Key-note address
by Jose Ramos­-Horta
At the dinner preceding the final 16th retreat of the 
Independent Commission on Multilateralism
Greentree, Long Island, New York, March 22, 2016
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear ICM and IPI Colleagues:

I am honored to be the keynote speaker for the Independent Commission on Multilateralism’s final 16th retreat.

I do know this privilege stems from the kindness of our Chair, the Hon. Rudd and SG Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri; this is the only possible explanation for why I have been asked to share with this gathering of diplomatic and academic luminaries my thoughts on Armed Conflict: Mediation, Conciliation and Peace-keeping.

Supported by the governments of Canada, Norway and the United Arab Emirates, the Independent Commission on Multilateralism is chaired by the Hon. Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia; and co-chaired by Børge Brende, Foreign Minister of Norway; Hanna S. Tetteh, Foreign Minister of Ghana; Patricia Espinosa, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and current Ambassador of Mexico to Germany and myself.


The question that guides the ICM and permeates through the ICM’s overall work is, given the new challenges of the 21st century, how can the multilateral system, anchored in the UN, be made more “fit for purpose”?

In many parts of the world the UN is considered to be unique in its universality, and unmatched in its convening power. Seventy years since its creation, its successes in the normative and humanitarian and development fields are many and undeniable. The recent adoption of the Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change are singular achievements.

And yet, in other parts of the world, the UN’s relevance as the pre-eminent epicenter of global governance is not taken for granted and is disputed.

The failures of the Security Council to prevent the unspeakable human suffering caused by some of the contemporary conflicts give some of us a disquieting pause.

I have experienced violent conflict, from the inside and witnessed it as an outsider. And I could not help come to the conclusion that the real world does not confront decision makers with alternates of good and bad, but varying shades of lousy grey.

First, primarily as an outsider, a victim of injustice but also a beneficiary of UN peacekeeping. Through the various SC-mandated missions, I related to the UN as an active partner, working with HQs and the field missions during that long period of UN engagement with us.

Second, some 15 years later, I became a UN insider when our esteemed SG appointed me his Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau; and more recently, the SG invited me to chair the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations.

This experience gave me an open window into the multilateral system. I witnessed and learned sad lessons of double standards on the part of Member States, large and small.

For me, a naive villager arriving in New York for the first time in December 1975 and addressing the UNSC was a memorable experience.

But gradually my naïveté was displaced by the realization that realpolitik and pragmatism, national interests, real or perceived, as defined by national political elites, were after all the main driving force of the actions of States.

I experienced the dysfunctionality of a secretariat that struck me as over managed and under led. I witnessed personal ambitions and agendas, provincial mindedness and turf rivalries, exacerbated by the almost daily interference by Member States, at times paralyzing the entire system.

But I also met exceptionally dedicated international civil servants and seasoned diplomats with convictions and a conscience who embraced the ideals and principles of the Charter in good times and bad.

I do not belong to the group that sees only failings in the UN; though a practicing Catholic, I do not see only virtues in a Vatican State led by the holiest of all Catholics.

I pay tribute to the many good men and women who have served and are serving in the UN across the world almost always, surviving with very basic material conditions and often in dangerous conflict regions.

I also pay tribute to the HQ-based leadership and staff. Often unknown to the rest of the world, they work very long hours, round the clock, seven days a week, reading information from the field, dissecting conflicting intelligence and producing irreproachable reports for the SG and Member States.

Timor-Leste is a success story of post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation and recover. This “success story” is the product of a number of enablers: a united and credible national leadership, motivated and determined to pursue dialogue and peace, working with, and supported by, an effective partnership with the international community coalesced around the UN.

However, as always the road has been a bumpy one, and along the way sometimes we careened off the track.


The challenges of the 21st Century are enormously complex and overwhelming in their intensity and spread. We are facing implosions of fragile states like South Sudan and CAR, and attendant mass atrocities against civilian populations by all sides in the conflicts.

We are also facing non traditional insurgencies in Mali and transnational organized violence is becoming increasingly the norm.  In the asymmetric threat environments in which the UN is deployed, its peacekeepers have become targets. The UN flag no longer offers the protection its bearers used to enjoy.

Are we surprised by these turns of events?

Perhaps the UN presence in conflict areas is lacking the human and technical resources proportional to the mandate assigned to it by the Security Council. Perhaps Peace-keeping missions cannot work properly where there is no peace to keep and where national and regional actors do not have a shared vision and commitment to prevent tensions, negotiate and agree on a shared platform of peace.

From the very first mediations, dizzying shuttle diplomacy, cease­fires and observer missions in the 1950s, Peace­keeping has evolved into multi-dimensional, integrated missions often with a robust mandate under Chapter VII to engage armed groups or to protect civilians under imminent danger.

