‘War’s Greatest Cost Is Its Human Toll’, Secretary-General Reminds Peacebuilding Commission, Warning of ‘Perilous Impunity’ Taking Hold
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks for the meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission on the report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, in New York today:
I thank you for this opportunity to discuss the report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.
Peace is the most important task we have at the United Nations. This Commission is critical to advancing this essential work, and I am encouraged by your programme for 2022.
The problem is our task grows larger by the day. As detailed in my report, we are facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945. From Yemen to Syria, Myanmar and Sudan. From Haiti to the Sahel and on and on. And now the war in Ukraine — a catastrophe shaking the foundations of the international order, spilling across borders and causing skyrocketing food, fuel and fertilizer prices that spell disaster for developing countries.
Resources are being diverted away from badly needed support to address the sharp increases in hunger and poverty resulting from COVID-19. Around the world, we are seeing military coups and seizures of power by force. A perilous sense of impunity is taking hold.
On the other hand, nuclear arsenals are growing. Human rights and international law are under assault. The spirit and letter of the United Nations Charter are being flouted. Criminal and terrorist networks are fuelling — and profiting from — divisions and conflicts.
And as always, the poorest and most vulnerable pay the highest price. As we meet today, one quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas. Two billion people. Last year, 84 million were forcibly displaced because of conflict, violence and human rights violations. And this year, we estimate that at least 274 million will need humanitarian assistance. All of this is taking place at a moment of multiplying risks that are pushing peace further out of reach — inequalities, COVID-19, climate change and cyberthreats, to name just a few.
The report under discussion today is a call to ensure that our peacebuilding architecture is fit for purpose in this rapidly changing environment. This appeal is in line with my proposed New Agenda for Peace that places prevention and peacebuilding at the heart of our efforts. The report before you contains a number of examples in which the United Nations is working to advance peace and prevent conflict.
From Côte d’Ivoire, where we worked with communities to ease tensions following the 2020 presidential election and created conditions for an inclusive political dialogue — one that included the voices of women and young people. Conflict did not go back to Côte d’Ivoire. To Iraq, where our updated Cooperation Framework supported the country’s COVID-19 response and programming around social cohesion, protection and inclusion. To our regional and cross-border approaches.
This includes the Comprehensive Development Plan supporting peace in the northern countries of Central America. And it includes our efforts in the Great Lakes region, where my Special Envoy has worked with partners like the African Union to deliver a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization, repatriation and reintegration programme.
We can also point to the Peacebuilding Commission’s efforts to support the peace process in Papua New Guinea, Colombia and the Central Africa Republic. And how our resident coordinators and country teams are working more closely together in the field, thanks to our United Nations reform efforts — from Haiti to Myanmar to Yemen. Example after example showing how we can build and sustain peace in countries that have known far too little of it.
Peacebuilding works — it is a proven investment. As you know, we’ve developed a series of mechanisms to expand and grow the resources required to deliver. And we’re making progress. For example, the Peacebuilding Fund has been steadily growing — investing $195 million last year.
But we echo this Commission’s concerns that we face a critical gap. The Fund remains wholly dependent on voluntary contributions from a small number of donors. Meanwhile, the needs far outpace resources. Despite larger contributions, the Fund has been forced to scale back allocation targets over the last three years.
That’s why financing is a primary focus of the new report — and the defining issue of next month’s high-level meeting at the General Assembly. And that’s why I presented a separate report to the Fifth Committee [Administrative and Budgetary] on a proposal for an annual $100 million in assessed contributions for the Peacebuilding Fund. We need to leave that meeting with Member States having made concrete commitments to finance our peacebuilding work.
As we prepare for these discussions, I would like to highlight three areas where I need your support, and where I encourage Member States to maintain a strong focus.
First, I urge Member States to implement the financing recommendations included in my report. This includes ensuring adequate, predictable and sustainable financing for peacebuilding — especially for the fragile transition stage of peacekeeping operations. We also need urgent investments in all the tools of prevention — including stronger early warning systems, mediation capacities, and strategic data and analytics to address hate speech and detect and avoid looming crises.
We also urge Member States to work with the United Nations system to support flexible funding for local peacebuilding programming — especially for women and young people, whose needs are often overlooked. And we repeat our call for Member States to devote at least 20 per cent of their official development assistance (ODA) to peacebuilding in conflict settings.
Second, to support these critical investments, I encourage Member States to come to April’s high-level meeting with concrete solutions. I’ve learned of several promising initiatives — including for peacebuilding financing and investments that include the private sector.
We also need to see commitments by Member States for assessed contributions for peacebuilding. Assessed contributions offer the predictable and sustainable base that we need to deliver results over the long term.
And third, we need Member States, the United Nations system, international financial institutions and all partners to do far more to join up our humanitarian, peace and development efforts. The flames of conflict are fuelled by inequality, deprivation, and underfunded systems.
The report on Our Common Agenda calls for a renewed push to ensure that all societies are focused on accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. This means urgent investments in universal health coverage, in social protection, in education and job creation. It means working to end inequalities that deny entire groups of people access to civic and economic life and the levers of decision-making.
It means, finally, balancing the scales of power and participation equally for women — including as peacebuilders. It means accelerated action to combat climate change and helping developing countries make the transition to green economies. And transforming our commitment to human rights from words to practice in every context.
Over the last decade, the world has spent $349 billion on peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and refugee support. And global military expenditures rose to nearly $2 trillion in 2020. But let’s not forget that war’s greatest cost is its human toll. Countless innocent lives lost over the decades. People wounded and maimed by the fighting. Lost generation after lost generation of children whose education and development have been cruelly snatched away. Refugees and internally displaced people forced to flee their homes. Schools, hospitals, playgrounds, homes and entire neighbourhoods levelled.
When we consider the costs of war — to the global economy but most of all to humanity’s very soul — peacebuilding is a bargain and a prerequisite for development and a better future for all.
I look forward to working with this Commission as we make this case to Member States next month and strengthen our peacebuilding architecture for the future with also a stronger Peacebuilding Commission.