Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Open Debate on the Peacebuilding Architecture Review
Thank you, Mr President, for convening this debate. I also want to thank Ambassadors Kamau, Skoog and Rosenthal for their thoughtful contributions to this debate and to this agenda.
John F. Kennedy once said: “the mere absence of war is not peace.” His words, over half a century ago, go to the heart of the issue we’re discussing today; the issue of peacebuilding.
And today, it’s no longer enough just stop the fighting. How many issues on this Council’s agenda are a result of countries relapsing into conflict? How many are due to leaders failing to capitalise on the absence of war, failing to build peace and prosperity for their citizens?
Today I’d like to talk about Burundi, a country that sadly fits that mould. As Security Council members saw firsthand last month, this small, poor yet beautiful country has suffered a great deal. Just over a decade since the end of the civil war - a war that claimed 300,000 lives - it now stands on the precipice of civil war again. It is clear that the dividends of eleven years of peace have been squandered.
In response, we in the Security Council have been united in our demands of President Nkurunziza; de-escalate the tensions, begin dialogue with the opposition, and agree to a deployment of some form of international presence, as originally proposed by the African Union.
But as we drove through Bujumbura last month, I couldn’t help but think whether there was more that we, this Council, the UN, regional actors, more that we could have done to prevent a return to violence. And I hope that in this Chamber today we can all consider what more we can do in the future, to prevent what we saw in Burundi happening again elsewhere.
We have plenty to guide us; reviews of peacekeeping, of peacebuilding, of women, peace and security, all agreed last year. But if we are to avoid a failure in peacebuilding, whether in Burundi or elsewhere, people on the ground need more than just words on paper. They need meaningful action from this Council and others. I see five steps to take.
First, a key theme of those reports is the centrality of political will, at the national and international level, to build and sustain peace. But even when this Council is united, as we have been on Burundi, our efforts can be dampened by a lack of political will by just one person; in this case, President Nkrununziza.
So we need to bring pressure to bear on those who refuse to find common ground, who won’t engage in dialogue; who exhibit no trace of the political will needed to sustain peace. To do so, let us recognise that this Council is not alone in the fight. Burundi shows us the vital importance of regional organisations, such as the African Union. We need to continue and enhance this close collaboration with regional organisations, and we should draw on the support and advice of the Peacebuilding Commission too, as our briefers today advised us.
Second, it’s clear that crises have often been brought before the Council too late for effective preventive action. We need to improve our ability to tackle potential risks to stability before they escalate. To do so, we need to match early warning with early action. That’s the best way to prevent enormous human suffering and it is also much more cost effective than dealing with conflicts and their aftermath.
Can we say honestly that we achieved this on Burundi? We visited twice in a year. Didn’t we all see the warning signs? So I learnt from our visit that improved horizon scanning is really of no use on its own. We have to do something as a result. This Council needs to be proactive and action oriented and mobilise the tools at our disposal to prevent relapses into violence.
Third, we need to improve our ability to sustain peace after the fighting has stopped. We must avoid the ‘peacebuilding gap’ when peacekeeping missions transition out of a country and international attention falls away. Perhaps this is our greatest lesson to learn from Burundi.
Sustaining engagement is challenging. The Peacebuilding Commission provides a good way to continue the political support and to draw together the UN system, and Member States and the international financial institutions. Similarly, the Peacebuilding Fund does excellent work and I would like to encourage all Member States to join us in making voluntary contributions to this effective tool.
My fourth point is that building peace must mean building peace for all. For men, women, children, minorities, the vulnerable. For those in government and for those in opposition. The Peacebuilding review tells us that building and sustaining peace rests on a social consensus behind that peace. That is why inclusive dialogue is so important in Burundi. And so we welcome the UN Secretary-General’s visit to Burundi today and the progress he has made on that inclusive dialogue.
More broadly, as we provide practical support for development, for services and for jobs in countries emerging from conflict, let us all do so in a way that fosters inclusivity.
Fifth and finally, we need a whole system approach that bridges across the usual UN silos so that the system together is more than the sum of its parts.
When the Security Council reaches across those divides, it is not encroachment, it is necessary joining up. I encourage other bodies too to join up across the gaps. And I point to Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals as a good way of doing that.
If we can take these five steps, we can build something really sustainable, and in doing so, ensure that the absence of war, as John F Kennedy put it, really does lead to a more permanent peace.