Today, the UN peace operation is under severe stress. We count more than 100,000 armed personnel deployed in 16 Peacekeeping Missions, and nearly 30 Special Political Missions and good offices across the globe.

This is the context in which the SG invited me to chair the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations. The Panel’s mandate was to take a comprehensive look at how United Nations peace operations could continue to contribute to the prevention and resolution of conflicts and be best designed to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

On 16th June 2015, after months of intense listening to all stakeholders (Member States; UN Departments and Agencies; SRSGs and Envoys; Force Commanders serving in the field; regional organizations; academics; civil society advocates and community leaders); and after reading through more than 80 written submissions, the Panel delivered to the Secretary­General its Report entitled:


We are pleased that our Report received wide support from many and varied stakeholders both within and outside the UN and equally pleased that the SG endorsed many of our recommendations.

We are nevertheless disappointed that quite a number of important ones were either ignored or received scant attention. The recommendations relating to the unarmed protection of civilian and the reform of DPA and DPKO, come to mind.

Allow me now to share with you the key messages contained in the Report. The members of the High Level Panel were of the firm belief that if real progress were to be made in the design and delivery of peace operations, four essential shifts must be embraced.

First, politics must drive the design and implementation of peace operations. Lasting peace is achieved not through military and technical engagements, but through political solutions.

Over the last 20 years, we have seen an increasing militarization of UN operations, largely as a result of the Council’s resorting to Chapter Seven (VII) as a default response to situations where there is no peace to keep. It is no surprising therefore that we called for a recommitment to the spirit and letter of Chapter Six (VI) and to treating politics as the best force multiplier.

Second, the full spectrum of UN peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground.

The UN has a uniquely broad spectrum of peace operations that it can draw upon to deliver situation­ specific responses.  And yet, it often struggles to generate and rapidly deploy missions that are well­ tailored to the context.

The sharp distinctions between peace-keeping  operations and special political missions (SPM) should give way to a continuum of response and smoother transitions between different phases of missions. Peace­-keeping and SPMs are artificially separated, managed by two Departments, leading to bureaucratic rivalry and duplication.

Hence the Panel’s recommendation for the merger of the two core UN Peace and Security structures into a single Secretariat entity under the overall direction of a new Deputy Secretary-General.

Third, a stronger more inclusive peace and security partnership is needed to respond to the challenging crises of today and tomorrow.

Crisis management need to include responses at the national, regional and global levels that address political, governance, development and leadership failures that drive and sustain conflict.

Which brings me to the Fourth shift the Report advocates, namely: the UN must bring back to the fore conflict prevention and mediation and pursue more field focused and people centered​ approach if it is to achieve the ultimate goal of sustaining peace where women and youth play a crucial role.

In fact “sustaining peace” is the overarching concept also advocated by the two other peace and security reviews, namely the Global study on the implementation of SCR 1325 and the one dealing with the 20015 Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture.

The “sustaining peace” concept frees the peace-building enterprise from the short-term horizons that constrain it, particularly when it is conducted as part of a peace operation, which tends to treat the building of peace as a conflict management tool with few predictable resources to ensure its sustainability beyond the lifetime of the mission.

Also, the sustaining peace framework allows peace-builders time and space to identify, engage, and support local actors and national structures that would strengthen and solidify peace.

More importantly, the “sustaining peace” framework breaks down institutional silos and allows for the integration of the development, peace and security and human rights pillars of the UN which is crucial for laying the foundations for a consolidated and inclusive peace.

As you know, member states have been discussing how best to take these common themes and related recommendations forward. The Security Council has already organized several open debates late in 2015 and earlier this year, and the General Assembly, after an initial discussion by its Special Committee on Peacekeeping, is planning a high-level thematic debate May 10th and 11th to provide member states and others with a platform to discuss the way forward.

From what I can observe some policy consensus seems to be emerging on where peace operations should be heading. Despite differences on certain critical issues such as the financing of AU missions or of SPM, my sense is that most member states are looking for ways to work together differently across structural divides.

As we have learned over several decades, there are no short cuts to peace. Peace cannot be enforced when the human instinct to fight is stronger than the hope for stability and security. Violence and armed conflict cannot be answered exclusively though a single-minded security approach.

There are no magic bullets that cure long festering wounds and poverty. Both require long­ term commitment and investment. Accepting that there have been and there will be relapses in the peace building process is also key to sustainability.

Can we prevent social and political tensions from escalating into violent conflicts? Can we do better in bringing parties in a conflict to the table and restore peace? And how can we build durable, sustainable peace instead of “building peace” that has inherent time-constrains?

Mediation as a peaceful means for moving warring parties from violence to politics is facing many challenges. Some of the reasons mentioned in the ICM discussion paper include the changing nature of the conflict, the plethora of national and regional actors with differing and competing agendas where the political, economic and criminal motivations behind the violence are complex and intertwined.  But also because of the multiplicity of mediators and envoys deployed by various countries or regional organizations to follow and influence the process and outcome of the mediation.

