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Doing and Enabling: Broadening the Peacebuilding Tent, Dr. Robert Zuber

1 May

First off, blessings to all our Orthodox friends and colleagues who celebrate Easter today.

This past Wednesday (April 27) a rather remarkable if under reported event occurred: the Security Council and the General Assembly (in that order) approved a joint resolution designed to strengthen the structure and activities of UN Peacebuilding.  Based on a special report authorized by the UN Secretary-General, this joint resolution was perhaps the clearest, recent example of key UN agencies authorizing and encouraging each other’s work rather than defending institutional turf.  To see operational language like this in a UN resolution was a sight for these sore eyes:

To serve as a platform to convene all relevant actors within and outside the United Nations, including from Member States, national authorities, United Nations missions and country teams, international, regional and sub-regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society, women’s groups, youth organizations and, where relevant, the private sector and national human rights institutions, in order to provide recommendations and information to improve their coordination, to develop and share good practices in peacebuilding, including on institution building, and to ensure predictable financing to peacebuilding.

The Security Council vote was unanimous, short and sweet.  The GA process, however, provide ample opportunity for key peacebuilding actors and other member states to share their hopes and aspirations for more effective UN conflict prevention and resolution efforts.  Many statements indicated that delegations understood just how momentous the moment was.  For instance, Mexico noted the need to change the “epicenter” of peacebuilding from post-conflict response to conflict prevention. Sierra Leone cited the diverse contexts in which peacebuilding occurs, contexts that can be enhanced and even effectively coordinated by UN efforts.   Australia urged that core UN “bridge building” efforts towards a sustainable peace reach out more resolutely to women stakeholders. And Kenya’s Amb. Kamau urged a flexible role for UN peacebuilding that spanned the terrain from prevention to conflict relapse, that distanced peacebuilding from military response, and (along with Sweden) that provided support to states beyond the few that were formally “configured” within the Peacebuilding Commission.

There was much more, of course, virtually all of it designed to broaden the space for peacebuilding in ways that respect diverse national and community contexts, space that intentionally includes the skills, passions and aspirations of its many stakeholders.

Indeed, it is this “authorizing” element that seemed so critical to us.   We have written previously about the negative implications of UN turf wars, urging agencies to concentrate less on what they do and brand, and more on what they share and leverage.  The attitude we urge turns out to be one that is quite conducive to the revised philosophy and architecture of UN peacebuilding.  Indeed, our office is in touch regularly with a myriad of activities that qualify as peacebuilding in every aspect:  efforts to protect courageous but besieged journalists; uphold human rights standards in the justice systems of the Caribbean; help women farmers in Central Africa to grow crops for healthy, local consumption; promote democracy in communities under strain in North Africa;  explore models of UN peacekeeping that can more effectively protect civilians and eliminate prospects for abuse; find ways to end the trafficking and human displacement in Central America that threatens the community fabric and compromises development.

There is so much more taking place beyond our knowledge and capacity to leverage, people dedicated to causes that have not yet sufficiently acknowledged their value.  This must change and change quickly.

A woman well known to the UN and its social justice advocates came to me recently to ask some advice on how to get more involved in peacebuilding.   The irony of course is that she has been doing peacebuilding all along — so many of you have also.  You may not have access to Commission meetings or be able to tap into peacebuilding funds, but your activities inspire reflection and hope towards more peaceful futures.

The resolutions this week seemed much more important than the usual normative text.  They were, in their own way, an invitation to millions of people who put their lives on the line each day for justice and access to essential services, for climate health and sustainable development, for food security and legal accountability.  Under the new rubric articulated in the SGs report and articulated in this week’s resolution, peacebuilding is becoming a very large tent indeed.    Large enough, we trust, for all the work we do and, perhaps more importantly, all the work we come to know about.