Welcome to the United Nations

Special political missions have steadfastly served the cause of peace for 75 years





New York, 5 October 2023



Dear colleagues,

I am pleased to welcome you today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of special political missions.

UN civilian missions with political functions have been at the heart of the Organization's work since its early days. They have steadfastly served the cause of peace.

The first special political mission was established on 14 May 1948, when the General Assembly mandated a UN Mediator in Palestine. A week later, Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte was appointed to the role.  

Over the following two decades, the UN set up numerous special political missions. Several played a pivotal role in decolonisation and the birth of proud and independent states in Africa and Asia.

From the late 1960s until the late 1980s, however, special political missions were deployed less frequently. Lack of trust between the two dominant geopolitical blocs hampered decision-making in the Security Council and the General Assembly. One of the few missions created in this period was that of the Special Representative to the Middle East.

Following the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and the 1990s, the demand for special political missions increased again.

New operations were deployed to support peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan, Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua and Somalia, among others.

Today, there are over 40 special political missions (SPMs) around the globe.


  • engage in conflict prevention and preventive diplomacy
  • address transboundary threats in Western, Central and Eastern Africa as well as Central Asia.
  • accompany political transitions, as in Libya and Somalia.
  • provide electoral assistance, as in Iraq and, a few years ago, Burundi.
  • support peace negotiations, as in Syria and Yemen, and the implementation of peace agreements, as in Colombia.
  • seek to encourage more inclusive societies through their peacebuilding work, inlucidng supporting the full participation of women in political and peace processes, and advocating for deeper engagement with youth.
  • And, assist the UN Security Council in monitoring compliance with its sanction regimes, including those imposed on Da'esh and Al-Qaida.

Special political missions have varied mandates tailored to each context. Since 1948, they have taken on new roles and tasks, adjusting to an ever-evolving peace and security environment.

In recent years, special political missions have had to understand and adapt to new risks, including the effects of the climate crisis and advancing technology. 

In a shifting peace and security context, they also work to identify new entry points, opportunities and partnerships for peacemaking and peacebuilding.

Our three panellists today – my colleagues Hanna, Carlos and Hans – will tell us what this means for the missions they lead.


Over 75 years we have learned much – from our successes but also from our missteps.

We are also painfully aware that we are undergoing a most difficult period in global relations. Our experience and a sober assessment of the moment we are living helped inform the Secretary-General’s policy brief on A New Agenda for Peace, which makes the case for boosting diplomatic engagement.

Special political missions will play an essential role in making this vision a reality.

Diplomacy and the work of good offices require risk-taking, persistence and creativity. They require mechanisms to keep channels open, quietly defuse tensions, build trust, and bring opponents together. They require talking to those with whom one disagrees.

As we commemorate 75 years of special political missions, I pay tribute to the memory of Folke Bernadotte, who was assassinated in the pursuit of peace in September 1948.

I also join the Chef de Cabinet in honouring the thousands of dedicated UN personnel who serve, or have served, in our missions, often in dangerous environments and away from their loved ones.

Let me conclude by thanking Finland and Mexico, the co-facilitators of the General Assembly resolution on special political missions, for their steadfast engagement to bring visibility to the critical role these missions play.

And thank you, Member States for your support. Without it, our work would not be possible.

Thank you.