18 April 1996

Press Release


19960418 Following is the statement of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, delivered today on his behalf by the Director, United Nations Centre for Disarmament Affairs, Prvoslav Davinic, to the eighth ministerial meeting of the Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, which is meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon, 18 and 19 April:

Please allow me to begin with a well-deserved tribute to the Government and people of Cameroon. Once again, Cameroon is welcoming the Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa and providing it with wonderful working conditions and facilities. Cameroon's consistent and generous support for the Committee testifies to its traditional hospitality and strong sense of solidarity with Africa, and with the world. This same solidarity shows brilliantly in Cameroon's steadfast support for the United Nations and its work.

On behalf of the United Nations, I express my deep appreciation to the Government and people of Cameroon. The open and cooperative atmosphere they have created augurs well for the objectives sought for Central Africa by this Committee.

Today, you meet in Yaounde to tackle an issue of vital importance -- how to avert further conflict within and between the States of Central Africa and to promote confidence-building measures. Against the background of recent convulsions in this subregion, no endeavour is more important nor more urgent than this mission to close the chapter of violence which has so polarized and traumatized the people of Central Africa for so long.

We have entered a period in world history in which most conflicts occur not across, but within State borders. Most are unlikely to motivate the international community to create, in response, a force such as that deployed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its partners in Bosnia. In any one case, the national interest of any one State or group of States may not seem directly affected. But all States have a strong interest in preventing a global pattern of violence, in checking the disease of conflict, and in deterring would-be aggressors.

Your efforts, therefore, are important not only to Central Africa. Peace and security in Central Africa is integral to peace and security in the Africa region, which is integral to peace and security in the world as a whole. And so today, as you, the representatives of every country in Central Africa, endeavour to prevent further and future tragedy in your subregion, the entire international community is with you.

Barely four months ago, the fiftieth session of the United Nations General Assembly reaffirmed its backing for your efforts. In its resolution 50/71B, adopted on 12 December 1995, the Assembly called for wide international support to facilitate the full implementation of your programme of work. And last month, as requested by the Assembly, I established a United Nations trust fund to raise, through voluntary contributions, additional resources to support your work. I am encouraged by the interest in and response to my appeal thus far, both from within and outside the Africa region. Here in Yaounde I want especially to thank those governments which have already contributed. And I appeal to all governments for additional and continued support.

At the same time, I wish to reaffirm my strong personal support for the efforts of this Committee. Your determination, perseverance and commitment to peace are an example for all, as is the wisdom of the course you have chosen. As underscored by the high toll taken by conflicts in Central Africa and elsewhere, in both human and financial terms, and in the high cost of peace- keeping, humanitarian relief and reconstruction, preventive action makes good sense.

Today, your Committee opens its eighth ministerial session. In four years of effort, you have reached agreements on complex and sensitive issues. This is no small achievement. The next step must be implementation. Unless implemented, these agreements will diminish in value, and I fear that the credibility of the Committee itself will be damaged and its objectives undermined. Therefore, I join the General Assembly in expressing the hope that your governments will prove to the world their political will and sign, in the near future, the Non-Aggression Pact, initialled in this very building nearly a year and a half ago.

I also join the General Assembly in commending the decision recently taken by your governments, within the framework of this Committee, to designate units in their respective armed forces for possible peace assignments under the auspices of the United Nations or the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This measure has potentially far-reaching implications for conflict-management prospects in Central Africa. Had such a measure been enacted two years ago, a massive human tragedy could have been averted in Rwanda. If fully implemented, your decision will help prevent another such tragedy in the future.

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Full implementation would be a concrete and responsible development, promoting mutual confidence among participating member States and enhancing the credibility and effectiveness of this Committee. The General Assembly's appeal for voluntary contributions to facilitate the training of these peace units, once designated, deserves the widest possible support in order to ensure that the units will be prepared and readied for deployment on short notice, should the need arise.

The Non-Aggression Pact and the designated peace units can provide a solid foundation upon which this Committee's future efforts can be built. Let me look, then, at the road ahead of you, and at some specific measures which may be required.

First, the deadly frequency of armed conflict in Central Africa clearly calls for a commitment on the part of all concerned to make every effort to resolve disputes by peaceful means. Diplomacy cannot work miracles, especially when one party to a dispute believes it stands to gain from resorting to force. But all too often military action has been initiated before all possible diplomatic options have been exhausted. I ask you today to reaffirm your commitment under and in the spirit of Article 33 of the United Nations Charter to explore and pursue all possible peaceful means to prevent armed conflict and the outbreak of war. These include but are not confined to negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, diplomatic persuasion and pressure, and resorting to regional agencies or arrangements.

