The Security Council's caseload of war-torn countries has spotlighted the need for the United Nations to pre-empt crises and to ensure that its peacebuilding efforts include long-term engagement and ways to help strengthen institutions that provide security and justice based on the rule of law, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.
"Our task should be to prevent such suffering. All too often we fail to do so, because we do not recognize the gravity of the threat until too late," Mr. Annan said in opening a debate on the Council's role in humanitarian crises, chaired by Foreign Minister, Petros Molyviatis of Greece, which holds the 15-nation body's Presidency for the month.
Mr. Annan said UN Member States should recognize that, if a particular state is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens against extreme violence, the Security Council must assume that responsibility.
But he warned that on the 10th anniversary of a "dark moment" in the UN's history – the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica, after the Council had declared the town a "safe area"– whenever the Council took responsibility for protecting civilians, it must craft an unambiguous mandate, and provide adequate resources to do the job properly.
Everyone involved – from the Council itself, the broader UN membership and the Secretariat in New York and personnel on the ground – must fully understand the expectations they have aroused among people desperate for protection in the face of grave danger, Mr. Annan said.
He also drew attention to the challenge of peacebuilding, and the ways in which different parts of the UN system needed to cooperate to assist that process. Ensuring such coordination, he said, is a role that he hopes will be filled by a new Peacebuilding Commission, if Member States agree to such a body at this September's World Summit.
That Commission, which Mr. Annan proposed in his report on UN renewal, "In Larger Freedom," should help to sustain the international focus on peacebuilding tasks in countries which, thanks to the cessation of active hostilities, are no longer intensively covered in the news media. And, by bringing together the different international and regional actors involved in such countries, it should harmonize peace-building activity across the multilateral system, he said.
Echoing that hope, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that a peacebuilding commission could help ensure coordinated and sustained international attention in the post-peacekeeping phase.
But he warned that even though the total number of active armed conflicts in the world was now at a 30-year low, there should be no illusion about how precarious and difficult the task peacebuilding was. The tragedy of Srebrenica still served as a reminder of how quickly an already dire situation could descend into conscience-shocking acts of savagery in a matter of days and hours, he said.
To be better prepared for the unexpected, the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change has recommended the creation of a strategic reserve capacity, to be called on short notice to reinforce a mission facing an unforeseen crisis. One of the Peacekeeping Department's highest priorities in the coming year was to work with Member States to define the concept of operations for the strategic reserve.
Still, however robust the military capabilities of UN peacekeeping operations, he said, they alone could not ensure security in the post-conflict environment, absent the right political strategy and the political will of the relevant national and international actors.
"No amount of international assistance in the areas of rule of law, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration or security sector reform could substitute for effective national leadership," said Mr. Guéhenno.