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Briefing to the Fourth Committee Debate on “Comprehensive Review of Special Political Missions”, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

26 Oct 2016 - 15:02

Mr. Chairman,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the Fourth Committee and introduce the Secretary-General’s latest report on “Overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions”, requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 70/92.

I am pleased to be accompanied by my colleague Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, in this debate.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the delegations of Finland and Mexico for their continued leadership on this agenda item, and their close cooperation with the Secretariat.


Mr. Chairman,

This is the fourth General Assembly debate on special political missions. We view this annual debate as a crucial opportunity for the Secretariat and Member States to exchange views on some of the key challenges that SPMs face today. Our discussions over the last few years have fostered greater understanding and awareness regarding the important role that SPMs continue to play, and their contribution to international peace and security.

Since the creation of this agenda item in 2013, we have continued to see a deterioration of the global strategic environment, with significant implications for special political missions and the broader UN peace and security agenda.

The Secretary-General’s recent report to the World Humanitarian Summit depicted this bleak reality. After two decades of consistent decline, the number of civil wars has increased quickly since 2008. The eruption of violent and intractable conflicts has led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis: 60 million people are currently displaced, the highest number since the Second World War. 80 percent of all United Nations humanitarian assistance is directed at conflict-affected victims.

If we are to reverse these trends and fulfill the purposes of the UN Charter, a global effort will be required to prioritize and prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts. A new “diplomacy for peace”, to use the words of the Secretary-General-designate, is urgent.

Special political missions are one our most important mechanisms to achieve this goal. Their recent experience shows that they can play a vital role to prevent and resolve conflicts, and build a sustainable peace.


Distinguished delegates,

This year’s report addresses a number of policy issues that are critical for the work of special political missions. As requested by the General Assembly, the report contains detailed information regarding the efforts undertaken by the Secretariat to improve geographical distribution and gender representation in SPMs, as well as to advance transparency and accountability.

I am proud that the staff in our Special Political Missions is broadly geographically representative of the United Nations membership, and in particular of the regions where they are deployed. At the same time, we are fully aware that we must continue to improve our geographical representation from specific regions as well as the number of senior female officials. This will remain a priority for DPA.

We also recognize that significant progress needs to be made to improve the representation of women in SPMs at all levels. As a priority, we must address some of the structural obstacles that have stood in the way of gender parity, and develop mechanisms to nurture the next generation of women who will rise to leadership ranks within our missions.


Mr. Chairman,

Allow me to turn to some of the other policy issues addressed in the report.


First, conflict prevention and sustaining peace.

The peace and security reviews carried out over the last two years have brought renewed attention to conflict prevention. They have reminded us that the United Nations was established with the central purpose of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. They also recognized that conflict prevention remained under-prioritized and under-resourced, calling for a sustained engagement to bring prevention back to the fore.

The report before this Committee describes the measures taken by the Secretary-General to transform this rhetorical commitment into action. But let us make no mistake: conflict prevention is a shared responsibility of the international community at large: the Secretariat, UN agencies, funds and programmes, regional and subregional organizations, international financial institutions and, primarily, Member States.

This is why I strongly welcome the adoption of the “Sustaining Peace” resolutions by the General Assembly and the Security Council. They reflect the commitment of the membership towards improving our preventive capacities across all stages of a conflict, in order to ensure that peace is indeed sustainable.

Sustaining peace lies at the core of the work of all special political missions, from those deployed in preventive settings – such as UN regional offices – to those overseeing complex political transitions – such as our missions in Guinea Bissau or Iraq. Sustaining peace is also at the heart of the mandate of our special envoys and mediation teams, who work daily to bring the parties around a peaceful solution to conflicts.

I reiterate my Department’s strong support to this agenda, as well as our commitment to work closely with the broader UN system as we move forward with its implementation.


Second, regional partnerships.

It is an undeniable reality of the 21st century international peace and security landscape that the United Nations, regional and sub-regional organizations need to work closely together if we are to truly make a difference in resolving conflicts and supporting a sustainable peace.

From our regional office in Central Africa to the newly-deployed United Nations Mission in Colombia, SPMs are often mandated to work side-by-side with their regional counterparts in pursuit of peace and stability. Our cooperation is based on a shared understanding that the UN and regional actors can have a multiplying effect by drawing on our respective comparative advantages.

These partnerships are important not only to advance crucial country-specific processes, but also to allow us to support Member States in addressing cross-boundary issues that affect entire regions. Organized crime, illicit trafficking and violent extremism are transnational in nature, and demand that Member States devise regional and sub-regional strategies.


Third, the women, peace and security agenda.

The Review of the Implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) was an important milestone that conveyed a key message: the direct and effective involvement and leadership of women in peace processes, politics, public institutions and justice systems is essential to peaceful societies and sustainable development.

In DPA, we are fully committed to this agenda. I personally act as the Departmental focal point for women, peace and security issues, and oversee our progress towards the 15 commitments DPA has undertaken in the context of Security Council resolution 1325. In 2016, DPA established a stand-alone gender, peace and security unit and developed a Department-wide gender strategy, in close consultation with our special political missions in the field.

These new capacities have better positioned DPA to respond to the significant expectations from Member States – and the international community more broadly – for progress on the women, peace and security agenda.


And finally, safety and security.

Over the past decade, SPMs have been deployed to increasingly volatile environments, often amidst active conflicts or in the immediate aftermath of war. Our missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen all serve as examples. The volatility of these operational settings puts great pressure on the ability of our missions to implement their mandates. They also represent an everyday risk for our staff working in this area.

The cost of doing business in these contexts is high. Take Somalia as an example. In 2016 alone, there were 10 direct attacks on the UN. To carry our mandated tasks in such a challenging setting, our mission requires the necessary security and operational measures that allows us to deploy and operate responsibly while mitigating risks. Our guard unit, in particular, plays an essential role to allow the mission to operate.

But this is an investment that we must be willing to make. This is where the United Nations can make a difference for the people we serve. In Somalia, the UN helps 800,000 people meet their food security needs on a monthly basis. We have vaccinated 2 million children against polio, ending a serious outbreak. We provide support to federal and regional governments for the first national development plan in 30 years. And to enable these activities and ensure that progress on the ground is sustainable, we engage closely on the political front to support the emerging federal states, promote national reconciliation, and assist a host of institutions, including the justice and electoral systems.


Mr. Chairman,

As the report illustrates, special political missions continue to play a critical role. I am grateful for the support that Member States have continued to demonstrate to this crucial tool, both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council.

From our part, the Secretariat remains committed to working closely with this Committee to discuss overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions, including through the useful mechanism of regular interactive dialogues. We look forward to working closely with the Bureau of the Fourth Committee to plan our next interactive dialogue.

Before concluding, I would like to pay a special tribute to the United Nations staff members serving in special political missions, working under the most difficult conditions to advance international peace and security.


Thank you.