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Security Council: preventive diplomacy

Note: Full coverage of today’s meeting of the Security Council will be made available after its conclusion.

Opening Remarks

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, emphasized that prevention does not always get the attention it deserves, partly because it is hard to measure when it succeeds.  “We have war correspondents, not peace correspondents,” he observed.  Nonetheless, prevention is the ultimate goal of the Security Council, which seeks to resolve disputes before they turn into armed conflicts.  It was also the aim of the United Nations, which was formed after the Second World War to save humanity from the inhumanity of war.  Since then, for 76 years, the United Nations system has given the world a home for dialogue, and tools and mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes.  It has covered the judicial dimension of prevention, through the International Court of Justice, and through the Economic and Social Council, which works to address conflict through advancing sustainable development.  Further, prevention is essential to the twin resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council in 2016, as well as to the women and men of the Organization who are working every day to forge, build and maintain peace in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth.

The agenda of prevention was at the centre of his first and second mandates as Secretary‑General, he continued, noting that he called for a surge in diplomacy for peace to ensure that political solutions remain the first and primary option to settle disputes.  This includes reviews of all the tools that comprise the Organization’s peace architecture and a better integration of prevention and risk‑assessment across decision-making.  In addition, it entails a more robust system of regional monthly risk reviews, senior decision-making, and stronger support to Member States in managing and addressing crisis risks. 

However, it also involves “connecting the dots” among the drivers of conflict, including poverty, inequalities and climate change, he said, adding: “History has shown that conflicts do not emerge out of thin air.  Nor are they inevitable.  Too often, they are the result of gaps that are ignored or not properly addressed.”  These include gaps in accessing basic necessities like food, water, social services, and medicine, as well as gaps in security or governance systems, where aggrieved groups can coalesce and find a pathway to power by force, he said.  Prevention is also about defusing through dialogue tensions, fostering tolerance, trust, and respect for human rights and closing development gaps that lead to conflict.  “It is about reversing the vicious cycle of conflict and division — and instead, setting in motion a virtuous cycle of development and peace,” he emphasized.

Our Common Agenda proposes a New Agenda for Peace which takes a holistic view of global security, he continued.  This view also includes efforts to build resilience in fragile contexts, avert conflict relapse and on promoting sustainable development to prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place.  “We know that preventive diplomacy works,” he said, before outlining efforts by the United Nations, from regional offices to special envoys to work on conflict prevention, in concert with regional and sub‑regional organizations ranging from the African Union to the European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 

He also highlighted how the United Nations has helped countries prepare for and ensure peaceful elections in Madagascar, Malawi and Zambia.  In Somalia, it has helped prevent the escalation of tensions in the midst of a fraught election and it is working with transitional authorities in Libya to ensure the ceasefire holds in the lead‑up to next month’s elections.  He touched on work done by other bodies, such as the Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, which is helping Governments develop common approaches to share water resources and counter terrorism, and the Peacebuilding Commission, which is supporting the peace process in Papua New Guinea and peace programming in South Sudan.

“Prevention is not a political tool, but a realistic path towards peace,” he said, calling on the Council and Member States to support efforts in this regard, adding there have been too many missed opportunities due to mistrust regarding one another’s intentions.  This, however, is understandable, in a world in which power relations are imbalanced, in which prosperity is unevenly distributed, where there are double standards in the way principles are applied and where some groups are cast aside due to poverty and discrimination.  “Only inclusive development can provide stability,” he said, adding: “Peacebuilding through dialogue is the only viable solution to build our common future.”

ABDULLA SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, underscored that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has long recognized that peace and sustainable development complement each other.  Communities that struggle to meet their most basic needs or that lack economic and social mobility are prone to unrest and strife.  Furthermore, the absence of democratic participation, political freedoms and equality deprives entire populations of their human rights and limits their ability to turn to peaceful recourse in redressing their grievances.

He went on to say that in addition to humanitarian relief, the international community must support preventive measures to build resilience and strengthen sustainable development to give people the opportunity to live in dignity and prosperity.  Preventive diplomacy measures now include the development of early warning systems and targeted funding mechanisms for rapid response; the establishment of dedicated prevention structures; and the ongoing use of special envoys.  He also highlighted the critical importance of peacekeeping operations.  However, sustaining peace is no longer limited to traditional military peacekeeping but also includes strengthening capacities, institutions and democratic integrity.

