Helen Clark: Statement at the Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations

01 Nov 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme on “Why Peace Matters for Development” at the Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations
Sunday, 1 November 2009, Washington, D.C., 7:30PM

I am delighted to be with you at this evening’s event, and to support this inaugural Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations.

My thanks go to the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center and the Alliance for Peacebuilding for organizing this important event, and to their respective presidents, Harriet Fulbright and Chic Dambach, for inviting me to address tonight’s gathering.

The Global Peace Index, established by Steve Killelea, provides a refreshing new perspective. Its logic is simple, and appealing : instead of trying to understand and prevent conflict, why not also search for the characteristics which are associated with peace, and seek to multiply or replicate them? 

The eighteen countries to be studied at this symposium have many experiences to share on what makes their nations peaceful within their borders and within their regions.

Learning and applying these experiences is important in today’s troubled world. The 21st century has already been marked by high levels of violence, particularly in the region extending from the Near East to Central Asia.

As well, this century has brought with it other crises : serious food and fuel price spikes; the global recession; an influenza pandemic; and major climatic events and other natural disasters. 

These challenges are global in nature, and they require global solutions and partnerships. But our capacity to find those solutions is dissipated when our resources are so often diverted into dealing with conflict and violence in its many forms.

Throughout my many years in public life in New Zealand, and now as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, my commitment has been to economic and social justice, sustainable development, the peaceful resolution of conflict, and reconciliation.

So, I welcome the concept of peace advanced by the Global Peace Index : that a peaceful country or society does not address its internal differences, or differences with others, through violence. This is a state of affairs to which all nations should aspire, and which gets to the essence of the raison d’être of the United Nations, including UNDP, the organization which I now head.

After all, the preamble to the UN Charter begins with a strong message about the importance of peace : “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”

These sentiments were heartfelt after six years of the devastating Second World War, which had followed barely two decades after the First World War.

There is clearly a strong correlation between peace and human development. Where violence and conflict rage, development cannot get traction.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of conflicts being waged between 1999 and the mid-2000s more than halved. That reduction in the incidence of conflict was accompanied by a dramatic increase in economic growth rates in the region. This cannot be mere coincidence.

It is notable that the countries ranked in the top ten of the Global Peace Index are also ranked as having ‘very high human development’ in the Human Development Index produced by UNDP. That composite index measures average achievement in countries according to three basic dimensions of human development – a long and healthy life; access to knowledge; and a decent standard of living.

Conversely, those societies not at peace, or those affected by violent conflict, are ranked low on the Human Development Index.  As the Managing Director of the IMF has said so accurately – war can justifiably be called “development in reverse.”

There is also significant evidence that conflict has long lasting negative impacts on human development; causing not only death and injury, but also destroying physical and human capital, and leading to increases in malnutrition. Conflict has a profound psycho-social impact too as it rips societies apart.

All these consequences underscore the importance of promoting peace and stability if we are also to promote development.

For countries emerging from conflict, this is especially pertinent. If development does not quickly ensue in such settings, that undermines the maintenance of new found stability. If countries succeed in providing tangible benefits to improve people’s lives as early as possible after conflict ends, that substantially increases the chances for sustainable peace — and reduces the risk of relapse into conflict.

While building peace is primarily the responsibility of national actors, the international community, led by the United Nations, can play a critical role.

And there have been successes. For example, after the signing of the Lome peace agreement in 1999 and the arrival of a UN peacekeeping mission, Sierra Leone maintained annual growth rates of between six and ten per cent until the onset of the current  recession. In 2007 the country also experienced its first democratic change of power since the civil war after generally peaceful elections.

Even so, Sierra Leone experienced politically motivated violence  in its capital, Freetown, in March this year. This highlighted the fragilities in, and the need for ongoing support for, the peace process there. UNDP is working with the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, assisting dialogue among the political parties, and is helping to lay the foundations for longer term peace and development. 

I saw examples of similar recovery work for myself on my first visit to Africa as Administrator. In Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was briefed on how we help to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate former fighters; assist communities to rebuild their livelihoods; support employment generation; and promote the rule of law.

UNDP and other parts of the UN system are also active in helping to tackle sexual and gender-based violence, which causes so much devastation, destruction, trauma, and despair.

Ignoring sexual violence in conflict perpetuates a culture of impunity, undermining prospects for peacebuilding and development.

There is now significant international support for and momentum behind finding solutions to the scourge of sexual violence during and in the aftermath of armed conflict. Alas, for far too many women, war does not end when a peace agreement is reached.

Last year the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, which states that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.”  And just last month the Security Council adopted Resolution 1888 on sexual violence in armed conflict, put forward by the United States, which affirms that effective steps to prevent and respond to such acts “can significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The UN is now on a mission to provide justice and security for women, involve women in peace processes, and promote women as leaders of recovery after conflict.

