Follow UNISPAL Twitter RSS
Report of the Secretary-General
In drafting the present report, I have endeavoured to take into account the many different views and considerations of Member States expressed in recent debates of the General Assembly and the Security Council on conflict prevention. It is axiomatic that the active support and cooperation of Member States will be needed for conflict prevention efforts to succeed. The specific contributions that can be made by the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice and the Secretary-General are explored in the present report, as is the cooperation between the United Nations and outside actors, such as regional organizations, NGOs, civil society and the business community.
The work of the United Nations system in the field of conflict prevention is not new. Many of the development and other programmes and projects of the United Nations system already have preventive effects or at least preventive potential, though they are often disparate and inchoate. My emphasis here is to show how the United Nations family of departments, programmes, offices and agencies (which have all contributed to the present report) interact in the furtherance of the prevention of armed conflict. Of particular importance are United Nations efforts for enhancing the capacity of Member States for conflict prevention. The challenge before us is how to mobilize the collective potential of the United Nations system with greater coherence and focus for conflict prevention, without necessarily requiring major new resources.
• Conflict prevention is one of the primary obligations of Member States set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, and United Nations efforts in conflict prevention must be in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter. Conflict prevention is also an activity best undertaken under Chapter VI of the Charter.
• The primary responsibility for conflict prevention rests with national Governments, with civil society playing an important role. The main role of the United Nations and the international community is to support national efforts for conflict prevention and assist in building national capacity in this field.
• Preventive action should be initiated at the earliest possible stage of a conflict cycle in order to be most effective. One of the principal aims of preventive action should be to address the deep-rooted socio-economic, cultural, environmental, institutional and other structural causes that often underlie the immediate political symptoms of conflicts.
• Conflict prevention and sustainable and equitable development are mutually reinforcing activities. An investment in national and international efforts for conflict prevention must be seen as a simultaneous investment in sustainable development since the latter can best take place in an environment of sustainable peace.
• A successful preventive strategy depends on the cooperation of many United Nations actors, including the Secretary-General, the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice and United Nations agencies, offices, funds and programmes, as well as the Bretton Woods institutions. The United Nations is not the only actor in prevention and may often not be the actor best suited to take the lead. Therefore, Member States, international, regional and subregional organizations the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other civil society actors also have very important roles to play in this field.
Governments that live up to their sovereign responsibility to resolve peacefully a situation that might deteriorate into a threat to international peace and security and call on the United Nations or other international actors for preventive assistance as early as needed, provide the best protection for their citizens against unwelcome outside interference. In this way, preventive action by the international community can contribute significantly to strengthening the national sovereignty of Member States.
In the present report, I have stressed that conflict prevention lies at the heart of the mandate of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security, and that a general consensus is emerging among Member States that comprehensive and coherent conflict prevention strategies offer the greatest potential for promoting lasting peace and creating an enabling environment for sustainable development. The imperative for effective conflict prevention goes beyond creating a culture, establishing mechanisms or summoning political will. The United Nations also has a moral responsibility to ensure that genocides such as that perpetrated in Rwanda are prevented from ever happening again.
The time has come to translate the rhetoric of conflict prevention into concrete action. It is my earnest hope that the United Nations system and Member States will be able to work together in developing a practical road map to implement the specific recommendations contained in the present report. It is axiomatic that effective preventive action will require sustained political will and a long-term commitment of resources by Member States and the United Nations system as a whole if a genuine culture of prevention is to take root in the international community. The present report marks a beginning in that direction.
C. Political action
73. Within the United Nations system, the Secretary-General’s functions in the political area are supported by the Department of Political Affairs, which works closely with other departments, offices and United Nations agencies in many aspects of this work. One of the Department’s key responsibilities is to follow political developments throughout the world and identify potential conflicts in which the United Nations could play a preventive role. It is also the focal point for prevention and peace-building in the United Nations system. To assist in this new role, the Policy Planning Unit in the Department was established three years ago. In 1998, it also established a new internal mechanism, the Conflict Prevention Team, which provides an intra-departmental forum for the development of preventive action options. In its capacity as Convener of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, the Department also promotes discussion at the interdepartmental and interagency level and decisions on options for prevention.
74. The Department of Political Affairs has a mandate to identify potential or actual conflicts in whose resolution the United Nations could play a useful role. The four geographical divisions within DPA are each charged with identifying potential crisis areas and providing early warning to the Secretary-General on developments and situations affecting peace and security. To that end, desk officers of the four DPA geographical divisions develop country profiles on their respective countries and then monitor developments over time. By following what is the natural and normal course of political, social and economic life, they are then well placed to detect changes and developments that may lead to crisis. With modern communications and online database services, there is a vast amount of information freely available to desk officers, but the Department still needs to develop further its capacity to use such information effectively and propose preventive action accordingly.
75. If established, the new unit for United Nations-system-wide policy and analysis envisaged in the recent report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (see A/55/977, paras. 301-307) could contribute to enhancing the Department’s capacity in this field through its function as the secretariat of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security.
76. Timely application of preventive diplomacy has been recognized by the General Assembly as the most desirable and efficient means for easing tensions before they result in conflict. To that end, the Department is endeavouring to develop more effective ways of undertaking preventive diplomacy. These include fact-finding missions, visits by special envoys to sensitive regions, the exercise of the Secretary-General’s good offices and the establishment of groups of friends of the Secretary-General in different regions, composed of a few closely interested Member States.
77. A considerable part of the preventive work of the Department of Political Affairs is done in support of special representatives and envoys of the Secretary-General, as well as field-based missions and offices. There are Department-supported missions currently in Afghanistan, Angola, Papua New Guinea, Burundi, Guatemala, the Great Lakes Region, Lebanon, the Occupied Territories and Somalia. Moreover, the Department of Political Affairs has established peace-building support offices in the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Tajikistan. These offices work closely with government ministries, national assemblies, political parties, civil society and other local actors to support national peace-building efforts.
78. The United Nations peace-building support offices can be instrumental, in supporting and closely collaborating with the country teams and non-resident United Nations agencies/offices, in developing multifaceted programmes that address many root causes of conflicts. Examples of this include improving support for democratic principles such as a fair role for the opposition, equitable access to public media, security sector reform, promoting tolerance and respect for human rights and providing technical assistance for the constitution and national institutions. In the future, the role of such offices could be extended, with the concurrence of Member States, to conflict-prone regions and countries.
79. The work undertaken by the United Nations to support democracy in its Member States contributes significantly to conflict prevention. Such assistance encompasses the provision of comprehensive support in the area of governance and the rule of law, including electoral assistance. It has been proven to play an important role in preventing the breakdown of democratic institutions and processes, particularly in societies in transition, or in new or restored democracies. Since its establishment, the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, for example, in cooperation with UNDP, has provided assistance in more than 150 electoral processes to enhance the administrative capacity of Member States to hold credible, transparent and fair elections, and to assist in the consolidation of democratic institutions. It is axiomatic that sustainable development can only be secured when people participate freely and effectively in decision-making processes.
80. The Department of Political Affairs is currently endeavouring to improve its early warning and analysis capacities; to improve the quality of its staff by training; to improve its coordination and cooperation with other departments, funds and agencies of the United Nations; to improve its cooperation with Governments and with regional organizations; to improve its outreach to research institutes and competent NGOs; to use the Trust Fund for Preventive Action to support the fact-finding and facilitation missions and other activities aimed at defusing potential conflicts and preventing existing disputes from escalating into conflicts. It is also strengthening its capacity to carry out its role as focal point for post-conflict peace-building in the United Nations system and to support the increasing number of United Nations peace-building operations, in partnership with other United Nations actors.