Chatham University

Multirealism: Challenges of International Mediation in Regional Conflict

Professor Ibrahim Gambari
Under-Secretary-General
Special Adviser to the Secretary-General

Chatham University - Pittsburgh, 3 May 2008

  1. Introduction
    President Barazzone,
    Mr. Murray Rust III, Chair, Board of Trustees,
    Faculty and Staff of Chatham University,
    Dear Graduates,
    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I want to thank you all for welcoming me into your community. Your hospitality has made me feel instantly at home. I am very proud of receiving this honorary doctorate and for becoming one of you. I would like to thank President Barazzone for this opportunity to share with you these unique moments of personal fulfillment, family celebration and community joy.

    There is nothing like seeing you, the next generation, so exuberant and ready to make your mark on tomorrow. Congratulations, graduates, on your big day! The world is waiting for you! And, congratulations to all the faculty and staff of Chatham, parents, friends and loved ones who have helped make this day possible.

    I stand before this distinguished congregation as a man born and raised in what was a small town, Ilorin (Kwara State), in the part of Nigeria called the Middle Belt, which is a polite description of an area of the country struggling for an identity. I grew up in a bi-lingual and bi-cultural community where English was not spoken at home but used as the official language of communication in the country.

    I began my formal education by attending what was appropriately called "Provincial Secondary School" with emphasis on the "Provincial". Nonetheless, with hard-work, devotion to academic pursuit and, yes, good fortune, I was privileged to attend some of the best schools and Universities in the world. It was at one of them, Columbia University, that I met your President and dear friend, Dr. Esther Barazzone.

    One other anecdote before going into the substance of my presentation today. I describe myself simply as a Professor by training and a diplomat by accident – a 25 years accident. The lesson here is: do not put yourself in a straight jacket, grab opportunities that come your way and make yourself indispensable in the job that you do and the service you provide. Never did I dream that a boy from Ilorin, Nigeria, whose first language is not English would, in different capacities, work with four successive United Nations Secretaries-General (Pèrez de Cuèllar, Boutros–Ghali, Kofi Annan and presently Ban Ki–moon), be received by many world leaders and be leading the United Nations efforts in mediating the crisis in Myanmar (Burma) and pushing for International Compact with Iraq in support of reconstruction, economic reform, greater security and faster national reconciliation in the war-torn country. Again, there are no real secrets to or easy path to international mediation. What is required is taking advantage of opportunities, hard-work, persistence, sound knowledge of the dynamics of the conflicts, building and sustaining the trust and confidence of parties to the conflicts and, again, a bit of luck.

    So, fellow graduates, if a small town boy from somewhere in the middle of Nigeria could be given these challenging tasks in the service of his country and the world, surely the sky should be the limit for all of you wonderful young ladies who are graduating today from this great academic institution.

    I have chosen to speak in this special occasion on: "Multilateralism: challenges of international mediation in regional conflicts." In that regard, I would like to begin by paying tribute to the extraordinary efforts of those who work tirelessly for maintaining peace and security and in assisting the populations in distress as they experience increasingly harsh and dangerous conditions. Their commitment is particularly important and we must acknowledge and commend it at each and every opportunity. I hope some of your class of 2008 will consider joining this elite community of international peace-makers, peace-keepers, humanitarian assistance workers and human rights activists.

  2. Regional conflicts
    The end of the Cold war, almost two decades ago, has witnessed the emergence of conflicts of unique complexity in view of their intra-state more than inter-state nature. Disputes over natural resources, identity and religious affiliations, as well as access to power, have fueled conflicts that involved guerrilla warfare, home-grown as well as foreign-sponsored militias, mercenaries, and forced recruitment of civilians, particularly children, as soldiers. In addition, they evolved in an environment where neighbors and regional countries had vested interests and were supporting one, if not multiple parties to the conflicts. Furthermore, these conflicts prove to have an impact beyond the concerned fighting area, as refugees fled to neighboring states, armed guerillas found harbor across the borders, and an economy of war created financial incentives that undermined any possible peace settlement.

    Despite progress made in resolving many conflicts in Africa, it is regrettable that the most looming and devastating conflicts with regional dimensions are taking place primarily in Africa. Central Africa and the Greater Horn of Africa have particularly been two regions of chronic instability, resulting in several interconnected conflicts that transcended borders or specific territories, thus making them truly regional. This is particularly the case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the fighting involves militias from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, several rebellion groups and the government. It is also the case in the Sudan, where the crisis witnesses fighting involving the government, rebellion groups in Darfur, eastern and southern Sudan, as well as engulfs northern Uganda, eastern Chad, and northeastern Central African Republic.

