UN Security Council: Open Debate on Prevention and resolution of conflicts in the Great Lakes region
As delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand,
21 March 2016.
In the past two decades, the Great Lakes have witnessed some of the most brutal and devastating conflicts since World War Two. The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 set in motion events which resulted in three major African wars and the deaths of a further five million people in the years that followed.
For much of this period, the positions of the international community were characterised by missed opportunities and an inability or unwillingness to act. Africa’s institutions also struggled.
Today we are still working through the consequences of those failures. And the costs in terms of lives lost, women and children traumatised, infrastructure shattered, and development foregone continues to rise.
We must acknowledge that much work has been done by the African Union, by regional organisations and by regional players. By the United Nations, the World Bank and intergovernmental and nongovernmental actors.
And there have been bright spots. As the United States Ambassador has pointed out, there have been impressive economic gains in Rwanda, in particular and also in Uganda. And she also noted political developments and human rights have not kept pace and undue weight given there to the cult of personality to the detriment of the long term future of those countries.
Elsewhere, we cannot honestly claim to be even close to achieving sustainable peace.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, many of the same militia who played a central role in the previous conflicts continue to operate largely with impunity. And the potential for violence around the upcoming elections poses serious risks to national and regional stability.
In Burundi, we have watched as many of the gains of the past decade – in terms of development and of national reconciliation – have crumbled away in recent months, as the President and those around him have prioritised their personal ambitions over the good of Burundi, its people and the collective national commitment to reconciliation reflected in the Arusha Accords.
Regional engagement and a focus on confidence building measures are essential for achieving long term and sustainable solutions. We welcome therefore the Great Lakes Strategic Framework, which requires a consistent approach to implementation and active follow up by the countries of the region. We also welcome the Great Lakes Plan, just outlined by the Secretary General. The Security Council must actively support these processes.
During New Zealand’s campaign for election to this Council, we heard time and time again that the single greatest priority for improving the Council’s effectiveness was to strengthen its performance in preventing conflict.
Ten years on from the adoption of the landmark resolution 1625, the Council continues to shy away from putting conflict prevention into practice, including in relation to the Great Lakes region.
My delegation recalls the sense of optimism that greeted the establishment of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention in Africa in 2002. Initially this Working Group provided practical leadership on specific country situations, and pioneered innovative working methods which have since been adopted by the Peacebuilding Commission’s Country Specific Configurations.
We would like to see such leadership again.
Since joining the Council, New Zealand has advocated for more serious and effective efforts to address emerging conflict risks.
Effective conflict prevention requires a willingness to be flexible, and to work patiently and discreetly with national and regional stakeholders. It also requires a genuine commitment by stakeholders to look for solutions, rather than excuses for delaying engagement.
New Zealand argued for early, discreet engagement by the Council in Burundi, including through the dispatch of a mini-Mission to support the efforts of the African Union, the UN Secretariat and regional partners.
It took six months for the visit to happen. By this time the crisis was entrenched and the scope for quiet diplomacy was seriously diminished.
We cannot afford to allow opportunities for early preventive engagement to slip through our fingers.
In our view, there are a number of steps the Council can take to lift its game.
First we must find ways to improve the Council’s awareness of risks of evolving conflict to enable more timely, consistent and effective attention to its role in managing these.
To achieve these, we will need to be open to some changes in our working methods to enable Council members to better engage with a problem solving mindset. We also need to invest in building a real working relationship with the Department of Political Affairs and to strengthen the quality of information we receive from them and the wider Secretariat.
Second, lifting our game also means making practical improvements to the Council’s willingness and ability to work with regional organisations, particularly the African Union, on emerging conflict risks.
The Council’s interaction with the African Union Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa in January demonstrated the value of such engagement. We need to find ways to make meaningful engagement an everyday habit, particularly for complex challenges such as the conflict risks in the DRC and South Sudan. Perhaps the Ad Hoc Working Group can play a greater role here.
Third, both Council members and national and regional stakeholders need to move beyond the current false dichotomy between confrontation and non-intervention that so often leads to inertia.
Early engagement to prevent conflict is both a legitimate and necessary role for this Council. At the same time, such efforts are more likely to be effective conducted in a manner that is sensitive to concerns of national sovereignty and stakeholders see the Council as a body committed to working with them to try to resolve real problems.
This means proceeding early before problems are entrenched. It means being respectful and genuinely listening to national and regional actors. And it means coming to discussions without political agendas, other than the prevention of conflict and the saving of lives.
Fourth, to be effective in preventing conflict this Council must take a more inclusive approach, involving countries concerned, important regional stakeholders and others who can contribute to our discussions in a balanced and collegial way. We should make more use of informal, interactive formats aimed at deepening our political analysis of the issues involved and building shared understanding of the drivers of conflict. If we don’t understand the issues properly we will come up with the wrong solutions.
More broadly, New Zealand remains concerned that the international community, and the UN itself, continue to underfund conflict prevention.
The review of peace operations identified the urgent need to shift our focus from investing resources in responding to crises, to the far more cost-effective and humane business of preventing conflict. We call for urgent and favourable consideration by the Fifth Committee of the modest proposals put forward in this regard by the Department of Political Affairs. We need stronger mediation and analytical capability in the UN, and we need to invest more in regional engagement.
It is vital that we pay close attention to the Great Lakes Region in the year ahead, particularly the evolving situations in Burundi and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that this Council is ready to act – discreetly and sensitively with the United Nations Secretariat and regional partners – to ensure the people of this region are spared further tragedy and that they can build a future commensurate with the human and natural resource capital of the region.