, so that, together, we may free the peoples from the scourge of war.

I thank you and wish you success in your discussions.

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