This analysis resonates with my experience in my own country TL and in Guinea Bissau.

In some cases neutral and credible national and external actors may be able to influence behavioral change and mindset among competing actors. This can work when those involved are committed to prevent escalating of the political conflict and welcome advice. But too often, individual pride and egos bloc help, domestic or external.

There are many simple ways to prevent conflicts. Some are old tested methods that imply consultations and empowerment of all.

When we negotiate the end of wars and build peace, in the inclusion of all segment of societies lies the key to sustainable peace.

Above all, local and national actors, should bear in mind their own communities and countries past experiences of conflict, and commit themselves to new approaches that genuinely accommodate the feelings and interest of every segment of the society.

In some specific situations there are too many outside mediators and each with his/her own prescription; while it is politically correct to say national solutions to national problems, regional solutions to regional problems, what happens when the country has run out of credible and impartial mediators?

What happen when neighboring countries have overlapping interests and are actually involved in the conflict?

And what to do in situations when a conflict spills over porous, unmarked artificial boundaries and ethnicity and loyalties merge and clash across national boundaries?

When I was appointed as the SG Special Representative to GB I quickly learned few facts: listen to everybody, including the much disliked military leadership; bring the UN to the people; so I travelled exhaustively into every corner of the country tommake the people feel the UN cares and listens to them. I had my critics in the UN: some said I should not have visited the generals army barracks; my many trips into the communities may raise false expectations.

I worked closely with all regional actors even though I knew of the strong differences and interests among GB’s neighbors. I worked also closely with the African Union even though I knew that some in ECOWAS did not se eye to eye with their parent regional organization. I worked closely with the CPLP even though some in CPLP had a strong view different from mine on how much and how far to engage national actors. I also worked closely with the EU even when I was skeptical about EU’s dogmatic stance not to engage the very inclusive transitional government we helped put together with the task of preparing the country for national elections.

My message is that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General must be uniquely qualified for the mission and above all try to gain the respect of all national and international partners; he or she must communicate with the people and this means get out of the UN compound, meet all parties, community and confessional leaders. He or she must set the goals very clearly and stay focused.

I had on my desk two SC Res. On GB with a multitude of operative provisions, the sort of “Christmas Tree” favored by the SC drafters.  I ignored most of these unattainable operative articles and instead focused on two key goals:

1. The first one was not even in the SC mandate, and didn’t have to be there: restore faith and hope in the people as this lessens tensions and contribute to a more constructive dialogue and agreement;

2. Return GB to Constitutional order. This would not be possible without the first.


The work of ICM and the seminal Reports “Global study on the implementation of SCR 1325”, the “20015 Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture” and HIPPO hopefully will inform the next Secretary-General.

Civil Society and UNGA have laid out the criteria of qualifications for the next SG who for the first time in the UN 70 years history will be chosen from a wider field of candidates, in a more transparent and democratic manner.

The next Secretary-General will not have more powers and resources than his/her predecessors. There will not be a powerful armada, a feared army and an awesome air force at her/his disposal to be activated at a second’s notice.

She or he will not meet everyone’s every expectations and solve all the world’s problems; however, she or he will be someone uniquely qualified, with exceptional communication skills, able to inspire and engage the peoples of the world behind the UN in our shared duty to prevent conflicts, end wars, promote gender equality and fundamental human rights, eradicate extreme poverty, reverse the colossal damage done to Planet Earth, and build sustainable, durable peace.


Last but not least…2016 is already proving to be an interesting one, a promising one. President Obama is visiting Cuba, the first American President to do so in almost a century.

Now the real news: I recently nominated the Cuban Medical Brigade for the Nobel Peace Prize. It occurred to me that, at the least, the Cuban Medical Brigade is as deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize as the many UN Agencies that were awarded the Prize, namely UNICEF, UNHCR, Peace-Keeping, etc.

Created in 1964, the Brigade has deployed tens of thousands of doctors and nurses to over 100 countries; they set up medical schools and trained thousands of doctors in the developing world.

In the last 10 years, Cuba has trained close to 1,000 Timorese Medical doctors, now deployed in every village in Timor-Leste. In 2002 on our independence, we had 19 Medical Doctors.

They are always first and fast on the front-line in every major humanitarian catastrophe in the globe. And long after others had left, curtains drawn, lights dimmed, the Cuban doctors stayed on, often in extremely precarious conditions.

Thank you Excellencies for your kind patience and attention. You are all in my daily prayers to the Almighty, our Creator, as I plead with Him to bestow on each of you abundant health and bountiful wisdom as you undertake God’s work and that is the search for better ways to promote peace and harmony in the world.

J. Ramos-Horta