Address by Nicola Harrington-Buhay, UN Resident Coordinator, to the Advanced Training Course of the Ministry of Defence of Moldova: UN Policies and Strategies for Ensuring International Security

Feb 24, 2014

UN Resident Coordinator in Moldova with students of the Advanced Training Course of the Military Academy. Photo: UN Moldova

I am delighted to address this distinguished audience and take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Defence for this opportunity to discuss the heart of the work of the United Nations, namely peace and security for everyone. In doing so, I will take a perspective that spans the three founding pillars of the United Nations – namely peace and security, human rights and development. The uniqueness of the UN lies both in its impartiality, and in its ability to leverage each of these three pillars in achieving the goals of the 1945 UN Charter.

I also take the opportunity to start with the Preamble to the Charter that describes the UN’s core role, which was to:

  • Save succeeding generations from war;
  • Reaffirm fundamental human rights, dignity, equal rights of men and women, nations large and small;
  • Establish conditions for justice and respect for international law to be maintained;
  • Promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

Role of the Republic of Moldova in the United Nations
The uniqueness of the UN also lies in the equal voice of all its Member States. We are privileged that the Republic of Moldova is active in all areas of the United Nations’ work.  For ten years, the Ministry of Defense has joined now 116 countries participating in UN peacekeeping missions across the globe. Moldova’s diplomats are proactive members of the Human Rights Council, and in 2013 provided skilled leadership to the UN Commission on Population and Development. When the country marked its first Day of Diplomats on 17th January this year - the anniversary of the country’s application to join the United Nations in 1992 - the UN Country Team congratulated the Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration on the contribution her diplomats make every day to further the goals of the UN Charter.

The changing context
The UN was established a result of a world war between states. Regrettably, threats to peace in the 21st century include not only international wars but internal conflicts, terrorism and organized transnational crime. They also include poverty, deadly infectious disease and environmental degradation, since these can have equally catastrophic consequences. It is not by chance that the UN Security Council considered HIV/AIDS and climate change in its deliberations. All these are threats that can lessen life chances on a large scale. These are not theoretical issues, but ones of life and death for some people.

This is why since 2005 the United Nations operates under a broad concept of the “Larger Freedom” captured in the UN Charter: Freedom from Want – from Fear – and Freedom to Live in Dignity. This brings the UN’s work in development, security and human rights together. Development and human rights experts are now members of integrated peacekeeping missions, tackling both root causes and consequences of conflict. The UN has also had to learn painful lessons from situations where its action fell short of its responsibilities to protect human rights, a subject I will return to later.

Conflict prevention
Firstly, however, I would like to refer to the UN work in conflict prevention. This remains an unsung hero in UN efforts, attracting less attention than its work in peacekeeping. Conflict prevention is the core raison d’être of the UN. Even now, though, a strong preventative role for the UN still implies changed mind sets to prioritize resources to early warning, early action, mediation, and preventative actions that tackle root causes of disharmony and exclusionary power structures.

The UN cannot and should not do this alone. Only with close cooperation of its Member States and regional organizations, do efforts have a chance to succeed. In various contexts, Special Envoys of the Secretary General are supporting countries to prevent or resolve conflicts. They do this with a mandate from the Security Council, or the General Assembly, always in a framework that respects national sovereignty.  Ideally, preventive actions start before a conflict. In situations of low-level tension, the UN supports governments at their request, to strengthen conflict prevention and resolve disputes, bolster fragile institutions, and foster inclusive dialogues that engage actors in pursuing peaceful, negotiated solutions.

Where electoral processes raise prospects of tension the UN works with governments to prevent election-related violence. In 2013 in Guinea, at the request of the country, an international facilitator worked with a larger UN team of electoral and mediation experts to assist political parties overcome differences and agree to compete in, and then accept the results of, the elections. The world has not heard of the UN’s role and did not have to read about a breakdown into violence: these are hallmarks of a successful intervention.

The tools at the UN’s disposal are largely the power of persuasion and the principles of the UN Charter. Some lessons the UN has learnt are as follows:

  • Being present is critical: it is about the flow of information back to the UN Security Council to stimulate rapid, effective, unified diplomatic action.
  • The big challenge is to move from early warning to an early response that has support of the international community, as soon as opportunities open up.
  • The fact the UN development arm has usually been present for decades represents a major strength: it means the UN can count on relationships of trust to support countries to get back on track.
  • Partnerships are vital: crises are too complex for any one Organization or Member State to address alone. The UN works ever more closely with regional and sub-regional actors, such as with the League of Arab States, the African Union, ECOWAS and European Union to enhance collective capacity to act in support of countries.

