Without Full Inclusion, Peace ‘Is a Job Half Done’, Secretary-General Stresses in Remarks to Security Council Debate on Exclusion, Inequality, Conflict
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarks to the open debate of the Security Council on “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Exclusion, Inequality and Conflicts”, held today:
I thank the Government of Mexico for convening this debate on a topic at the heart of so many challenges facing this Council.
For the poorest and most vulnerable people, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified misery and inequalities. Around 120 million more people have been pushed into poverty. Hunger and famines are stalking millions of people around the world. We face the deepest global recession since the Second World War. Billions lack the safety nets they need to cope — social protections, health care and job protection.
People in the richest countries are getting third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, while only 5 per cent of Africans are fully vaccinated. Even before the pandemic, the world’s billionaires held more wealth than 60 per cent of the global population — and that gap has widened enormously. At the same time, the stage is being set for a lopsided recovery. While advanced economies are investing 28 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) into economic recovery, the least developed countries are investing just 1.8 per cent — of a much smaller amount.
Mr. President, when speaking about economic inequality last year, you reminded people of the fiction of policies based on the notion that if those at the top are doing well, those at the bottom will, too. You rightly said: “Wealth isn’t contagious.”
Exclusion and inequalities of all kinds — economic, social and cultural — come with a devastating toll to security. Indeed, rising inequalities are a factor of rising instability. Especially in areas where basic services like health, education, security and justice are lacking. And where historical injustices, inequalities and systematic oppression have locked generations of people in cycles of disadvantage and poverty.
Today, we face the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945. They’re lasting longer — and are more complex. A dangerous sense of impunity is taking hold — seen in the recent seizures of power by force, including military coups. Human rights and the rule of law are under assault. From Afghanistan, where girls are once again being denied an education — and women denied their rightful place in society. To Myanmar, where minorities are targeted, brutalized and forced to flee. To Ethiopia, where a man-made humanitarian crisis is unfolding before our eyes.
These and other tragedies are enflamed by COVID-19 and the climate emergency. Humanitarian funding, assistance and conflict management tools — the very kind that the United Nations provides around the world — are all under tremendous strain. Peace has never been more urgent.
That’s why conflict prevention is at the heart of my proposed New Agenda for Peace, as part of the report on Our Common Agenda. The [New] Agenda calls on the global community to work as one — in solidarity, as a human family — to address the roots of violent conflicts. To build and strengthen the bonds of trust between people who inhabit the same borders — and in the Governments and institutions representing them. And for countries in transition, to ensure that all groups are part of the peace process — so people can reject the voices of division and instead lend their hands to the task of shaping a better future for all.
Without inclusion, the puzzle of peace remains incomplete, with many gaps to be filled. Today, I’d like to outline a road map for inclusion, built around four key pathways to fill these gaps: people, prevention, gender and institutions.
First, we need to invest in the development of all people, equally. Last year, military spending as a share of GDP saw its largest annual increase since 2009. It is now approaching $2 trillion annually. Imagine the progress we could make — the peace we could build, the conflicts we could prevent — if we dedicated even a fraction of this to human development, equality and inclusion. Especially in countries affected by conflict and crises — who have the least fiscal space to invest in a sustainable, inclusive recovery for all.
My report on Our Common Agenda calls for a new social contract within all societies. This means investing in universal health coverage, social protection and safety nets — accessible to all. It means education and training for all people so they can envision — and build — better, more prosperous futures. It means opening the doors to civil and economic life to all, equally — without discrimination. And it means ensuring access to the COVID-19 vaccines for all.
Second, we need to strengthen our prevention agenda on multiple fronts to address different types of exclusion and inequalities. This includes more rigorous monitoring of growing inequalities and perceptions of them — including of gender and youth — to address grievances early. It includes ensuring inclusion at every step of the peace process — from local dialogue and conflict resolution, to peace negotiations, transitions and establishing national institutions.
That’s why, through our country presence and missions, the United Nations works to keep the lines of dialogue open and flowing among State institutions, civil society, communities and individuals at every point. And throughout, we need to bring the entire United Nations system and all partners around our common cause of peace.
The success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development depends on solidarity as we support Governments’ efforts to build development for all and ensure no one is left behind. Ending inequalities and exclusion is a critical part of this — and a vital step in giving every person a chance to contribute to their country’s future.
Third, we must recognize and prioritize the crucial role of women in building peace. We can draw a straight line between violence against, and exclusion of, women and civil oppression and violent conflict. From rape and sexual slavery being used as tools of war. To the thread of misogyny that runs through violent extremist thought. To the exclusion of women from positions of leadership and in peace processes.
That’s why the United Nations continues to stand up for the rights of women and girls around the world. This includes in Afghanistan, where we continue to work with the de facto authorities to keep girls in school and ensure that women can fully participate in civil and economic life.
Women are also at the centre of our conflict‑prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts. We’re increasing the number of women peacekeepers. We now have more women leading our field missions than ever before — with parity among our heads or deputy heads of missions. And 40 per cent of the Peacebuilding Fund focuses on gender equality and women’s rights.
We know that more lasting and sustainable peace happens when women lead and make decisions in mediation and peace processes. We will continue building on this important work in the years ahead.
Fourth, we must build trust through national institutions that include and represent all people, anchored in human rights and the rule of law. This means justice systems that apply to all people, equally — not only the rich or those holding the reins of power. It means building institutions resilient to corruption and abuse of power — founded on principles of integrity, transparency and accountability. It means policies and laws that specifically protect vulnerable groups — including laws against all forms of discrimination. And it means responsive and effective security and rule-of-law institutions focused on the needs of all people.
Governments and institutions alike need to build trust — not barriers — and serve all people, equally. In every society, diversity of culture, religion and ethnicity should be viewed as a powerful benefit, rather than a threat. This is essential in all countries — but especially in those experiencing conflict. Without full inclusion and equality, peace is a job half done. Because true, sustainable peace can only be carried forward by people who are supported. Who are included and valued. Who feel they are truly part of their society — and have a stake in its future.
I welcome this Council’s continued support to help every person, everywhere, lend their hands, hearts and minds to the vital task of peace.