UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Ms Philippa King, Ambassador and Chargé d’affaires of Australia to the United Nations
21 August 2014
Thank you, Mr President, and thank you to the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We would like to acknowledge High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s achievements over the past six years, and thank her for her dedicated pursuit of her vital mandate.
Conflict prevention was the reason the UN was created. It is enshrined in the first line of the Charter, and it is central to this Council’s responsibility.
Prevention of conflict is always better than cure. As the Secretary-General said this morning, when actions come late the consequences are measured in human lives. But also, the cost of civil war is around 30 years of GDP growth. Recovery averages 14 years. These are staggering, generational consequences.
It is natural to be crisis-focused, but it is short-sighted. Prevention is cost effective. UNOWA, which has demonstrated concrete prevention results in places like Guinea, costs under $10 million per year. The smallest peacekeeping operation costs almost five times that much; the largest over 150 times that much.
Early warning signs of conflict vary, from political signals, such as social unrest, to humanitarian crises. The role of the media and civil society in shining a spotlight on these is invaluable. Different parts of the UN are best placed to monitor early warning signs – from missions to envoys to development actors. The UN needs an effective, system-wide approach to ensure this is done effectively.
Information, of course, is not sufficient. Effective prevention strategies must be underpinned by strong analysis.
The UN’s Department of Political Affairs has played a proactive role in bringing analysis of potential flashpoints to the Council’s attention. We also welcome the pattern of increased briefings from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we would welcome an informal monthly briefing by her successor, as she has proposed. We have consistently argued that human rights abuses can be one of the most important early warning indicators – the ‘canary in the coalmine’.
The Rights Up Front initiative is a direct reflection of this link. Among its six action points is the provision of candid information about serious human rights violations. A culture of such reporting to the Council must be encouraged.
For the same reason, we support more Council briefings from the Special Representatives and Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide, Responsibility to Protect, Sexual Violence and Children and Armed Conflict. And we support briefings from the Head of UN Women, because UN Women’s role in supporting women’s political participation is vitally important to reducing the risk of conflict.
We should also increase use of Arria formula meetings with civil society and NGOs, which bring a sophisticated understanding of events on the ground. And we should draw more proactively on the expertise of the PBC. Post-conflict countries are all too often vulnerable to relapse.
All the early warning in the world will be of no use unless the Council acts on them. Here, we must be self-critical: our record is not strong. In Syria, for example, we failed to take early action as the Assad Government’s repression led to what is today an incredibly destructive and destabilising conflict.
Why do we have such a questionable record on prevention? The Council has struggled to agree on the balance between responses that are sufficiently early while respecting the primary responsibility of national actors. We have yet to get that balance right. But we must.
Faced with early warning, we need to take action in a strategic manner, focused on the most effective points of leverage. We should use the tools at our disposal proactively, and gradually gradual ratchet up our response as necessary. And we should work with regional organisations. In all cases early action is vital.
There are a number of areas where we can do more.
First, we need to support the Secretary-General – his good offices, advocacy and mediation efforts – and his representatives. Our vocal backing for the initiatives of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes is a good example. We should also be more proactive in mandating fact-finding missions – which can have a strong deterrent effect – and commissions of inquiry, such as the recent one on the DPRK. We agree with the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the Council needs to seriously consider and take action on the recommendations of these commissions, and that the commissions should have an official channel of communication to the council.
Second, we need to get behind the Rights Up Front initiative, lending our political and practical support to see it realise its full preventive potential.
Third, we can do better to integrate sanctions into our responses. The mere threat of sanctions can bring parties to a negotiating table. Arms embargoes reduce the viability of force as an option. Targeted individual sanctions can constrain and disrupt the actions of destabilising actors, slow conflict financing, and change the political calculations of spoilers.
Fourth, the Council must do more to implement its commitment to accountability, including by deepening its relationship with the International Criminal Court. Failure to address past crimes is often a powerful driver of future conflict, and accountability can have a strong deterrent effect.
In cases of possible mass atrocities, we have a responsibility to protect. It is important that we are not impeded from taking practical action in such scenarios by use of the veto.
Finally, we would endorse more preventive Council visits. These need not involve all fifteen members. The five-member Council mission to Indonesia and East Timor in 1999 helped end the violence and paved the way for INTERFET.
In conclusion, we need to build a culture of prevention which fully reflects the cost of failing to act. Only then will the aspirations of this organisation, which emerged out of the ashes of conflict, be fully realised. This Council has a responsibility to be vigilant, strategic, and proactive.