UN Secretary-General António Guterres has underlined the critical role of the Security Council in addressing links between fragility and conflict, two of the greatest obstacles to achieving sustainable development across the world.
Mr. Guterres was speaking on Wednesday during a high-level virtual debate of the Council to examine the challenges of maintaining peace and security in fragile or conflict-affected countries.
“By acting early and preventively, by engaging strategically to address the root causes of conflict, and speaking with one voice, the Council can mobilize the international community’s political and financial support, shed a spotlight on critical areas of need, and foster the commitment of conflict actors where needed”, he said in French, speaking through an interpreter.
The UN chief stressed that breaking the cycle of poverty and conflict calls for recognizing peace and sustainable development are interdependent, while also promoting inclusion.
“Guaranteeing equal opportunities, protection, access to resources and services and participation in decision-making are not simply moral and legal obligations. They are a necessary condition if countries are to truly break out of the conflict trap”, he said.
Appeal from the Sahel
The linkages between conflict and fragility have been particularly visible in Africa, including in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, the Secretary-General continued. Climate change, terrorism, transnational organized crime and the proliferation of armed groups have only worsened the situation.
Last Saturday, gunmen killed more than 100 villagers in western Niger, which the UN strongly condemned. The country’s President, Mahamadou Issoufou, was among leaders participating in the virtual meeting.
“The international community must mobilize to help the countries in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin to move on from this fragile context, the primary victims of which are women and children,” President Issoufou said in French. He expressed hope that these regions will figure prominently in the Security Council’s agenda.
Support African Union initiatives
The UN has been working with the African Union (AU) and regional bodies to prevent and resolve conflicts, and to boost countries’ resilience.
However, the Secretary-General said AU peace support operations continue to require predictable and sustained financing, and he urged the Council to address the issue.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the AU Commission, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic and its “devastating” health and socio-economic impacts represent a further threat to fragile nations.
“States’ fragility remains a major obstacle to development in Africa, and overcoming these challenges is an absolute priority for the African Union, and it remains one of the pillars of our international agenda,” he said, also in French.
The UN chief told ambassadors that just a month ago, he had co-chaired the fourth UN-AU Annual Conference, which provided an opportunity to once again express support for the AU’s Silencing the Guns initiative, aimed at addressing the root causes of conflict across the continent.
“My call for a global ceasefire, goes hand-in-hand with this flagship initiative”, said Mr. Guterres, highlighting his months-long plea to all engaged in violence, to direct their fire instead at the common enemy – COVID-19.
‘New and bold steps’ needed
Looking to the promise of the New Year, Liberia’s former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said the Council debate must lead to “new and bold steps” towards ending conflict, displacement and despair.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner recalled that the UN commemorated its 75th anniversary last year, a period which saw the Secretary-General advocating for climate action and the ceasefire during the pandemic.
Although the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, will celebrate the same milestone this year, “its continued existence is a mark on our collective conscious”, she stated. “It means that we have not pursued peace, not addressed fragility.”
Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said the UN and its many organs, especially the Security Council, were established to spearhead global development and global equity.
“The United Nations must continue to represent more than hope”, she said. “It must be an active mechanism for peace and scale-up support for the fragile nations that for too long have been left behind.”