Press Releases

    20 July 2005

    In Interdependent World, Violent Conflicts Demand more Equitable Response, Wherever They Erupt, Says Secretary-General to Civil Society Conference

    NEW YORK, 19 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the Global Conference on the Role of Civil Society in the Prevention of Armed Conflict and Peacebuilding, delivered by Stephen Stedman, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, in New York, 19 July:

    I regret that I could not be with you in person for this important meeting.  This gathering is a testament to an evolution that has taken place over the past few decades.  When the United Nations was established 60 years ago, its primary goal was “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.  Over the past six decades, we have met with some success in resolving deadly conflict.  But more recently, the UN has focused increasing attention on preventing it.  Throughout my tenure as Secretary-General, I have encouraged this trend towards fulfilling the mandate enshrined in Paragraph 1, Article 1 of the Charter:  “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”.

    So it is with profound appreciation that I accept the Global Partnership’s completed Global Action Agenda for the Prevention of Violent Conflict today. I am heartened by the engagement and commitment that have gone into it.  Your regional conferences over the past three years, culminating in this global conference, serve to implement a major recommendation of my 2001 Report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict.

    You have come to the United Nations at a special time -- a year that marks our sixtieth anniversary, but also one in which we are looking ahead.  In September, more than 170 heads of State and government will gather in this very hall for what is expected to be the largest summit the world has seen.  We will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address some of the most pressing challenges of our era.

    As I am sure you will agree, among those challenges, there is no higher goal than preventing armed conflict.  This calling is even more pressing today, because of the interconnected nature of today’s threats.  Around the world, a triad of poverty, disease and war creates a cycle of death.  Civil violence, human rights abuses and poverty make weak States vulnerable to transnational organized crime, terrorism and illicit trafficking in human beings, drugs and weapons.

    That is why sustained international cooperation to address all of today’s threats is an imperative.  That will require us to act on a number of fronts.

    First, we must accept development as the indispensable foundation for our efforts to prevent violent conflict.  Without it, States will lack the capacity to exercise their sovereignty responsibly, to break free from endemic patterns of conflict, and to build sustainable peace.  Meeting the Millennium Development Goals is thus an integral component of our mission.  I am heartened by the recent commitments of the European Union and the Group of Eight, and I look to leaders at the World Summit in September to consolidate this progress.

    Civil society organizations have an increasingly important role to play in ensuring that States are able to absorb and make good use of development assistance, especially where State institutions have been severely compromised by conflict.  A central challenge is balancing the tasks of supplying essential services while simultaneously building sustainable State capacity for the long run.

    Second, we need to work together more effectively, on a global scale, to curb the accumulation and proliferation of the primary instruments of most violent conflict:  small arms and light weapons.  Here, it is essential to better enforce arms embargoes; strengthen programmes for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; and create effective instruments to regulate marking and tracing, and to combat illicit brokering.  I applaud the remarkable leadership and coordination which civil society organizations have shown in this area, and urge you to keep nudging the consensus forward.

    Third, we need to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations, regional organizations and civil society in the area of preventive diplomacy and mediation.  Over the past 15 years, the UN has made great strides in mediation.  In that period, more civil wars have ended through mediation than in the previous two centuries.  This is in large part because the UN has provided leadership, opportunities for negotiation, strategic coordination and appropriate tools to implement peace agreements.  I hope that at the September summit, leaders will agree to build on these strengths.

    Yet clearly, our scorecard on prevention is mixed.  In preventing inter-State conflict, UN Secretaries-General have made good use of the unique role of their good offices, despite limited resources.  But as we know all too well, the UN has an uneven record in preventing the outbreak of internal wars.

    I look to civil society to act as our partners in helping to defuse potential conflicts.  As experience tells us, you will be most effective by coordinating with bilateral and intergovernmental actors -- and with one another.

    Fourth, we need to see through the peace agreements we help facilitate, to ensure that they do not collapse and yield to renewed violence.  All too often, when peacekeepers leave a country, it falls off the radar of the Security Council.  In the field, the UN system and broader international community work without adequate coordination and resources to build peace.  Recent experience shows us that nearly half of countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence after five years.  The tragic consequences have been all too evident -- in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia and Rwanda.  If peace agreements had been successfully implemented from the start in just two of those war-torn countries -- Angola and Rwanda -- we could have prevented millions of deaths.

    I hope that the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission, to advise on and promote comprehensive strategies, will help us prevent such tragedies in the future.  As civil society organizations, you have a vital role to play.  You are uniquely placed to facilitate local conflict resolution; to mobilize public support for peace settlements; to support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants; to champion human rights; and to build trust to encourage healing and reconciliation.

    Failure to prevent conflict is often attributed to lack of “political will”.  But this may be more a description of what happens than an explanation.  What is really lacking is full recognition of our increasing interdependence, and its implications.  Violent conflict is a “threat multiplier”, not only within the country where it happens, but far beyond.  None of us can afford to wait passively until it erupts.  All of us should feel concerned, from the moment the threat of conflict appears on the horizon.  But we should be clear:  Such a new security consensus will require us to respond to violent conflicts far more equitably -- wherever they erupt.

    Of that, civil society has provided us with invaluable reminders over the years.  I look to you to keep doing so in the years ahead, and to work with us in our shared mission.  In that spirit, I wish you a most productive conference.

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