At the subregional level, preventive diplomacy can be particularly productive. Hence, the special significance of your ongoing efforts. As neighbours, your countries not only are aware of and often affected by each other's problems, but you may also face the same problems. You may, therefore, be more alert, capable and motivated to act to prevent trouble in your neighbourhood. With your periodic meetings to review the geo-political situation in Central Africa, you can facilitate the identification of potential trouble spots where preventive diplomacy may need to be employed. You can contribute to strengthening mutual trust and cooperation among your respective countries.

Your efforts will be complemented and supported by preventive diplomacy at the regional and global levels. At the regional level, the OAU is now building an effective early-warning capability to enable it to act in a timely and effective manner to prevent disputes from escalating into full-blown conflicts. I continue to seek closer and improved cooperation with the OAU and various other regional organizations and arrangements, especially in the areas of peacemaking, peace-keeping and preventive diplomacy. These can be an essential complement to United Nations efforts at the global level to keep watch over points of possible danger and prepare the international community to move decisively when needed.

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Preventive diplomacy, however, is a concept not limited to diplomatic efforts alone. Effective preventive diplomacy may, in some cases, require preventive deployment. In all cases, the many activities commonly associated with post-conflict peace-building can be an important component of preventive diplomacy. In this context, I wish to draw your attention to what I have termed "micro-disarmament" -- action to control and reduce the production, transfer and stockpiling of conventional small arms and light weapons, which are responsible for most of the deaths in today's conflicts. The uncontrolled proliferation of such weapons is itself a cause of suspicion, tension and even war, most often in the poorest countries of the world. I have, on several occasions, called for the eradication of the illicit trade in these weapons and for micro-disarmament to be understood and pursued in the wider context of preventive diplomacy and peace-building.

Both developed and developing countries have a major role to play in promoting micro-disarmament. Richer countries manufacture and sell the weapons to poorer countries at a healthy profit. The poorer countries not only loose scarce revenue to arms acquisition, but also frequently fall victim to these imported instruments of violence. The same wealthy States then spend much greater sums on emergency relief for the victims of the wars their arms made possible. This senseless trend must be reversed. I reiterate my appeal to all producers and recipients to show restraint in the interest of saving human lives, especially in areas of the world, such as yours, which have already suffered so much for so long from the negative consequences of the arms flow.

On a similar note, I reiterate my call for a comprehensive international ban on the production, stockpiling, trade and use of all anti-personnel land- mines and mine components. You in Central Africa are well aware of the terrible toll taken by land-mines on innocent lives, the heavy burden of care for land-mine victims on developing societies, and the formidable obstacles land-mines pose to post-conflict reconstruction and development.

These peace-building activities make startlingly clear the fundamental link between efforts, such as yours, to prevent, control and resolve conflicts, and efforts to advance long-term economic and social development. Central Africa is richly endowed with natural and human resources. Its people are dynamic and enterprising. Yet, a destructive legacy of conflicts in the area has hampered development. And the lack of development has fuelled still more conflict. Efforts such as yours to build mutual confidence and shared security will be central, indeed indispensable, to the effort to turn the rich potential of Central Africa into the prosperity and freedom its countries and peoples seek and deserve. And, at the same time, the prosperity and freedom achieved through progress in development and democratization will, in the long run, prove to be the most effective and lasting form of preventive diplomacy.

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Thus, your peace efforts in Central Africa are inextricably linked to development efforts in Central Africa, and to the peace and development of the African continent as a whole. Clearly, there is a need for a comprehensive approach to be applied at the national, subregional, regional and international levels.

The new and unprecedented system-wide United Nations Special Initiative for Africa embodies just such a comprehensive approach. This multi-billion dollar programme is the most significant and largest coordinated action to date to mobilize international support for Africa's priority development goals, especially in the areas of health and education. It represents the first time that the United Nations system has launched such an initiative to support the development aspirations of the people of an entire region. And it is designed to do so in a way that takes into account the interlinked nature of Africa's most critical challenges.

The United Nations estimates that prospects for Africa's economic recovery are currently brighter and greater than they have been in recent years. Our new system-wide Special Initiative aims to build on that momentum and to promote mutually reinforcing advances in peace and development. The success of your ongoing efforts in this Committee to rebuild Central Africa will be indispensable to these objectives.

The challenges you face are significant. The United Nations and the international community will stand by you for as long as you persist in your determination to succeed. I wish you every success in your deliberations and in the critical tasks that lie ahead.

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For information media. Not an official record.