PRESS CONFERENCE ON CIVIL SOCIETY'S ROLE IN CONFLICT PREVENTION
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 July 2005
The last three years, culminating in today’s opening of the first-ever civil society meeting on conflict prevention, had demonstrated civil society’s commitment to creating a real agenda of human security for global change, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference today.
Jodi Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate and Campaign Ambassador of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said that despite civil society’s collaboration for change, the commitment on the part of governments and international institutions had not been quite as deep. Governments and international organizations often paid little more than lip service when they recognized civil society in the last lines of their statements before the United Nations. In a globalized world, everyone had to be meaningfully involved in a partnership for change because, while marginalization created anger and chaos, partnership created a real possibility for constructive non-violent change.
Providing the background to the three-day conflict-prevention meeting, Paul van Tongeren, Executive Director of the European Platform for Conflict Prevention, said the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict had been formed three years ago in response to the Secretary-General’s report on the prevention of armed conflict, which urged international non-governmental organizations to organize a conference on the role of civil society in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The Global Partnership had several aims, first and foremost of which was the need to establish a global network of peacebuilders. Regional processes in 15 regions had drafted action agendas, which together comprised the Global Action Agenda for Conflict Prevention. Another goal of the Global Partnership was to work together for policy change. It was crucial that civil society work with regional organizations, international organizations and the United Nations.
He added that the United Nations track record in the field was quite mixed and that the international community was often far too late and did far too little in crisis situations. In his report, “In Larger Freedom”, the Secretary-General admitted that peacebuilding was a gaping hole in the United Nations system. The proposal for a Peacebuilding Commission had not even mentioned the issue of prevention and the role of civil society. The time was right for civil society to organize itself and address such issues.
Florence Mpaayei, the Global Partnership Regional Initiator for East-Central Africa and representative of the Nairobi Peace Initiative, noted that that region had been embroiled in numerous conflicts, gross human rights violations, massive displacement of people, child abductions and recruitment into various rebel movements and genocidal groups. Being part of the global partnership was an opportunity for civil society to come together and discuss how it could collectively make the region a better place.
Women, youth, and faith-based organizations grappled daily with people who suffered conflicts, she said. Yet the picture was not all “gloom and doom”. Two peace agreements had recently been signed in Somalia and Sudan. It was a region of different phases, with some countries emerging from war, others still in war and still others in the post-conflict reconstruction phase. The work for civil society was enormous and required the involvement of governments, international organizations and the United Nations to map out strategies to ensure that countries emerging from conflict did not relapse into violence.
Stephen Stedman, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the follow-up to the report of the High-Level Panel, said the world was in desperate need of a new security consensus that put prevention at the forefront. While governments and the United Nations did a good job of talking the talk, the time had come to deliver. Development was the first line of prevention because it was essential for building States that exercised their sovereignty responsibly; it was also essential in addressing the key threats to human security. Given what the world now knew about the relationship between poverty and conflict, it was the best medium-term strategy for preventing deadly violence. It was also necessary to focus on the ability of the United Nations to better carry out its preventive diplomacy good offices. It was also necessary to ensure self-sustaining peace, once parties signed peace agreement.
Were the United Nations and governments ready for a partnership that implied equality and participation in decision-making? a correspondent asked.
Ms. Williams replied that her organization, in creating the partnership that had resulted in the landmine treaty, had taken the risk of trusting governments. It would be a struggle for governments to accept that real partnership meant keeping civil society in the room, civil society must remain engaged in the battle.
Mr. van Tongeren said he was disappointed that the last paragraph of the draft outcome document for the September Summit merely welcomed NGOs. That was not participation, but lip service. Sustainable peace would be impossible without civil-society involvement. Civil society, moreover, was not even mentioned in the latest document on the proposed Peacebuilding Commission, which was even worse than lip service.
Ms. Mpaayei said civil society organizations were at various levels in terms of engagement with governments. There was always suspicion between governments and civil society. The role of governments was to ensure the security of its citizens, and they saw security in military rather than human terms. Governments must understand that civil society did not want to occupy their space, but merely recognition of its role in determining how its countries were governed. Most peace negotiations, for example, involved warlords, opposition and government representatives, while there was no room for civil society at the table. A handful of people could not hold millions of others to ransom simply because they did not have an official title at the negotiating table. Dialogue was needed to ensure that civil society took its rightful place.
Asked whether civil society organizations ever met with resistance from other such organizations, Ms. Mpaayei noted that in her region, which had been under colonial rule for many years, the challenge was to create understanding of the concept of democracy and governance. There had been increasing opportunities to educate the community on its role in determining what happened within government.
Asked what civil society organizations could do to pressure governments to increase development spending and reduce military budgets, Mr. Stedman said there already had been some successes in that regard, including the recent
commitment of the G-8 leaders to raise aid levels to Africa. That would not have happened without civil society pressure.
Also responding, Ms. Williams said it was necessary to change the global mindset about what real security was. It was not just a matter of reducing poverty as charity because it “felt good”. It was easy to help the poor, but difficult to understand the conditions that put them there in the first place. It was necessary to reshape how people thought about security; it was not reducing poverty while increasing militarization.
Responding to a question on the definition of terrorism, Mr. van Tongeren said that, while the topic had been discussed in some meetings, in most regions terrorism was a non-issue. And, while some had mentioned how large sums of money were being spent in the war on terror, the discussion among civil society organizations had not focused on defining terrorism.
Mr. Stedman said that both the report of the High-Level Panel and “In Larger Freedom” talked about a new concept of collective security, which identified and demanded an equitable response to all the major compelling threats to security, so that, at the end of the day, the international response to HIV/AIDS, for example, would be as robust as the international response to terrorism. In preparing its report, the High-Level Panel had travelled to every continent and heard the willingness of people to acknowledge that it was a threat to security, but also a real dissatisfaction with the overall strategy called the “war on terrorism”. They had asked the Secretary-General to put forward a compelling alternative strategy to the war on terrorism, and he had done that in March. But, he also felt that civil society could do more in terms of dissuading groups from using terrorism as a tactic. He had drawn a comparison to the treaty on landmines, in which civil society had been effective in creating a universal moral disgust with weapons that killed civilians. The proposed definition made clear that an intentional targeting of civilians was terrorism.
Since governments saw civil society as amorphous groups with separate, contradictory agendas, how would they be impacted without united civil society leadership? a correspondent asked.
Mr. Stedman said the world was a place of diversity and civil society and non-governmental organizations would never elect a common focal point on one issue. There would never be a world of hierarchical civil society organizations.
Civil society organizations, just like governments and international organizations, were a chaotic bunch, Ms. Williams added. That was why they could find allies among them.
Ms. Mpaayei added that, at the end of day, it was human beings building bridges to make the world a better place. While they worked in different contexts, people were affected by the same issues. Civil society organizations and governments needed to find the space where they met as human beings.
* *** *
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|