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Statement to Fourth Committee on the comprehensive review of Special Political Missions, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

6 Nov 2015 - 13:45

Mr. Chairman,


Distinguished delegates,

I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of the Secretary-General, his latest report on “Overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions”, requested by General Assembly resolution 69/95.

This is the third report of the Secretary-General on this agenda item, and we are very grateful for the attention the Fourth Committee has given to this issue over the last few years. I look forward to a productive exchange on how we can further strengthen our special political missions to effectively address the challenges we collectively face today.

Allow me to thank Finland and Mexico for their important and active role as co-facilitators of this discussion, and for their work in this area.  

Mr. Chairman,

This is a timely occasion for a discussion of special political missions, and their central place in the Organization’s peace and security efforts.

As the Secretary-General has repeatedly noted, we are currently at a crossroads. The global peace and security landscape has continued to deteriorate in 2015, with grim signs that instability will not abate.

The number of major wars has tripled since 2008, a worrying trend after a long period of steady decline. We now face the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in decades, and humanitarian needs are setting new records by the day. Today, almost 90 percent of special political mission personnel are working in peace operations covering countries experiencing high-intensity conflict.

If we are to truly fulfill this Organization’s founding purpose of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war, a global effort must be urgently undertaken not only to respond to the proliferating number of crises, but to prevent them from emerging, or prevent a relapse into conflict.



Special political missions are a crucial part of this effort. They remain at the forefront of the United Nations response to conflict, and have become indispensable instruments for conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding.

In Libya, Yemen and Syria, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoys and Representatives continue to work tirelessly to lay out a path for a peaceful solution to conflicts that have ignited regional instability, sowed violent extremism, and caused unspeakable human suffering.

In Somalia, our mission on the ground, working closely with the African Union mission, is supporting the Federal Government and the Somali people to capitalize on the country’s best chance for peace in a generation.

And in West Africa, Central Africa and Central Asia, as well as the Sahel and the Great Lakes Region, our regional offices and envoys are working with Member States, regional organizations and civil society to enhance regional and sub-regional capacities for conflict prevention and to address transnational challenges such as water and energy scarcity, drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.


Distinguished delegates,

Special political missions may vary significantly in terms of their mandates, size and structure. They are individually tailored to provide the best possible United Nations response to a specific situation. Flexibility is one of their greatest assets. But they have one common characteristic: the focus on preventing and resolving conflict.

As such, special political missions embody Chapter VI of the Charter, focusing on the pursuit of negotiated solutions and the pacific settlement of disputes. They are deployed on the basis of national consent. And by relying on tools such as mediation and facilitation, they have demonstrated an ability to defuse tensions, to help countries step back from the brink of conflict, and to support national and regional efforts to build and sustain peace.



As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, this year has presented us with a unique opportunity to review our work and take stock of the challenges faced by the Organization in the area of peace and security.

Just over a year ago, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. We have now seen the Panel’s report, as well as the Secretary-General’s own response and implementation plan. I am grateful for the high-level consideration that the General Assembly and this Committee in particular, have given to these reports.

The Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture has now entered its intergovernmental phase. And the recently-concluded high-level review of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 has given new impetus to our efforts to promote the women, peace and security agenda.

The report before this Committee reflects on some of the key themes addressed in these reviews that are pertinent for special political missions and for DPA’s mandate more broadly. Allow me to briefly highlight some of them.

First, the reviews make a strong call for a renewed and urgent emphasis on conflict prevention and mediation. This is long overdue. To effectively address the multiplicity of threats we confront today, we must sharpen our focus, and make a real and sustained effort to stop crises before they escalate into violence.

Over the last decade, we have put in place an innovative and effective set of mechanisms that have made a real difference in the United Nations ability to prevent conflict. This includes stronger partnerships with regional and sub-regional actors, closer cooperation with the wider United Nations family, including Country Teams, and creation of rapidly-deployable mediation expertise, supported by the Department of Political Affairs, to support peace processes. The Secretary-General’s recent report to the Security Council on conflict prevention addresses these mechanisms in detail.

Special political missions are a central part of this toolbox, and one of our most important operational tools for prevention and mediation, and for the discharge of the Secretary-General’s good offices. The Reviews specifically highlighted the important role and longer-term presence of our regional offices as forward platforms for preventive diplomacy, which should be further enhanced.

