I am pleased to join you today for this sixth interactive dialogue on overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions. Together with my colleague, Lisa Buttenheim [Assistant Secretary-General for Support Operations], we hope to have a rich discussion.
Allow me to thank the Bureau and Secretariat of the Fourth Committee for their support and collaboration in organizing this meeting. I express my appreciation to Finland and Mexico, the co-facilitators of this agenda item, for their leadership.
At the outset, I wish to pay tribute to the United Nations personnel serving in special political missions, who work under challenging conditions to advance the promise of the Charter. We greatly value and appreciate their commitment and dedication.
Special political missions vary considerably in their mandates, scope, structure, and approaches. Many of them operate in increasingly complex and unstable security situations that are characterized by conflicts with intercommunal, national and regional dimensions, large numbers of refugees and displaced persons, and cross-border threats, such as transnational organized crime, arms proliferation, and terrorism.
Today, I would like to focus on four political and security dynamics with a direct impact on how special political missions carry out their mandates. I will also share with you four of several approaches used by the missions, with support from Headquarters, to adapt to these changes.
First, conflicts are becoming more intractable, despite every effort by our and other mediators. According to the recent UN-World Bank study Pathways for Peace, violent conflicts involving state forces previously lasted on average 14.5 years, while contemporary conflicts are lasting 27 years on average. We know that the longer a conflict lasts, the more difficult it becomes to resolve, as it evolves and acquires more complex dimensions.
Second, many of today’s conflicts are marked by a multiplicity and fragmentation of actors. In Libya, Syria and Yemen, as elsewhere, non-state armed groups are numerous, often operating in decentralized structures with loose and fluid chains of command; a variety of external actors are also involved. This presents challenges for the UN in assessing and encouraging the commitment of parties to political settlements.
Third, civilians continue to pay the highest price. In Afghanistan, for instance, the annual report on the protection of civilians prepared by UNAMA and OHCHR documented close to 11,000 civilian casualties in 2018. This includes over 3,800 deaths and over 7,100 injured, the highest numbers since 2009. Of these, over 1,100 were women, representing 10 per cent of all casualties.
More broadly, statistics show the differentiated and disproportionate impact of conflict on women. The targeted sexual violence perpetrated against Yazidi women and girls in Iraq and the use of rape in Myanmar are two examples of many. Meanwhile, in some contexts, the UN itself is a target. According to the Department of Safety and Security, nine UN civilian personnel, including two women, lost their lives as a result of acts of violence in 2018.
Fourth, major global trends, such as those related to climate change and new technologies, are shaping the environments in which our missions operate.While climate change does not cause violent conflict in and of itself, it can act as a threat multiplier that exacerbates drivers of conflict, particularly in fragile contexts. New technologies, meanwhile, offer immense opportunities but also present unprecedented challenges.
They are being used to manipulate information, undermine trust, influence internal political processes and disrupt or sabotage critical infrastructure.
In this evolving peace and security context, special political missions are adopting approaches that allow them to better implement their mandates despite the challenges they face. Allow me to briefly touch on four of them:
First, special political missions are prioritizing engagement, political dialogue and mediation with all parties to build confidence and find durable political solutions. The settlement of the “name issue” in south-eastern Europe between Athens and Skopje after 27 years of quiet diplomacy demonstrates that even seemingly intractable long-standing disputes can be resolved through patiently tended dialogue and political will.
On the ground, to deepen and sustain our engagement, our missions continue to adjust their posture by increasing, strengthening or simply adapting their presence to the needs of the context in which they operate. This also enables more continuous and adequate support to national and local institutions in fragile settings.
The demand for mediation support services is at an all-time high. In 2018, the Standby Team of senior mediation advisers deployed over 130 times, providing support to special political missions including on issues such as transitional security arrangements and process design. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, Team members undertook 48 assignments in about 20 different contexts, including to support our missions working on Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation has provided counsel to the Secretary-General on various political processes.
In cases of protracted conflicts, we are working to strengthen the ability of SPMs to effectively engage with local processes, both as a means to help resolve local level conflict and to help create an enabling environment for national level processes.
In Somalia, for example, the Mediation Support Unit provided technical and strategic advice to the Mission on its approach to the implementation of local transitional security arrangements, including subnational ceasefires.
In Afghanistan, UNAMA’s field offices supported local mediators and promote local peace initiatives.
In Yemen, the diplomatic efforts led by the Special Envoy and his team resulted in the signing of the Stockholm Agreement in December 2018 between the Government of Yemen and the Houthi opposition to demilitarize the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah. We deployed a new special political mission in its support. The UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement works in operationally challenging circumstances, while the Special Envoy and his team are intensifying their engagement with the parties in Yemen and in the region to sustain the agreement and work towards a wider political process.
In West Africa, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, together with ECOWAS, engaged with national stakeholders, advocating for transparent, credible and peaceful elections in Benin, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal. The joint high-level missions conducted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, to Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and the Gambia in October last year was another initiative to sustain our political engagement in these countries and support national peace and reconciliation efforts.
