UN General Assembly: EU Statement at the Plenary Discussion on Prevention of Armed Conflict

New York, 7 September 2006

Statement by H.E. Ms. Kirsti Lintonen, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union

General Assembly
Sixtieth Session
98th Plenary

Check against delivery

Mr. President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the EFTA Country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

*) Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

The EU warmly welcomes the Secretary-General's progress report on the prevention of armed conflict. As the report underlines, one of the chief obligations set forth in the Charter of the United Nations is the prevention of conflict.

A clear message of the report is the progress of the United Nations' work towards culture of prevention. The EU is pleased to note the strengthening of culture of prevention across the organisation and vigorously supports the continuation of this trend. In order to further promote prevention of armed conflicts and their recurrence we understand that the Member States of the United Nations should focus resources to strengthen the preventive mechanisms of the organisation. 

The EU acknowledges the reported positive trend of the United Nations as regards increasing emphasis on prevention. We find the 2005 World Summit Outcome as a very significant event in which Member States reiterated their commitment to promote the culture of prevention of armed conflicts by means of effectively addressing the interconnected security and development challenges faced by peoples throughout the world, as well as to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations in addressing the root causes of conflict in all possible ways. Reforms enhancing prevention include inter alia the newly established United Nations Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission. The Peacebuilding Commission's role in conflict prevention is potentially very valuable in supporting countries in post-conflict situation towards sustainable peace and development and thus helping to prevent the risk of the countries to relapse into a conflict.  

We believe that understanding the root causes of armed conflicts is the basis of conflict prevention. As rightly pointed out in the report of the Secretary-General we must both understand the origins of conflicts and seek to make violence a less reasonable option. Furthermore, in our preventive efforts we should not forget the underlying injustices and motivations that may have caused the conflict.

The EU joins the Secretary-General’s conclusion on the importance of combating risk factors at the global level. At the global level we can combine our actions to address sources of tension that can lead to armed conflict and to strengthen norms and institutions supporting peace and stability. Global level problems such as spread of small arms and light weapons, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal narcotics, illicit trade in natural resources , contagious diseases, environmental degradation, lack of human rights and  rule of law, ungovernable migration, inequality , poverty and lack of opportunity  require comprehensive, global level approaches.

What clearly is central to the discussion of the prevention of conflict is to understand the link between development and security. By security we mean not only the lack of conflict or physical violence but also issues related to every day life and basic needs. Fundamental things such as food security, health services, education, environmental security and legal possibilities to act on one's own behalf and to participate in decision-making are in the very core of the concept of (human) security. Poverty is a root cause for insecurity and may lead to instability and conflict. We fully support the emphasis of the report stating that implementation of the Millennium Development Goals would serve to significantly reduce the overall sources of tension for developing countries that are vulnerable to conflict.  

International normative and institutional framework plays a key role in the prevention of armed conflicts. However, we should remember that establishing international human rights, humanitarian and other relevant legal instruments is not enough. They also need to be understood and implemented fully and effectively. The report commends the work done in sensitising different actors to understand and apply these laws and rules. We find this kind of capacity building highly valuable and we have included it as a regular part of the training of military and civil components of the EU crisis management personnel.

The EU is strongly committed to support the work of the International Criminal Court. The court  constitutes an important and credible preventive mechanism as would-be perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes must take into account the possibility of punishment following their actions. We underline the importance of ending of impunity and fully agree with the report as it states that the bringing to justice perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity constitutes a significant contribution towards the promotion of prevention.  

In addition to global level approaches we should emphasise regional initiatives to support the prevention of armed conflict. Regional efforts in mediation and peacebuilding can have  advantages as regional organisations usually possess  strong interests in the peaceful resolution of disputes within regions and can promote legitimacy in common problem solving.    

The report explicitly underlines the primary responsibility of national Governments for the prevention of conflicts. We fully support this point of view. In this context, the EU reiterates its support for the Summit Outcome conclusion that each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The central responsibility rests within the countries themselves and no external efforts as regards prevention will be of use unless the State and its population agree on their importance and have a will to address the issues in question. Bad governance, corruption and lack or inadequate functioning of rule of law institutions are examples of problems that can lead to instability and conflict. Whereas the strengthening of national capacities to redress the problems is the duty of States, external actors can assist the States to mitigate these potentially destabilising factors by conflict-sensitive development assistance and promotion of good governance and human rights.        

The EU commends the attention the report gives to the role of Parliamentarians in promoting peaceful processes in society. The importance of democracy-building, elections and constitution as tools for prevention of conflicts are therefore duly noted. Parliamentarians represent the people and are responsible for law-making and overseeing the executive powers. Thus, they have a central role in managing national political debates and dialogue in a peaceful and conciliatory way.

Furthermore, civil society is an important actor in preventing armed conflicts and their recurrence. Governments should find ways to cooperate with non-governmental organisations, academics, religious leaders and other representatives of civil society in order to thoroughly understand and tackle injustices and underlying motivations causing instability and threat of conflict in a society.  We agree with the report that the United Nations organs should further explore ways to engage with civil society groups in order to build more effective partnerships to facilitate conflict prevention and peaceful settlement of conflicts.  Moreover, in countries emerging from conflict, civil society can be weak or non-existent and the EU believes that they should be nurtured and supported as a vital element in the recovery process.

The EU highlights the effective implementation of the Security Council Resolution 1325 "Women, Peace and Security" and underscores the importance of integrating a gender perspective into conflict prevention. The EU believes that urgent preventive measures should be developed especially in relation to gender-based violence  in conflicts. Mechanisms for prevention against and protection from gender-based violence need to be well planned in advance and included to the inter-agency contingency plans and strategies.

Children are a particularly vulnerable group in armed conflicts. The EU shares the concerns raised in the Secretary General's report in this regard, and stresses the importance of addressing the rights and protection of children in strategies for handling armed conflicts.

The EU stresses the importance of the United Nations and its Secretary-General in the field of the prevention of conflicts. The organisation has a remarkable record in peacebuilding operations and has competences more than others to promote conflict prevention. The Secretary-General himself has many times successfully offered an indispensable mediation in situations risking to escalate into conflicts.

However, as Secretary-General fairly states in his report there are number of gaps in the system of the United Nations hampering the work of conflict prevention. We warmly welcome the efforts to strengthen coordination and coherence within the United Nations system and enhance cooperation between the United Nations and other international organisations and other relevant actors. The past years saw great progress in tangible co-operation between the UN and the EU in crisis management areas. The EU recalls in particular the Joint Declaration on UN-EU co-operation in crisis management, signed in New York on  24th September 2003. Further steps could be taken to enhance this co-operation.

As regards weaknesses Capacity building in the field of early warning, collection of information and analysis should be a particular priority.  The report mentions the lack of progress in developing an early-warning mechanism within the United Nations. It is also noted that the organisation's institutional memory in the field of conflict-prevention is fragmented and incomplete. The EU finds this situation alarming and believes that the newly strengthened framework team could have a role here.  However there is clearly a need for a more concerted effort across the board in this area if we are to fulfil the goals of UNGA resolution 57/337. 

In conclusion, we find the report's comprehensive approach to the prevention of conflict highly supportable. Preventing conflicts more effectively requires better and more thorough understanding of the origins of conflicts and addressing the root causes of tension. The challenge is to ensure that due importance, including in resource terms, is given to long term conflict prevention activity rather than short term crisis response. We should seek to enhance the co-operation and coherence of our actions at all levels, from the global level to enhancing national capacities for peaceful resolution of conflicts and engaging civil society actors, in order to promote conflict prevention and support peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.