The General Assembly today debated a set of far-reaching measures aimed at preventing the outbreak of violent conflict that were put forward in a recent report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Offering introductory remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, said the report's central message was that the UN must intensify its current contribution to the prevention of armed conflict. "The costs of not preventing violence are enormous," she observed, noting that the international community had spent some $200 billion on the seven major interventions of the 1990s: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, the Persian Gulf, Cambodia and El Salvador.
The Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the report's key recommendations for the General Assembly. One proposal calls for the promotion of a culture of prevention, she said, noting that a number of issues on the Assembly's agenda, such as development, disarmament, human rights, humanitarian assistance, democratization, environmental degradation, terrorism and AIDS, all have a conflict prevention dimension.
The report also recommends that the Assembly enhance its interaction with the Security Council. "General Assembly members should have an opportunity to express their views on conflict prevention more often in the Council," she stressed.
Turning to the broader context in which conflict prevention is exercised, she pointed out that "if the government concerned refuses to admit that it has a problem which could lead to violent conflict and rejects offers for assistance, there is often very little outside actors, including the United Nations, can do." She emphasized that governments provide the best protection for their citizens "when they peacefully resolve a situation that might deteriorate into a violent conflict and call for preventive assistance as soon as it is needed."
During the debate which followed, speakers expressed widespread agreement on the importance of conflict prevention in securing international peace. Participants emphasized the need to shift from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention, the importance of taking early action, and the imperative of addressing the root causes of social unrest.