The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) opened a two-day hearing at United Nations Headquarters this morning on maintaining peace and preventing conflicts, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was the primary mission assigned the Organization by its founders some 63 years ago.
The 2008 Parliamentary Hearing "Towards Effective Peacekeeping and the Prevention of Conflict: Delivering on our Commitments" was jointly organized by the IPU and the Office of the President of the General Assembly. The two themes of the session's first day were on the concept of "the responsibility to protect", and sexual violence against women and children during times of conflict, as well as the United Nations' role in that regard. The hearing wraps up tomorrow with a consideration of ways to integrate the human security approach into the work of the United Nations, as well as an examination of the key challenges facing the world body's peacekeeping operations.
Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as well as a former President of the General Assembly, recalled last week's vote in the Assembly on a resolution on collaboration between the IPU and the United Nations. That text had underscored that Parliaments should set the example for promoting gender equality, and that women should be better represented in the future at the heart of the IPU.
In his remarks, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon enumerated four key elements that would permit the United Nations to fulfil its fundamental mission. In order to maintain peace, it was necessary to have a peace to maintain. That presupposed a political process for exiting conflict, marked by a consensus on the intervention of peacekeeping forces. Second, those peacekeeping forces must have a clear and realistic mandate, with appropriate means at their disposal.
Third, Mr. Ban continued, "Blue Helmets" must "avoid becoming part of the problem" they were supposed to help resolve, by engaging in "the most delicate possible" interactions with the local population. Finally, he stressed that planning for peace operations at the United Nations must be improved before operations on the ground could improve. Mr. Ban expressed the fear that those basic conditions were becoming ever more difficult to realize. "But, even if Member States were not united, the United Nations must act; indifference was not an option," the Secretary-General noted.
For his part, the current General Assembly President, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, said that the goal of United Nations-IPU collaboration was to bring the world body together and parliamentarians, so that the Organization could better understand national policies and profit from their expertise in a collective manner. He considered it necessary that parliamentarians lend their important support to the United Nations, so that the Organization could democratize.
Mr. D'Escoto recalled that he had presented a series of proposed changes that would allow the United Nations to regain its authority. With its 192 members, the United Nations was "the most representative organ in the world", he observed, adding that, nevertheless, some powers had deprived it of its central role. "My call in favour of democratization, in order for the United Nations to recover its primary role called for in its Charter, might seem radical," he said, "but our credibility depends on it."
During the morning session on "the responsibility to protect", the representative of Rwanda contrasted the international community's passivity in the face of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis, with its move to action during recent troubles in Kenya. Kenya's crisis had been managed by the region and the United Nations. He noted: "There was one coordinated intervention to stabilize the situation. Mediation prevented the situation from perhaps degenerating into crimes against humanity and genocide."
Concerning prevention, he insisted on the role of education for populations, teaching them to respect the life of others. That must begin in primary school, and also involve the army; an army that must respect human rights, he recommended. "History must not be an eternal beginning, and we must, through it, learn," he concluded, recalling that "never again" had been said following the Holocaust.
For her part, Nicola Reindorp, Director of Advocacy for the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, citing the examples of Iraq or Georgia, cautioned against the risk that States would unduly invoke the responsibility to protect a population to justify interventions that, in fact, only served their own interests.
Conversely, the representative of the French Parliament cautioned against an interpretation that was too restrictive or rigid. Such a view would risk that an intervention, however necessary, would take place too late -- after having verified that a State was not dealing with its obligations or was incapable of protecting its citizens -- when there remained, in fact, only one thing left to do: "count cadavers".
The Inter-Parliamentary Union Hearings will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 20 November.
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