A World at Risk:  High Level Thematic Debate on UN,  Peace and Security Remarks by J. Ramos-Horta

On the Implementation of the Report of the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations:
Uniting our Strengths for Peace: Politics, Partnership and People

United Nations, NY, 10-11 May 2016

Mr. President,
Heads of State and Government,

My esteemed colleagues and I, of the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations, (I recognize in the room Ian Martin, Alexander Illitchev, Youssef Mahmoud, Rima Salah) worked closely with Member States, SRSGs, Force Commanders, TCCs (1) and PCCS (2) regional and sub regional organizations, Think-Tanks and Civil Society, from all regions of the world over several months. In addition we received and digested 80 comprehensive submissions. The Report Uniting our Strengths for Peace: Politics, Partnership and People is our collective work, yours and ours, all of us who are deeply committed to a world free of the scourges of wars, of violence against women and children, a world free of extreme poverty, a world at peace. As you might all recall I dedicated our Report to a little heroine in South Sudan, the brave 3-year old Nyakhat. The real life story of little Nyakhat is in fact an indictment of the leaders of South Sudan and of all of us, policy makers, diplomats, envoys, an indictment of the whole UN, for our utter failure in preventing the implosion of South Sudan. But this is also a story of the indispensability of the United Nations insofar as its presence on the ground has saved many thousandsof lives, providing safe heaven, shelter, food and water to hundreds of thousands who otherwise would have perished and joined the unfortunate hundreds of thousands who died. Since we handed over the Report to our esteemed Secretary-General in June 2015,  my colleagues and I have remained actively engaged in numerous in-depth conversations in New York and across the world on the more than 100 recommendations contained in it. As you know we made detailed, substantive, bold and creative recommendations which if implemented would go a long way in helping the United Nations  measure up to the changing global security threats of our time and help meet the expectations of the people it is called to serve. In view of the constraints of time and in respect to other speakers, I shall recall some salient elements, just three:

  •  Any UN Peace Operation must be grounded on a political strategy.  This means that beyond operational security and stabilisation activities, sustaining peace should be the single most important goal to which all mission efforts should be dedicated. Panel members noted and were concerned that in responding to crises, the UN was deploying peacekeeping operations to conflict zones where there was no peace to keep and where the emphasis on securitised responses in the face of asymmetric threats may not serve the cause of peace and may not make the peacekeepers safer.  Mali is a case in point. In this regard, we made it very clear that peacekeeping, as currently configured should not be involved in counter terrorism activities.


  • The second set of recommendations aim to make the UN Secretariat more field oriented rather than making the field comply with a Headquarters-centered, administrative and budgetary processes and guidelines that treat peace operations as exceptions to the rule.  Member States need to take the lead to overhaul this antiquated system and stop investing in procedures that tend to control rather than empower the field.  We made suggestions on how this can be done, including the establishment of mechanisms for greater accountability by managers.  As things stand now, it is regrettable that these suggestions did not receive the attention they deserve.


  • Last but not least..we have made a case for restructuring the  compartmentalized Secretariat entities entrusted with implementing the peace and security agenda of the organization.  The sharp distinctions between peacekeeping operations and special political missions should give way to a continuum of responses and smoother transitions between different phases of missions.  Hence we have called for the United Nations to embrace the term “peace operations” to denote the full spectrum of responses required on the ground on the basis of sound strategic analysis and planning.

Sequenced and prioritized mandates will allow missions to develop over time rather than trying to do everything at one and not succeeding. I am gratified to hear that sequencing and prioritizing is being considered for Mali ahead of its forthcoming mandate renewal. It is hoped that new Secretary-General will take the lead, in inclusive partnership with member states in taking these recommendations forward, building on synergies between our report and the other two seminal reports that examined other pillars of the UN peace and security architecture.

With more than 100,000 armed Blue Helmets deployed in 16 theatres of conflict in a vast area of the globe, the UN is like an overstretched Empire, the Secretary-General, an Emperor without clothes, hopelessly presiding over a vast domain without adequate financial resources, men and women in uniform sent into battle without adequate modern hardware and software.

The UN maybe a convenient scape goat for many conflicts that resulted from the utter failure of national leaders. But let’s be frank: the UN is not responsible for the outbreak of wars and its ensuing ramifications; it might be responsible for the deterioration of the conflicts because of inaction but blame should be apportioned closer to home. These man-made catastrophes are caused primarily by national leaders, of all sides in a given situation, because of their lack of wisdom, courage and humility and because of inflated ambitions and egos that dominate their thoughts and actions;  and hence they are not able to engage each other in constructive dialogue and forge a national pact beneficial to all. It has been shown from the wars in the Congo in the early 1960’s to today’s wars in South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, that there are limits to what the international community anchored on the UN can do; there are limits to what even a well-intentioned mighty global powers can do. If force alone can prevent or resolve the outcome of social, religious and ethnic based wars, then the mere appearance on the horizon of an awesome fleet and the intimidating display of fighters formation in the skies would suffice to freeze in fear all warring factions.

More often than not, end of wars and durable peace come about through patient dialogue where all concede some. With humility we believe that if our recommendations are implemented we as UN may better prevent the outbreak of wars, we may more timely deploy credible means to prevent death of innocent  civilians, usually the first casualties in a conflict; we may better mediate the end of wars and help build lasting peace and reconciliation.

You all are in my daily prayers.