While conflict prevention has been mentioned as a priority for many decades, this is the time to transform our rhetorical commitments into concrete actions. Targeted and smart investments in these tools will be required. But sustained political support from Member States for conflict prevention will equally remain crucial, for prevention is first and foremost a responsibility of Member States.  We look forward to continuing this discussion with Member States, and to enact real change in the Organization’s ability to prevent conflict around the world.

Second, strong partnerships with regional and sub-regional organizations remain a critical aspect of the work carried out by special political missions, under the framework of Chapter VIII of the Charter. This is based on a shared understanding that the UN and regional organizations can have a multiplier effect by drawing on our respective strengths and comparative advantages.

These partnerships are not abstract. They are a day-to-day reality in the work of all our missions. In West Africa, to mention just one example, Special Representative Chambas works side-by-side with the African Union and ECOWAS across the range of his engagements.

The Secretary-General’s recent report on cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations in mediation contains a detailed analysis of our efforts in this area, including recommendations on how to make our cooperation even more effective. I am grateful for the continued work of the Group of Friends of Mediation in bringing this topic to the attention of the broader membership.

Third, the role of special political missions in peacebuilding has been further recognized by the reviews. In three of the six countries on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission, special political missions are either deployed on the ground — in Burundi and Guinea-Bissau — or provide remote support — in Guinea. In Sierra Leone, the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office successfully concluded its mandate in 2014 following the significant progress achieved by the country in consolidating peace. And as many countries where United Nations operations are currently deployed continue their peace consolidation processes, we may expect that the role of special political missions in peacebuilding will continue to be relevant.

The reviews recognize that peacebuilding is an inherently political process, and that transitions from conflict to peace are non-linear, complex and long-term processes. As such, they require sustained international support. Special political missions can be tailored to support national authorities and other local stakeholders to implement these agendas, including by helping mobilize international political attention and financial support.

The reviews have also given increased momentum to the women, peace and security agenda, and resolution 2242 (2015) will further contribute to strengthening the Organization’s work in this area. I am particularly pleased to highlight some of the findings of the internal assessment carried out by DPA in the context of the review of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

This internal assessment showed that we have made steady progress in implementing the 15 commitments undertaken by DPA in this area. We have increased the number of women in UN-led or co-led mediation processes; we have mainstreamed gender into our policy documents and developed new trainings for staff, including senior management and envoys. The number of gender-related provisions in ceasefires and peace agreements facilitated by DPA has increased. All of the Secretary-General’s recent reports to the Security Council on special political missions have included references to issues related to women, peace and security.

While the review has confirmed that we are on the right track, we remain deeply cognizant of the significant challenges that still lie ahead, and are committed to continue working on this agenda.


Mr. Chairman,

The report before this Committee also contains detailed information on various policy issues outlined in resolution 69/95, to which we know Member States attach great importance.

The report outlines the significant efforts undertaken by the Secretariat in order to further improve transparency and accountability for special political missions. This is a key commitment of the Secretary-General, as well as the Department of Political Affairs. To achieve this, we have continued to carry out briefings to Member States, discussions with regional groups as well as individual Member States, consultations and cooperation with regional partners and regular interaction with the press and civil society at large. DPA remains at your disposal to brief you on the work of special political missions.

The Secretary-General’s report on “The Future of UN Peace Operations” also outlines a number of proposals aimed at empowering the field and promoting more agile field support. These proposals are based on the need to align authority and accountability with responsibilities, and foresee the development of strong accountability frameworks. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support has been able to join me today to address some of these issues.

The report also addresses our efforts to enhance geographical representation and women’s participation in the context of special political missions. This will remain an important area of work for the Department, one in which we look forward to collaborating with Member States.

The Secretariat is also committed to continue holding regular interactive dialogues with Member States on overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions. Our latest interactive dialogue, held in April, led to a productive discussion on the Review of Peace Operations. We look forward to working closely with the Bureau of the Fourth Committee to plan future interactive dialogues focusing on other policy issues.


Mr. Chairman,

In concluding, allow me to pay homage to the Special Representatives and Special Envoys of the Secretary-General, as well as United Nations staff who are serving in special political missions, often at great personal sacrifice, to promote peace and security.

Thank you.