ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

2009 Tripartite Meeting

3 June 2009
2009 Tripartite Meeting

Opening remarks by Mr. Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Annual High-Level Tripartite Meeting
between the Council of Europe,
the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
and the United Nations

Palais des Nations, Geneva
Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Mr. Secretary General of the OSCE [Marc Perrin de Brichambaut]
Madam Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe [Maud de Boer-Buquicchio]
Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a privilege to welcome you to the Palais des Nations for our annual high-level meeting in the Tripartite format. Many of you have travelled far to be with us today, and we are grateful to you for coming to share your experience with us. Let me extend a special welcome to the two Special Representatives of the Secretary-General who are with us today – Mr. Verbeke and Mr. Zannier. We greatly appreciate that you can bring the important perspectives of the field to our discussions.

When we last came together here at the Palais des Nations in 2006, we explored peacebuilding from a European regional perspective and the link with the prevention of the recurrence of conflict. This year’s discussions take this theme further by concentrating on conflict prevention and the role of democratic governance.

This Chamber, which was used by the Council of the League of Nations, is a compelling reminder of the consequences of failure to take the necessary steps to avert violent conflict. Tension and instability, including in the European region, continue to carry the risk of escalation. Prevention of armed conflicts is a central mission to all of our organizations. Yet, the gap between our rhetoric and the reality on the ground is both considerable and unacceptable. We must get better. Much effort has gone into reinforcing conflict prevention, on the one hand, and strengthening democracy, on the other. But, we have not, so far, sufficiently or systematically considered the relationship between these two challenges. I hope that today we can formulate together practical proposals for how to do just that.

We must strengthen both the norms and institutions that make armed conflict less viable and less likely. Enhanced capacity for preventive diplomacy, mediation and peaceful settlement of disputes are critical in this respect. States must be encouraged to make active and early use of negotiation, enquiry, mediation and conciliation, or other peaceful means, to prevent escalation. Successful conflict prevention often relies on confidentiality and quiet diplomacy. Similarly, collection of data and analysis are important to early warning. Meaningful diplomatic intervention requires detailed knowledge of the political and social realities on the ground and is often built on trust in local partnerships, nurtured over time.

The General Assembly’s adoption in December of last year of measures to reinforce the United Nations’ capacity for preventive diplomacy, good offices and mediation were an important recognition of the value of reinforcing the Organization’s ability to provide strategic leadership in this area.

As this Council Chamber now hosts the Conference on Disarmament, allow me to highlight a core aspect of conflict prevention, one to which both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and myself are deeply committed: disarmament. Recent weeks have shown the urgency of reinforcing disarmament and arms control efforts in bilateral and multilateral forums. At the same time, the positive outcome of the recent Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, together with the adoption on Friday of last week of a Programme of Work for the Conference on Disarmament – after more than a decade of stalemate – represent progress that could lead to real advances on these issues that will have a positive impact on conflict prevention globally. We need to seize this momentum and move towards a new multilateralism, also on other fronts.

The world currently spends over 1.3 trillion dollars every year on arms. In conflict-prone areas, this expansion of the availability and sophistication of weapons is particularly dangerous. The prevention of the spread and use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is particularly important in this respect. Disarmament and non-proliferation would not only reduce the global risk of conflict by building confidence but would also improve relations among States more generally. Progress on disarmament would help to improve the international political and security climate, which – in turn – would be conducive to building democratic societies.

Stronger mechanisms to reduce the illicit flows of small arms and light weapons also have to be part of our comprehensive conflict prevention strategy.

Trafficking in drugs and human beings are another graves source of instability, which require a more coordinated international action. Money laundered from these activities fuels corruption and undermines fragile societies even further.

We all recognize the valuable role of regional organizations in supporting national efforts towards the peaceful settlement of disputes and conflict prevention more broadly. We need to enhance our mechanisms for information-sharing, collective analysis and joint action for a coordinated, consistent response in potential conflict situations.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

While the word “democracy” does not appear in the Charter of the United Nations, our Organization has a long history of promoting democratic governance as part of our overall efforts to advance security, development and human rights. I believe that stronger efforts in this area are needed to move from a ‘culture of reaction’ to a ‘culture of prevention’.

Legitimate, accountable and trusted state and public service institutions are key to addressing the root causes of conflict. Democratic governance enables political dialogue to ensure that disagreements and tension, when they occur, do not transform themselves into open conflict. It facilitates the building of consensus around political, economic and social priorities and counters exclusion that could be exploited by extremists. It provides structures to manage diversity by enabling compromise and accommodation of different interests.

Free, fair and periodic elections ensure the legitimacy of Government and enable the peaceful transfer of power, backed by the will of the people. The provision of electoral assistance helps to build national capacity, while election monitoring helps to bring confidence and credibility to the ballot box. But elections are only the beginning of the process. Representative bodies, including Parliaments, channel the interests of the electorate into policy and legislation.

The establishment of democratic processes and institutions are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for conflict prevention. I would call this the “top down” dimension. Or maybe to use an economic term – the “supply side” of democracy. International assistance in situations of fragility and in post-conflict environments has focused on the development of these legal frameworks. But that has to be complemented by the “bottom up” aspect – or a demand side – namely, civil society. And I think we need to get better at facilitating the “bottom up” – the “demand” – dimension.

Democracy is – at once – the prerequisite for and a product of an active civil society. Civil society organizations promote values, attitudes and modes of behaviour that reject violence and seek solutions through dialogue. Put simply, we need democrats for a viable democracy. This is why one third of all grants from the United Nations Democracy Fund – UNDEF – have gone towards supporting civil society through women’s empowerment.

Democracy is about equal opportunity to shape our societies. Education plays a primary role in extending sustainable democracy by providing the knowledge, information and skills necessary to negotiate differences and respect others’ point of view, to actively exercise democratic rights. It is not only about enabling citizens to seek out, filter, reflect and decide on available information, but also about countering apathy and indifference.

The Compendium of Good Practice in Human Rights Education is an example of how our organizations already work together to support the development of democratic citizenship. As the result of a partnership between the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, UNESCO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Compendium aims to prepare youth to be active, responsible and caring participants in their communities, and at the national and global levels.

A free press, enabled to inform without fear of harassment or intimidation, is essential. Media create a political space for dissenting voices which defuses tension and helps people to make informed choices and participate in a meaningful way.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Democracy is a powerful dimension of conflict prevention. But it is also precarious. Mechanisms to facilitate political dialogue are never more vital than in periods of economic stress. Democratic processes allow for political expression, which is a critical “safety valve” in periods of economic slowdown. Yet, these are often times when democratic options are restricted and democratic institutions suffer. However, democratic governance can help to establish greater institutional certainty and predictability.

The Secretary-General has already voiced his concern that the current economic and financial crisis could generate social instability - and possibly even violent conflict. We need to ensure that the democratic processes that are, in fact, fundamental to an effective response to the crisis do not become a victim of it. We must therefore work to ensure continued strengthening of democracy, also in a difficult economic context, as part of our conflict prevention measures.

Just as conflict prevention and democracy are closely linked, they are connected to sustainable development, in particular the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. Against this background, the United Nations is increasingly supporting initiatives to bolster social cohesion and develop a new spirit of collaborative decision-making.

Finally, we must keep in mind that democratization is an open-ended process. And, importantly, it has to be a home-grown process. It cannot be imposed, but has to be embedded in the mindset and political behaviour.

Thank you very much.