As representatives of civil society groups from around the world wrapped up their landmark conference on conflict prevention, a senior United Nations official told some 600 civic leaders gathered at UN Headquarters in New York that development must be seen as “the first line of defence” in defusing potential conflicts and building world peace.
“[In] today’s world, more than ever, development and peace are indivisible,” Ibrahim Gambari, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in his concluding remarks to the Global Conference on the Role of Civil Society in the Prevention of Armed Conflict and Peacebuilding.
“We know that prosperous societies are more likely to have the resources they need to build strong institutions of government and civil society which makes internal war less likely.”
The three-day conference, which was co-sponsored by the UN Department of Political Affairs, was aimed at implementing a global agenda to prevent conflict. It came in response to Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s recommendation in his 2001 report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict “to organize an international conference of local, national and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on their role in conflict prevention and future interaction with the United Nations.”
When he opened the conference on Tuesday, Mr Annan called for the creation of a sustainable network of individuals and groups – including partnerships with governments and UN agencies – committed to prevention and peacebuilding at global, regional, and national levels.
Mr. Gambari warned that the need for global solutions, and the need for strong global institutions, must not divert attention from the need to understand individual regions, countries and societies.
“For us to make a meaningful contribution, we must do all we can to understand the local context in which we are working, to appreciate local history and culture and know how best to support the efforts of local government and local civil society,” he said.
“I cannot say this strongly enough: if we are to be effective in conflict prevention and peace-building, we can only depend on first-rate analysis and knowledge. I believe a partnership between the UN and civil society in doing this is critical.”
Diplomacy in the 21st century no longer simply meant men in suits at committees and conferences, Mr. Gambari noted. It had to be more dynamic, in the field, in the actual war-zones, and involving not just governments and the UN but also regional and non-governmental organizations. The role of the Secretary-General’s good offices was critical. But so was the work of many of the organizations here today. “We must invest in our capacity for prevention, peace-making and peace-building and we must work together in this area,” he said.
Calling for the United Nations to work in greater and more effective partnerships with others, including with civil society organizations, he welcomed the “challenging” Global Action Agenda for the future presented by the civil society leaders to the UN Secretariat.
The Agenda highlighted key features of prevention and peace-building. It emphasized the crucial need for local ownership and participation at all stages of peace processes. It also underlined the need for dialogue, for transparency, for accountability. “These are all principles that we, in the UN Secretariat, also truly believe in,’ Mr. Gambari said.