Conflict settings
Surrounded by experts, I will not address military aspects of UN peacekeeping. Suffice to say that, in today’s world, the needs far outstrip the UN’s own capabilities and partnerships are again key, including to build the capacity of new security actors such as the African Union and ECOWAS. And I am sure you are familiar with the UN role to mobilize humanitarian support, negotiate humanitarian corridors to deliver assistance, and aid both internally displaced people and refugees and their host communities.

The last decade has seen greater security concerns for the UN itself. As a UN staff member, I along with my colleagues was shocked when in 2003 in Iraq, the UN blue flag no longer proved a protection and our peace and humanitarian efforts came under direct attack. We have since witnessed UN national colleagues working for their own country flag shot down and UN compounds attacked, seriously compromising our ability to deliver our mandates.

The UN remains committed to stay. Working under a principle of “no programme without security”, the UN recognizes risk management does not mean all risks can be eliminated and the UN system must prepare to operate in difficult situations. Each UN team is required to assess the criticality of its interventions to continue those that are lifesaving, at a large scale, and where we must remain.

Post-conflict recovery
And when the guns fall silent, the UN, along with others, helps rebuild.  The first step is to get parties (back) to a negotiating table. Signature of peace agreements is usually one step in a long process. Half the countries emerging from violent conflict revert to conflict within five years. For a durable end to recurring cycles of violence, including all-too-frequent horrific sexual violence, national dialogues have to be organized; powerful parties have to be persuaded to trust the process, and draw in civil society.  All these complex aspects of implementation involve the UN and its partners. Complex processes require a range of technical expertise on power-sharing, constitution-making, and mediation etc. We need to pool our efforts.  Bilateral and multilateral diplomacy can work differently and we need the best of both to succeed.

The development arm of the UN
The UN has also seen the wider integration of development and humanitarian action with military, diplomatic and political interventions. This is at the heart of my organization, the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  UNDP helps countries prevent conflict, be stronger in the face of external shocks, and “build back better” and stronger when crises happen. It helps countries address underlying causes of violence: addressing social and economic inequality, building democratic systems that are trusted because they deliver results for people, fostering confidence in public institutions and reinforcing respect for rule of law.

The centrality of human rights
The UN is founded on the understanding that humanity will not enjoy security without development. It will not enjoy development without security. And it will not enjoy either development or security without respect for human rights.

An impressive body of international law has been advanced over many decades. In the Millennium Declaration of 2000, 189 UN Member States - including President Petru Lucinschi for the Republic of Moldova – committed to strengthen rule of law and respect for internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, guaranteeing the freedom to live in dignity.

Against this background, the Secretary-General has expressed deep concern over reports that the United Nations should have done better in protecting civilians in crisis situations, including in Sri Lanka. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed, “Human rights do not have any borders … Political deadlocks and security concerns affect the full enjoyment of human rights and often create [human rights] protection gaps. But the bottom line is that all human rights should be enjoyed by all people at all times regardless of constraints”.

The United Nations family is committed to take the lessons to put “Rights Up Front” and Act as One - not only between the UN Secretariat and agencies, but also with the constant support of UN Member States that is so essential for the UN to act.

Women and peace and security
I conclude by focusing on an important piece of durable peace – namely the role of women. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted its landmark resolution 1325 underlining the importance of equal participation of women in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security: in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. Resolution 1325 urged all actors to take special measures to protect women and girls from violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse. We have welcomed female peacekeepers from Moldova who, participating alongside male counterparts, act as role models, inspiring and empowering women and girls in often male-dominated societies to push their own rights and participate in peace processes, addressing the needs of female ex-combatants in the aftermath of conflict, and making peacekeeping forces more approachable to women.

And finally, leverage
Equipped with neither armies nor billions of dollars, beyond its impartiality and its legitimacy, to be effective the UN requires the international community support. We have seen the challenges when divergences of views prevent the Security Council from utilizing UN tools. Consensus can be revitalized if the world accepts it must advance security, development and human rights together.This will empower the UN Secretary-General to speak on behalf of a common voice.

The Republic of Moldova is key in this endeavour. Its voice is needed both on specific cases and in general debates about a twenty-first century approach to these vital global topics. This is why the dialogue we are having today is so important.

When the international community is united, the UN leverage is high.  It is hard to overstate the difference that makes in the lives of those who most need the United Nations’ support.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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