    It is further regrettable to note that these conflicts have claimed millions of lives; left millions more displaced, and deterred any possible economic growth and prosperity. The chronic insecurity has put severe constraints on access to humanitarian aid for the millions in need. In these wars, civilians are not only victims, but have increasingly become targets. And women and children, in particular, bear the heaviest burden of the instability and fighting. From rape and displacement to the denial of the right to education, food and health care, women and children bear the largest share of suffering. This should never become acceptable and it is our common responsibility and shared interest to bring these conflicts to an end and ensure that sufficient preventive measures are in place to avoid their resumption or emergence.

  3. Lessons from the past
    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The multitude of parties involved in regional conflicts, their divergent interests, and various patrons has made negotiating a peace agreement more complicated and complex, thus underlining the need of a multilateral, coherent, and coordinated engagement to achieve any sustainable settlement. In this context, previous and ongoing regional conflicts offer three main lessons that should guide the international community engagement with regard to these crises and how to prevent them:

    1) Security is a collective responsibility and requires collective action;
    2) Peace and stability demands global solidarity;
    3) There cannot be peace, security, and development without respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

      1. Collective responsibility and collective action: States need to cooperate with each other in order to ensure their own security. While this had already become apparent at the end of World War II, this lesson should have particularly strong resonance in today's world; a world in which armed conflict between or within States has political, military, economic, humanitarian and environmental consequences far beyond the conflict zones; a world where deadly weapons, including WMDs, can be obtained not only by rogue States but also non-state actors and by extremist groups; a world where failed States can become havens for terrorists; a world where HIV/AIDS, SARS, or avian flu, can be carried across oceans, let alone national borders, in a matter of hours; a world where terrorism has no face or borders and harms without distinction and regardless to your believes or background, and last but not least a world where the effects of climate change affects the lives of people everywhere. Against such threats as these, States share a responsibility for each other's security, and only by working together to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves. Peace is indivisible; hence a threat to peace and security anywhere should be seen and treated as a threat to peace and security everywhere.

        In this regard, the collective responsibility for security should include a special responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – a responsibility solemnly accepted by all nations at the 2005 UN World Summit. Obviously, this high-sounding doctrine will remain rhetoric unless and until those with the power to intervene effectively are prepared to take action – by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle. This is why Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made Darfur one of his top priorities. Supported by his Special Envoy for Darfur, Mr. Jan Eliasson, who is working in tandem with the African Union Special Envoy, Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the Secretary-General is fully engaged with African leaders, the US, other Security Council members and others to end the violence, provide urgent humanitarian assistance and ensure that civil society in Darfur has a voice in the peace process.

        All in all, maintaining peace and security requires collective action. This can only be achieved by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the United Nations. The situation in Darfur, the Middle East and elsewhere may seem daunting, but in addressing these challenges, it is important to remember past successes of collective action through the United Nations that may initially have seemed every bit as intractable.

      2. Need for global solidarity: The second lesson is that States are in some measure responsible for each other's welfare. Without a measure of solidarity no society can be truly stable, and no one's prosperity is truly secure. It is not realistic to think that some can derive great benefits from today's progress while others are left permanently marginalized. As the second Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, elegantly put it: "no one can expect his garden to remain tidy by reserving a spot for weeds".

        To be sure, some progress has been made including in Africa. From 1990-2002, the developing world's proportion of people living in extreme poverty dropped from 28% to 19%, driven mostly by gains in eastern and southern Asia. Moreover, child mortality rates have dropped, access to sanitation has improved, and education standards have risen. But progress has been uneven and the overall levels of human deprivation remain staggering. Let me give you three examples: Each year, more than 10 million children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes. Women in the developing world are over 45 times more likely, on average, to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in the developed world. And more than 800 million people remain chronically undernourished.

        That is why the UN Millennium Summit adopted a set of goals – the "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs) – to be reached by 2015: goals such as reducing by 50% the proportion of people in the world who live on less than one dollar a day and who do not have clean water to drink; making sure all girls and boys receive at least primary education; slashing infant and maternal mortality; and stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.

        Much of that can only be done by governments and people in the poor countries themselves including through good governance, tackling corruption and ending conflicts and wars. But the private sector inside and outside these countries as well as key donors, such as the United States working together with the European Union and the United Nations have a vital role to play through debt relief and increased foreign assistance, fair terms of trade, and a non-discriminatory financial system and direct private investment.

      3. Respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law: The third lesson is that peace, security and development ultimately depend on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. If our different communities are to live together in peace, we must stress what unites us: our common humanity, and our shared belief that human dignity and rights should be protected by law through a democratic system. That is vital for development, too. Both foreign investors and a country's own citizens are more likely to engage in productive activity when their basic rights are protected and they can be confident of fair treatment under the law. And policies that genuinely favour economic development are much more likely to be adopted if the people most in need of development can make their voice heard.