Second, special political missions are collaborating more closely than ever with regional and other organizations. This is in recognition of the fact that unity of international partners is essential to the sustained success of political solutions, especially in a context of global polarization and the questioning of the rule-based global order.
In West and Central Africa, the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the United Nations Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) undertake regular joint missions with the heads of their respective subregional partners, ECCAS and ECOWAS, to engage with national stakeholders in support of political and peace processes.
The UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia supports regional dialogue on transboundary water management and promotes water diplomacy, in close cooperation with national governments and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea.
These efforts with our regional and subregional partners contribute to foster what the Secretary-General has called ‘networked multilateralism’.
Third, special political missions are adopting more inclusive and integrated approaches in fulfilling their mandates. We can only achieve and sustain peace if all segments of society are involved, including women. We must also focus on integrating youth into our peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts more consistently.
To strengthen implementation of the women, peace and security agenda – which has faced setbacks in some areas, including related to the participation of women in peace and political processes – in June I issued a new department-wide Policy. This tasks missions and staff to systematically include gender sensitive analysis in their work; to promote inclusion and women’s meaningful participation in all our peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts and in political and electoral processes; to step-up efforts to prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence; and to ensure we integrate a gender lens and women’s participation in our projects on the ground, including through allocation of resources.
Our missions are already doing a lot to advance the Women Peace and Security agenda. As an example, in Colombia, the UN Verification Mission developed a “Practical Guide on Gender-Sensitive Verification of Female Former Combatants”. This provides local verification teams with the tools needed to conduct gender-sensitive analysis on the social, economic and political reintegration of female former combatants, as well as gender-sensitive analysis of security guarantees. The Mission, in partnership with UNDP, also funded ten initiatives led by female former combatants to strengthen their income generation and enhance their reintegration into society.
In Iraq, UNAMI, as part of its efforts to promote the effective participation of women in electoral, political and decision-making processes, launched the nationwide #WhyNot (#Shakobeha) campaign. This campaign provides an opportunity to mobilize religious leaders, provincial councils and civil society groups in support of effective participation of women in political and decision-making processes in Iraq.
In May 2019, UNOWAS and ECOWAS organized a training of trainers for over 30 women peacebuilders from eleven countries in the region, in Accra, Ghana. The objective was to reinforce their skills in conflict analysis and prevention for stronger advocacy on peacebuilding and sustaining peace in their respective countries.
SPMs are also advancing the youth, peace and security agenda throughout their work. With the Prevention Academy project, the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia is building the capacities of youth and supporting their initiatives for preventive diplomacy in border areas throughout Central Asia.
Fourth, and finally, we are investing in understanding and addressing emerging issues related to climate change and new technologies. For instance, UNOWAS is working with ECOWAS on studying climate-related security risks and developing regional prevention strategies. Through our small inter-agency Climate Security Mechanism in New York, established jointly with UNDP and UN Environment, we are exploring how to support these efforts and how to assist in strengthening critical capacities in the field.
We are also maximizing the potential of technological innovation in our operations. To this end, I have asked my staff to establish a small but dedicated capacity in New York, in line with the Secretary-General’s vision on System-wide innovation. This team will support the use of new technologies and new methods to make our work more effective and efficient across our core mandate areas at Headquarters and in the field.
This builds on initial work that saw DPPA, in cooperation with the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, launch in April a “Toolkit on Digital Technologies and Mediation in Armed Conflict”. This resource provides concrete advice to mediators on opportunities and risks that digital technologies offer to the field of mediation in conflict analysis, engagement with parties, inclusivity and strategic communications.
Another recent initiative, this time in Iraq, has seen UNAMI test a pilot project on Virtual Reality (VR), which allows the use of the 360-video and integrated data visualization to provide an immersive briefing on the activities of the Mission and Country Team.
Allow me to briefly touch on the ongoing UN reform process. Despite the usual challenges that arise from any change process, we are seeing positive results especially in system-wide coherence and integration. That the Peacebuilding Support Office is now part of DPPA allows us to better advise missions on how to leverage the Peacebuilding Fund and to work more closely with the Peacebuilding Commission. The new configuration has also helped strengthen the alignment of our work with the development and human rights pillars.
The UN reform efforts are enhancing our work on conflict prevention, including in the context of UN transition processes. The upcoming UN transitions in Guinea Bissau and Haiti present opportunities to work together to ensure smooth and successful transitions. We are supporting our missions to better plan and manage their transitions through the deployment of planning capacities, conducting in-country trainings, and collecting and sharing good practices and lessons learned. Such institutional efforts have as their ultimate goal the prevention of relapse into instability or conflict.
In conclusion, I would like again to underscore the critical role played by special political missions in the maintenance of international peace and security.
The individual and collective cooperation and support of Member States and regional partners remain essential to the success of our SPMs. I am grateful to this Committee and the broader Membership for the continued support in this regard.
Providing SPMs with clear, credible and achievable mandates as well as adequate resources will contribute to increasing their impact in the ever changing political and security context of their operations.
I look forward to hearing your views and responding to your questions.
I thank you.