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How do we Reform Sustaining Peace?

On April 24, the Canadian and Nigerian Permanent Missions to the United Nations co-sponsored a side event for the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace. The event, Ideas and Global Platforms for Preventing Violent Conflict and Sustaining Peace on the Road to 2020, consisted of a panel of experts with experience at the UN, academia, and non-profit civil society work. Their Excellencies, Ambassadors Samson Itegboje of Nigeria and Michael Grant of Canada, co-chaired the event and Richard Ponzio, Director of the Stimson Center, gave the welcoming remarks. Ambassador Itegboje set the mood for the discussion as inclusive but serious by paraphrasing the words of Bob Marley’s “War.” There would be no peace until “there no longer/ First class and second class citizens of any nation/ Until the color of a man's skin/ Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” Ambassador Grant then said Canada embraces the agenda on peacebuilding set by Secretary General Antonio Guterres and said it may be the most ambitious agenda since the founding of the UN itself. Then, it was time for the panelists.

Ibrahim Gambari was first. The former head of the Darfur Peacekeeping Force emphasized the need for preventative action to combat armed conflict. He said that while the Peacekeepers and peacemaking bodies at the United Nations receive the training and funding they need, mediators are in need of more of these resources. He noted that conflict mediation has only been available through the UN since 2005 and that there is a dire need for more senior-level mediators with experience. Early warning systems for mass atrocity events could come in the form of national self-reporting so the United Nations knew where to direct mediation support. In addition, Professor Gambari proposed the creation of an online global platform on security and governance reform to harness expertise from think tanks, governments, businesses, and other organizations to workshop ideas for peacebuilding reform. He also stressed the need for better dialogue between the UN Security Council and regional bodies and the International Criminal Court to address serious concerns these bodies have with international justice proceedings.

Adriana Abdenur is a fellow at the Instituto Igarapé in Rio de Janeiro, which she described as a “think and do tank.” The Institute does fieldwork and research in conflict zones including in Colombia through work on the FARC agreement and with the ELN and works in Africa in the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes, and the Greater Sahel Region. She expressed concern about the narrow equation between conflict prevention and state fragility and suggested that there are deeper concerns that UN and other bodies need to examine for conflict prevention to be most effective. For instance, she suggested there were transnational causes that needed to be examined, including arms trafficking and organized crime. Abdenur also alerted the assembled parties that the Institute would be publishing a Handbook on Conflict Prevention online in English and French as a living document in the coming months and would include information that has been produced with feedback peace practitioners and mediators.

Saba Ismail is the co-founder of a non-governmental organization called Aware Girls based in Peshawar and New York City. Ismail argues that cooperation between civil society, governments, and the United Nations is essential for sustainable peace, but the most important partnership is that between youth and these groups. She called for the UN to become more accessible to youth input since they are central to the sustainable peace agenda. She wants to ensure that they are able to provide input in decision-making processes as these are certainly going to impact their lives. Further, she pointed out that while some people are able to profit from armed conflict, it is far more harmful to far many more people.

Fergus Watt, the international coordinator for UN 2020 Initiative, was the final speaker. He pointed out that preventative action has proven to be more cost-effective than crisis response but the former has received less government funding than the latter.The United Nations spends more money on peacemaking than it does on peacekeeping. Luckily, the 2020 summit offers a space for political discussion for stock taking, recommitment to the charter, and strengthening the principles of the UN. It is possible through cooperation between civil society and governments to recommit to peace through the UN and strengthen its policies on preventative action. Mr. Watt included with his presentation, a printed call to action for the assembled parties to develop processes in all sectors that would help prepare the United Nations for the challenges of the 21st Century.

2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. It is important that we take the time to reevaluate the progress the UN has made and critically examine areas that can be improved. The body stands as a testament to international cooperation, but every system can be improved to make it more just and more effective. This event was a great start and highlighted the importance of fully understanding how the UN can continue to improve its commitment to global peace.

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