        In short, human rights, democracy and the rule of law are vital to global security and prosperity. On this point, and addressing this audience, I know that I am preaching to the converted. The United States has historically been at the forefront of the global human rights movement, as will always be epitomized by the leadership role of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, in other parts of the world, there is much more to be done in promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I know this first hand through my work as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar where the goals of establishing a peaceful, prosperous, democratic country with full respect for the human rights of all its peoples remain major challenges.

        For the United Nations, promoting democracy and the rule of law is one of its core activities. Through its vast network of agencies, such as UNDP, the United Nations is helping States to build capacity for institutionalizing democracy, good governance and the rule of law in all parts of the world. One important element of this is electoral assistance. From 1989 to 2005 the United Nations has provided such assistance to 96 countries. And through the new UN Democracy Fund established in July 2005, the United Nations is supporting democratization through projects that build and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, and ensure the participation of all groups in democratic processes.

    1. The Imperatives of Multilateralism
      Ladies and gentlemen,
      Effective collective action requires strong multilateral engagement. In this context, only the UN stands with the needed capacity, experience, and know-how to coordinate such global efforts. However, this would require continuous commitment by the Member States to address both current and the challenges ahead. Here, I would like to quote Lord Caradon, former British Ambassador to the UN, who famously said: "There is nothing wrong with the UN, except perhaps with its Member States". In other words, actions by the UN are only as strong and as effective as Member States want them to be by providing appropriate support.

      To respond to the growing demands in the area of peace and security the United Nations is engaged in about 30 peace operations around the world, including 18 peacekeeping operations with more than 100,000 personnel – the largest number since the creation of the UN more than 60 years ago. The United Nations is continuously seeking to strengthen the capacity of the Organization to manage and sustain peace operations. Let me emphasize in this regard that UN peacekeeping has proven to be a cost-effective instrument. According to a recent study by the US Government Accountability Office, for instance, deploying UN peacekeepers to Haiti has resulted in a cost to the US that is one eighth what it would be if the US were forced to deploy unilaterally.

      But I would like to also point out that the UN efforts at preventive action and peacemaking through the Secretary-General's good offices and mediation can be even more cost-effective than peacekeeping. Ultimately, conflicts are only resolved through political solutions that meet the needs and interests of the parties and communities concerned, with strong support from neighbouring and regional countries as well as the international community.

      In the 1990s a large number of regional conflicts were brought to an end, either through direct U.N. mediation or by the efforts of other third parties acting with United Nations support. The list includes El Salvador, Guatemala, Namibia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Tajikistan, Bougainville, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Burundi and the North-South conflict in Sudan. Nonetheless, we cannot afford to be complacent; hence it is gratifying that at the 2005 UN Summit, world leaders agreed to strengthen the Secretary-General's good offices and mediation role, efforts are under way to strengthen United Nations capacity to better support the Secretary-General's role and that of his Special Representatives in this area, as well as the roles of Regional Organizations such as the African Vision, Organization of American States, Association of South East Asian States and the European Union.

    2. Conclusion
      Ladies and gentlemen,
      Fellow graduates,

      I have attempted in this address to demonstrate that conflicts, particularly those of a regional nature tend to be complex and complicated. They could be solved only through a coherent, coordinated and firm engagement by the international community. In this context, the United Nations is an essential multilateral partner to find political solutions to conflicts around the world. Indeed, if the United Nations did not exist, we would have had to invent it. In the words of former Secretary–General Kofi Annan, "the UN offers the best hope of a stable world and a broadly equitable world order based on generally–accepted rules ... (since) a rule-based system is in the interest of all countries -- especially today when globalization has shrunk the world". In this regard, Kofi Annan further observed, "the very openness, which is such an important feature of today's most successful societies, makes deadly weapons relatively easy to obtain and terrorists relatively difficult to restrain (hence) today, the strong feel almost as vulnerable to the weak as the weak feel vulnerable to the strong".

      Therefore, the engagement of the UN is crucial to conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution as well as peace building, humanitarian assistance, sustainable development and institutional capacity building. It is only together, acting as one, that we could bring about change to our world and foster the right environment for all communities to prosper and live in peace and security.

      To conclude, our world may be getting smaller with every passing day. But there is still plenty of room for big ideas––– your ideas. Our era is one of momentous transition and transformation, one in which there are real openings for change. With your energies, ideas and fresh eyes, I know you will make your dreams come true and enrich the world in the process. Good luck to you all, and thank you very much for listening.