Kültürel Diplomasi Enstitüsü Konferansı


Speech by UNRC Shahid Najam at the Cultural Diplomacy Institute conference
Ankara, Turkey

Thank you, Mr. Donfried for your very kind introduction.
Distinguished participants,
Esteemed members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen.

I wish to first of all thank the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy for having invited me to participate in the Ankara Conference on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. It is indeed a great honour and privilege to share this platform with a very esteemed group of experts and supporters of peace and be a part of the global effort of ICD to promote peace and stability in the world which, ill luck would have it, continues to witness and experience a spate of terrorism, blatant violation of human rights and wide spread incidence of conflicts.

If human rights and development are two pillars of the United Nations work, Peace is the third.

For those who are more fortunate, Peace, is like a melody and song which enriches their souls and at the same time enables them to exercise and expand their choices freely and for those who are not, it is a distant dream they cherish and aspire to realize; an assiduous struggle to emancipate themselves from the afflictions of death and disease, revenge and recrimination and disempowerment and deprivation. It provides solace to those who consider it as a donation to needy people thousands of kilometers away from them; provides inspiration to those who proudly display it as a symbol on their t-shirts; and provides hope for a better future for the posterity in the lands where humanity joins hands to fight against tyranny and oppression.

For the United Nations, Peace is a fulltime job. It is protecting civilians, overseeing elections, disarming ex-combatants… saving child-soldiers from war lords… contributing to post-conflict recovery… and, more importantly, using wide array of diplomacy to prevent war. Since 1945, the UN has assisted in negotiations for over 180 peace settlements that have ended regional conflicts.

And the UN, with its peacekeeping, peacemaking and peace building mechanisms, is going to places where others cannot or will not go… Doing what others cannot or will not do. We know that in the world of today with a range of complexities associated with a large number of disputes and conflicts, Peace, like war, must be waged and waged with earnestness and perseverance. And, the UN, in many parts of the world, is actively engaged in waging peace at various levels and in various forms and manifestations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Preventive diplomacy is one of the key tools the United Nations uses to triumph peace globally. Preventing the conflict before it turns into a crisis is critical. We know that failure to prevent conflict is extremely costly and innocent civilians suffer the most. Figures also testify to this awful truth. An estimated 90 per cent of global conflict-related deaths since 1990 have been civilians, and 80 per cent of these have been women and children.

Economic consequences of conflict are also severe. The World Bank has calculated that the average cost of conflict is equivalent to more than 30 years of gross domestic product (GDP) growth for a medium-size developing country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Preventive diplomacy has been an enduring idea at the United Nations for many decades. Since former Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld first articulated the concept over half a century ago, it has continued to evolve in response to new challenges. An integral part of broader conflict prevention efforts, preventive diplomacy refers specifically to diplomatic action taken, at the earliest possible stage: to prevent potential disputes from arising between parties; to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts; and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur. Preventive diplomacy remains highly relevant along the entire conflict spectrum.

Recently, thanks to the efforts of the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and with the support of member states, the UN’s preventive diplomacy machinery has been improved and expanded. Member States indeed place greater emphasis on conflict prevention and visualize a pro-active and key role for the United Nations in these efforts. There are several reasons for this renewed interest. Foremost is the recurring and devastating impact of armed conflict on individuals, societies and economies. Moreover, although quiet successes rarely make the news, a number of recent engagements have reconfirmed that through a combination of diagnostic analysis, early warning, rapid response and partnerships, the international community can help to defuse tensions in escalating crises and assist parties in resolving disputes peacefully.

Prevention does not mean looking the other way in times of crisis, vainly hoping that things will get better. It has been done too often. Nor can it be just a brief pause while “enforcement measures” are being prepared. Prevention means proactive, decisive and early action to stop violence before it begins.

For the purpose, the United Nations, as part of its preventive diplomacy machinery, has created the Responsibility to Protect concept. Elaborate a bit. Recently, we marked the first decade in the life of the Responsibility to Protect concept. There will be many more, for we can now say with confidence that this fundamental principle of human protection is here to stay.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since 2010, history took a turn for the better. Preventive diplomacy efforts were tested as never before. The results were uneven but, at the end of the day, tens of thousands of lives were saved. The United Nations gave hope to people long oppressed. In Libya, Côte d'Ivoire, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria, by its words and actions, the UN demonstrated that human protection is a defining purpose of the Organization in the twenty-first century.

Today, we witness the effectiveness of the tools of preventive diplomacy, such as the good offices of the Secretary General, Envoys, Regional Offices, Political Missions, Groups of Friends, and Fact-finding missions. Of course, the Security Council, the General Assembly, Peace Building Commission, Peacekeeping Operations and, UN Country Teams continue to be important elements of preventive diplomacy.

However, as many of these elements have been mobilized, we also learned important lessons.

For one, political will is of tremendous significance. If the parties do not want peace, or are unwilling to compromise, it is extraordinarily difficult to persuade or impose it from the outside.

The second, we need to recognize that internationally led preventive diplomacy efforts might serve only to avert violence in the short term. Ultimately, only national mechanisms and institutions can sustainably prevent violent conflict in the long run.

 Thirdly, the international community does not have the option of looking the other way in times of crisis. It happened in Bosnia, it happened in Rwanda. World cannot afford additional black pages in its history.

Fourthly, we have learned that UN cannot stand on the sidelines when challenged to take preventive action.

In line with that belief, the UN has stood firm for democracy in Côte d'Ivoire; it fervently used diplomacy to ensure a peaceful referendum in Sudan, a democratic transition in Guinea and an end to the violence in Kenya and Kyrgyzstan.

From Afghanistan to the Middle East, from West Africa to Sudan and Somalia, UN missions are engaged every day – helping to sustain complex political, peacekeeping and peace building processes.

However, we still have a lot to achieve… Violent conflict continues to inflict a shocking and intolerable toll on individuals, societies and economies. Every day, we can see the costs of failing to prevent conflict.

But this should not deter us from trying to resolve underlying tensions and, when conflict does erupt, to stop its spread and mitigate the damage it can cause. Recently the Secretary General outlined the steps that have to be taken to strengthen preventive diplomacy to avoid conflicts before they turn into full-fledged crises.

First of all, preventive diplomacy must be prioritized. Early action is an essential part of it. Too often the international community found itself clamouring to manage crises that could have been prevented from spiraling out of control in the first place. It is incumbent on all regional organizations and the United Nations to act early and decisively.

Secondly, while prevention is significantly cheaper than a cure, and is one of the smartest, most cost-effective investments the international community can make, it still needs sufficient investment to deliver results.

Thirdly, the UN will work to further strengthen its strategic partnerships with regional and sub-regional organizations. In crisis situations, the international community must be able to decide quickly on who can do what to help. Sometimes, preventive diplomacy is getting the international community to speak with one voice.

Finally, the international community must continue to support national institutions and mechanisms for mediation, facilitation and dialogue and to assist the national entities at their request in building national systems for conflict prevention. Including civil society organizations in preventive efforts is critical, especially women and youth who can lead the charge for peaceful change.

However, it must be recognized that each situation is unique and ultimately it is for the peoples to be able to determine their future. There is no one size fits all formula. And, the UN is developing solutions unique to every situation, to catalyze and act as an agent of change.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Those of us who are spared the most negative effects of disaster, poverty or instability, cannot turn a blind eye on the less fortunate. The cascading effects of abuse and indifference can eventually engulf all of humanity.  We in the UN firmly believe that better preventive diplomacy is not an option; it is indeed a necessity. Let us join forces to fully make our world a better place for all.

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