It is also vital to build the institutions, dialogue, and capacities which lead to the peaceful resolution of conflict and tensions within societies.

The countries at the top of the Global Peace Index are replete with institutions, capacities, and processes - formal and informal, modern and traditional, judicial and restorative, multi-sectoral and conflict-specific - through which emerging tensions and ongoing conflicts are mediated, adjudicated, and reconciled. They allow for the rule of law, civic order, and social relations to be constructively maintained.

One study in India found that the higher the number of cross-religious or cross-ethnic fora and associations which bring people together across various divides on issues of common concern, the less likely a community or society is to be goaded into violence.

UNDP takes such preventive work very seriously. In the two years prior to the appalling post-election violence in Kenya, UNDP had provided support to local peace committees in parts of the country. When violence erupted, some of the well-established committees managed to keep their localities relatively calm.

Developing these types of capacities for peace also includes the promotion of accountable and transparent governments which are inclusive and responsive to the needs of their citizens.

That is why, as part of its development mission, UNDP works with its partners to strengthen human rights and electoral institutions; support the functioning of parliaments; and expand access to the opportunities and protection provided by the law.

Our work on peace and security is also becoming broader than just a focus on war and conflict. It is also moving to address the serious issue of armed violence more generally.

In the last three decades, the world has seen a decline in inter-state conflicts. The number of civil wars decreased by half between 1992 and 2003 – although it has increased somewhat since. But we are also witnessing a blurring of the line between conflict and crime.  The Global Peace Index recognizes this, and has as one of its indicators the level of violent crime in a society.

It has been estimated that, in recent years, every day armed violence has killed more than 2,000 people, most of whom were civilians. Armed violence across our world affects the lives and security of hundreds of thousands of people and threatens peace and security.  Globally, the economic losses caused by criminal violence have been calculated to be as high as $163 billion per year.

In many non-conflict developing countries, violent crime, including sexual and gender-based violence, results in homicide rates which can even be higher than those in countries which are still formally ‘at war’. 

Much of this armed violence is random, unreported, and never dealt with by the authorities. Yet it perpetrates fear and terror in society.   The UN Secretary-General has recently released a report on armed violence and development which will be debated in the General Assembly later this year. It highlights how the incidence of armed violence undermines a country’s development prospects.  

UNDP, together with a number of the UN’s Member States from all regions, has taken the lead in developing international policy in this area. We support the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, which was adopted in 2006 and now has 108 signatories. 

We should also be clear that while peace matters for development, development matters for peace.

Nine years ago I was one of those world leaders who travelled to the General Assembly in New York and signed the Millennium Declaration. It was a blueprint for a better tomorrow for billions of people, prioritizing efforts to reduce poverty and hunger, empower women, increase access to essential services like education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and forge strong global partnerships for development.

There are barely six years left now until the target date for meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals, and their achievement is more vital than ever.

Yet, worldwide, the number of people who will live in extreme poverty this year is now estimated to be 55 to 90 million higher than was forecast before the recession.
The net overall effect of the recent experiences of increased food and fuel prices was to push as many as 200 million more people into extreme poverty between 2005 and 2008.  That was before the global recession hit developing countries.

The 2009 Global Peace Index suggests that the world has become slightly less peaceful in the past year. This may reflect the consequences of the global economic recession, and of the increases in food and fuel prices in the first half of 2008. These shocks were accompanied by riots and instability in several countries.

More generally, profound economic crisis in vulnerable countries can extend into a humanitarian crisis, and at worst precipitate instability and conflict.

This underscores the importance of providing timely support to countries now, to help them navigate through the crisis and maintain traction on meeting development goals.

Combined with poor governance and existing ethnic divisions, climate-induced stresses may also tip fragile states towards socio-economic and political collapse. Some have suggested, for example, that the conflict in Darfur has been in part driven by environmental degradation, to which climate change has contributed.

Making sure that a climate deal is reached, and that it is a deal for development too, is therefore of huge importance. It would lead to reductions in emissions; the development of less carbon-intensive production and consumption processes; and setting the world's poorer countries on inclusive and sustainable pathways out of poverty.

I believe that long term development work is essential for building a sustainable peace. It seeks to strengthen those national and local capacities which will make countries more resilient to shocks whatever their form; and better able to achieve their overall development goals in a sustainable manner.

If stakeholders in development can work together effectively, we can help promote virtuous circles whereby peace contributes to development, and development supports the advancement of peace and stability.

The more seeds of peace which can be sown today, the more we will be able to jointly tackle the problems of the future.

Let us use this symposium to help make that a reality.

Thank you.