15 June 2012
“20 Years of ‘An Agenda for Peace’: a New Vision for Conflict Prevention?”
Opening and Closing Remarks for Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“20 Years of ‘An Agenda for Peace’: a New Vision for Conflict Prevention?”
Palais des Nations, Room VIII
Friday, 15 June 2012 from 12:30 to 14:15
Dear Ambassador Tanner
Distinguished Ambassadors and Panellists
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure to welcome you for this event jointly organized by the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform to mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark document “An Agenda for Peace”, and – most importantly – to examine how we can strengthen conflict prevention in today’s global reality. We are privileged to have a strong panel who can speak to this from their extensive experience and very different vantage points: in research, diplomacy and civil society. I thank them all for being with us. Let me also express my appreciation to our co-organizers in the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, a network that brings together the peacebuilding strengths in Geneva and beyond. We value the work of the Platform and our cooperation to highlight current challenges in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, which are key priorities for the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the entire United Nations family.
‘An Agenda for Peace’ was launched at a time of profound global transformation, when the end of the Cold War had paved the way for the introduction of democratic processes in a number of countries and a reconfiguration of relations among nations. Today, we grapple with the implications of the “Arab Spring”, a deep-seated economic crisis, the rise of emerging economies, the establishment of the G-20 and other developments that are all part of a process of equally far-reaching change in the international landscape.
“An Agenda for Peace” was launched just after the 1992 Rio Summit, which brought the challenge of sustainable development onto the political agenda. Next week, leaders from across the world meet again in Rio to renew their commitment to this agenda and chart the way forward for a sustainable future. And while we may not be able to match Rio+20 in numbers of participants or the level of media attention, I think our discussion here today is an important part of a global reflection process on how to make our world more sustainable, more secure and more just, for our generation and for generations to come.
Both our discussion today, and those next week in Rio go to the heart of the United Nations’ mission and what the United Nations is all about. Our discussion is therefore also a debate about the role of the United Nations in our world today, and about how we can make the best use of this unique instrument. Today is not about analyzing “An Agenda for Peace”; it is about looking forward. As it so wisely says in paragraph 85 of the Agenda itself: “Reform is a continuing process, and improvement can have no limit. We must be guided not by precedents alone, however wise these may be, but by the needs of the future and by the shape and content that we wish to give it.”
So, allow me to start with a few points about what I see as the main challenges today and in the immediate future in the area of conflict prevention:
In re-reading “An Agenda for Peace”, I was struck by the analysis in the introductory parts, which outlines a very comprehensive concept of peace. This includes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, promotion of sustainable economic and social development, as well as curtailing the existence and use of massively destructive weapons. The report goes on to highlight the ongoing challenges of population growth, crushing debt burdens, barriers to trade, drugs and disparities between rich and poor, and makes reference to a “revolution in communications that has united the world in awareness”. But, the recommendations of the report focus predominantly on building capacity at a more technical level, within the Secretariat, within Member States, and in the structures and resources needed for preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping, and for post-conflict peacebuilding, which was introduced here as a concept.
While progress has been made since 1992, the need for capacity-building and adequate resources, in particular in information-gathering and early warning, remains valid and important. The potential of new media and different ways of connecting people, also through social media, will need to be explored as part of this effort. Yet, I believe the main challenge is to shift the focus, to a greater extent, on to the underlying causes and driving forces of conflict – which is easier said than done, of course. Let me highlight just three key areas:
First, respect for human rights and promotion of democracy: the past year and a half has clearly shown the importance of democratic, transparent, accountable and legitimate governance, where the rights of individuals are fully respected. Protection and promotion of human rights, at national, regional and global levels, is simply fundamental to prevention of conflict. This must also include the empowerment of women and youth who in many contexts remain excluded or marginalized.
Second, disarmament. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditure has now topped 1.6 trillion dollars. While the rate of increase has slowed, the total figure continues to go up. This testifies to a general proliferation of arms, of all types, that contribute to fuelling and sustaining instability in the world. Disarmament at all levels can help to build confidence among States, across regions and even within communities, which militates against the outbreak of conflict.
Third, sustainability. With a rapidly growing population, continued economic growth despite the current slowdown and finite resources, we need to be realistic about the potentially destabilizing effects of resource scarcity. Experts predict that by the year 2050, the global population will have increased by 50 per cent from what it was in 1999. Also by that time, scientists say, global greenhouse gas emissions must decrease by 50 per cent compared to levels at the turn of the millennium. This is what the Secretary-General has termed the “50 – 50 – 50 challenge”. 1.4 billion people live without access to modern sources of energy; one billion people already live in chronic hunger, and water resources are under pressure. Sixty million people now live within one meter of sea level; by the end of the century this number will jump to 130 million.
While these developments would not, in and of themselves, lead to conflict, it would be naïve to close our eyes to the fact that they can exacerbate existing tensions over resources such as energy and land. This only increases the need to advance a sustainability agenda that integrates economic, environmental and social dimensions. Against this background, it is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the discussions in Rio next week, also for conflict prevention.
Similarly, we cannot lose sight of the impact of the economic crisis. Since the financial and economic crisis began, 200 million people have lost jobs and income. According to the International Labour Organization, 202 million people will be unemployed in 2012, growing to 207 million in 2013. The world economy is becoming increasingly fragmented, with growing inequalities, which can undermine social stability.
These were a few preliminary observations, and certainly not exhaustive. I hope that some of the themes will be revisited in the discussion.
Thank you very much.