The Peacebuilding Commission, an intergovernmental advisory body of the Security Council and the General Assembly, ensures sustained international attention to countries emerging from conflict, he continued.  While global security will always be within the proper remit of the Security Council, work done by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to build resilient and prosperous communities facilitates the work of the Council.  Stressing the importance of system‑wide cooperation and the need for greater focus on prevention, he called for stronger engagement within the United Nations system and for reforms of the Organization’s three principal organs: making the Security Council more representative; revitalizing the work of the General Assembly; and strengthening the Economic and Social Council. 

COLLEN KELAPILE, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), highlighted visible, transparent, complementary and effective options for strengthening coordination between his body and the Security Council.  The two organs could build on previous collaboration in the early 2000s, he said, noting that the Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Security Council had regularly participated in the work of the Economic and Social Council Ad Hoc Advisory Groups on African countries emerging from conflict, including going on a joint mission to Guinea‑Bissau in 2004.   While the Ad Hoc Advisory Groups on African countries no longer exist, he pointed to monthly meetings between the Presidents of the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council as well as joint briefings between them at the beginning of the calendar year. There are also annual joint meetings of ECOSOC with the Peacebuilding Commission.

He suggested the holding of regular joint meetings of a composite committee of the “bureaux” of the Economic and Social Council, the Peacebuilding Commission and a “troika” of Security Council Presidents of the current, prior and next month.  These meetings could serve to mobilize political will, international solidarity and could be the medium through which to discuss integrated strategies and targeted policy interventions that support conflict prevention.  Joining forces on global crises, such as pandemics and climate change, will show the public that Member States can put aside their differences for the greater good, he observed, while also mobilizing a more coherent, coordinated, and accountable United Nations system-wide response. 

The COVID‑19 pandemic continues to be a threat, reversing many gains made towards attaining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he observed.  Also noting that the pandemic has hit the poorest and most vulnerable countries the hardest, he said its multifaceted impacts on health, the economy, food security and education have exposed pre‑existing inequalities within and between countries.  These, if not dealt within a collaborative way, are palpable sources of future tensions and conflict.  It was of great importance to address the root causes of conflict, including poverty and unequal access to opportunities, he stressed.  Recovery from the pandemic, including affordable vaccines for all, has been at the centre of the Economic and Social Council work since March 2020.  It is one, among several other areas, where the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council can work together in coordination also with the General Assembly, he said.

JOAN E. DONOGHUE, President of the International Court of Justice, recalled that the General Assembly unanimously adopted a declaration in 2012 calling on States that have not yet done so to consider accepting the Court’s jurisdiction.  However, depositing a declaration recognizing the Court’s jurisdiction as compulsory is only one of several ways in which States may express their consent to such jurisdiction.  The principal organs of the United Nations can be, and have been, involved in other ways in the process that leads to contentious cases being submitted to the Court.  On that, the Security Council may recommend that States involved in a legal dispute endangering international peace and security refer the same to the Court.  She noted that the Council did so with respect to the very first case the Court heard — the Corfu Channel case.  She also spotlighted the Secretary‑General’s crucial role in the decades‑long process that led to the submission of a dispute between Guyana and Venezuela to the Court.

She further recalled that the General Assembly’s 2012 declaration reaffirmed all States’ obligation to comply with the Court’s decisions in cases to which they are parties.  Once the Court delivers its final judgment on a given dispute, the case is removed from its docket and the Court’s role in relation to that dispute ends.  While the Court is not a monitoring body, other international organs may be able to play a role in facilitating full implementation of its decisions.  Pointing out that the Charter of the United Nations sets out a specific role for the Security Council in this regard, she noted that limited practice under this provision suggests that States have found it more valuable to pursue other avenues to achieve full implementation of judgments in their favour.

She went on to say that in many cases, the two States — acting individually or in concert — give effect to a judgment without the involvement of third parties.  In some circumstances, however, outside actors within the United Nations framework and beyond can assist the two States in moving forward from a situation of conflict to a situation where a dispute has been resolved.  The principal organs of the United Nations can play a positive role in this regard, as did Secretary‑General Kofi Annan in effecting the implementation of the Court’s 2012 judgment concerning the land and maritime boundaries between Cameroon and Nigeria.  She invited those present to consider the ways in which the Court’s contributions to the promotion of peace, security and justice and those of other principal organs could be mutually reinforcing.


JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), Security Council President for November, speaking in his national capacity, said in order to deploy genuine diplomacy, the United Nations must strengthen coordination between its principal organs.  The participation of 34 other countries in the meeting demonstrates a willingness to engage better, he said, although the broad range of tools available to the United Nations have not been used as effectively as they could be — witness the broad range of subjects addressed in November.  He stressed that the Council must think and work to avoid being limited to simply managing conflicts, acting in an early and timely manner to avoid outbreaks.  Violence results from shortages of means, he noted, worsened by intolerance and hate, and can be halted if Member States “fight them from the various trenches of the United Nations”.  Violence is the victory of force over reason and law, he said, highlighting the importance of the Charter of the United Nations.  Citing the importance of accountability, he noted the veto cannot and must not be used to prevent the Council from acting in the face of mass atrocities.  Preventive diplomacy and mediation are key to peacebuilding, as the COVID‑19 pandemic shows the international community needs synergies with long‑term vision.  Calling for strengthened communication and cooperation of special envoys with other principal organs, he further encouraged the Secretary‑General to request advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice.  Coordination should permeate down to subsidiary bodies, especially the Human Rights Council.  He also noted meetings of this kind should be held regularly to avoid isolation of information, leading to creation of a working group to develop a genuine agenda of communication.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said all organs of the United Nations must complement and coordinate actions to promote international peace through preventive diplomacy, which is central to the goals of the Organization’s Charter.  Noting that the Charter of the United Nations confers primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security to the Security Council, he added that it also mentions the role of the General Assembly, regional organizations and the Economic and Social Council in this endeavour.  He underscored the need for effective collective measures to prevent conflict, including through addressing its root causes, such as poverty, a decrease in economic indicators, institutional weakness, human rights violations, transnational crime, climate change and pandemics.  These diverse challenges call for a broader look at the concept of international security, and call for action to be taken to prevent conflicts from occurring and spreading.  He underscored the importance of holding regular meetings on this theme to put forth practical recommendations on the subject.  As well, he reiterated the importance to develop partnerships with regional organizations, to enable them to intervene effectively and as soon as possible.  He pointed out that there is a need for improvement, due to the absence of political resolve among some parties to conflict and the difficulty of imposing solutions.  However, the human cost involved makes preventive diplomacy not an option, but an urgent need, he stressed.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), stressing the importance of a system‑wide approach to sustaining peace, said that by the time an issue reaches the Security Council it may be too late for those facing conflict.  The human rights architecture is vital as violations in this area are often an early indicator of conflict.  Peace should also be embedded in the work of United Nations bodies concerned with development.  Thus, economic progress may be the best form of prevention.  In ensuring development gains are sustainable, they must address issues that often drive conflict, including social, economic and political exclusion.  An international order based on rule of law is indispensable for a more peaceful, prosperous and just world.  The Council must hold Governments accountable when they disregard global treaties, she underscored, particularly in regards to serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The representative of India said the Charter should remain the guiding light of the Organization, which was founded on the basis of the sovereign equality of nations. “…nowhere was this principle more belied than its principal organ — the Security Council,” he said.  This structural inequality has persisted for more than seven decades.  As the world changes, the Organization’s institutional architecture that is primarily responsible for international peace and security remains frozen.  “A composition that is rooted in 1945 detracts from its abilities to fully harness the capabilities of UN Member States as of today,” he said.  “We need to show our collective commitment to reformed multilateralism”.  The peaceful settlement of disputes is the key to maintaining international peace and security and promoting the rule of law.  Adequate attention needs to be paid to the provisions of Chapter VI, rather than Chapter VII becoming the ready recourse.  Issues related to economic and social domain fall under the realm of the sovereignty of Member States.  India believes advancing the rule of law at the national level is an essential tool to protect democracy, economic growth, sustainable development, ensure gender justice, eradicate poverty and hunger and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.  India believes the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council are the right fora in which Member States can discuss and work collaboratively on these issues.

The representative of China emphasized that, while the use of early warning mechanisms ensure that immediate action can be taken, they must not lead to overreaction.  Noting that root causes of conflicts must be addressed so lasting peace and stability can be achieved, he said prevention efforts should include support for national governance systems with a people‑centric approach, as well as development paths that are appropriate for countries in conflict, including infrastructure investment.  Moreover, preventative measures must follow the basic norms of international relations such as respect for sovereignty and non‑interference, he stressed, cautioning that arbitrarily interfering in a government’s internal affairs could lead to further conflict.  Underscoring the need to enhance coordination between United Nations organs, he noted that the Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice and the Secretariat should carry out their work within their mandates while maintaining communication and cooperation.


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