A number of world leaders and influential opinion makers, including Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, attending a United Nations High-Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace in New York, underscored the importance of preventive diplomacy as the key for damage control and stopping the outbreak of conflicts.
UN officials, pleading for greater diplomatic efforts, dialogue and mediation, called on the world leaders to help strengthen a “new approach” for peace sustenance, placing prevention at the forefront of efforts to check any escalation that could result in huge collateral damages to human lives and property, besides uprooting innocent civilians from their place of livelihood and lead to a catastrophic displacement of people.
These remarks have a tacit reference to areas currently plagued by civil war and extremism, a very striking example of which is Syria.
In his opening remarks, UN General Assembly president Miroslav Lajcak reminded the guests that the “first line of the United Nations Charter commits us to saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”
“In a way, we have met this commitment. There has not, since, been another world war. But, in many other ways, we have not,” he said, calling for a “new approach” to save human lives in places plagued by conflicts such as Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan.
The UN first embarked on a new approach in 2016, Lajcak said; the General Assembly, in tandem with the Security Council, adopted what later became known as ‘sustaining peace resolutions,’ renewing the UN commitment to conflict prevention as enshrined in the UN Charter.
Although two years have passed, he said, there were challenges faced while translating this approach into a reality, He called for greater international attention to the need for scaled-up efforts to prevent conflict, achieve coherence within the UN system, and expand partnerships, financing, and inclusion.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (photo) also voiced similar views, underscoring the need to strengthen partnerships in all the stages - from conflict prevention and resolution to peacekeeping, peacebuilding and long-term development.
According to Guterres, key partners in such endeavours include governments, the UN, other international, regional and sub-regional organisations, international financial institutions, the private sector, and civil society, including women’s and youth groups.
“Sustaining peace will only be realised through committed, inclusive national ownership that considers the needs of the most marginalized, including women, young people, minorities and people with disabilities,” he said.
Guterres said that more countries experienced violent conflicts than at any time in nearly three decades and that record numbers of people were displaced by violence, war and persecution.
Speakers during the opening session included Malaysia-born Michelle Yeoh, actress, producer and UN Development Programme goodwill ambassador.
She recalled how in the latter role she had met many people who had been forced from their homes, struggling to make ends meet and who had been left behind. Many times, their hardship resulted from conflict, which had become deadlier over the years.
Indeed, millions of people around the world were being displaced from their homes, primarily due to violence. More than half of the world’s refugees were children, often separated from their parents.
By 2030, the target year of the Sustainable Development Agenda, more than half of the world’s poor would be living in countries plagued by violent conflict, Yeoh added.
Women and girls were falling prey to gender-based violence, with devastating long-term effects. The human cost of war was too high, and the financial costs far-reaching.
To date, most international efforts, reactive in character, focused on crises that had already erupted, rather than on preventing conflicts in the first place, which could save countless lives and billions of dollars.
However, the UN was shifting its efforts towards prevention, she said, noting that the resolution had emphasized prevention, inclusion and women’s essential role in the peacebuilding process.
The high-level meeting had a large number of foreign dignitaries from around the world who addressed the issue of peacebuilding and peace sustenance.
A Gitesh Sarma, additional secretary in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, while welcoming Guterres’ report on the subject of peacebuilding peace sustenance, said that funds available for such efforts did not constitute even one percent of the annual budget for UN peacekeeping, and said that the specific financial options presented by the UN chief needed to be examined seriously to address the inadequate levels of funding.
Sarma also called for empowerment of women and youth and their participation in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and governance, saying that an increased institutionalised involvement of women in peacekeeping, conflict prevention and mediation and political processes is important. He cited the “role model” for Liberian women exemplified by the first-ever women Formed Police Unit (FPU) at the UN peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
“We are proud that this unit was deployed by India as early as 2007. More such examples will go a long way in helping communities in building and sustaining peace,” he said.