Istanbul Mediation Conference

Statement delivered by Asako Okai at the Istanbul Mediation Conference, 'Peace Mediation in the New Normal' #UN75

September 17, 2020

Your Excellency Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey; Distinguished delegates; dear colleagues and friends; Ladies and Gentlemen.

I extend my sincere thanks to the Government of Turkey for continuing to convene and host this important dialogue. It is a great pleasure to take part in the meaningful discussion.

I also acknowledge the excellent cooperation and partnership between Turkey and the UN, including UNDP, which was considerably strengthened through UNDP’s regional presence and Regional Hub established in Istanbul since 2014.

The initial start of the SDG “Decade of Action” is concerning to say the least.

COVID is one of the biggest disruptors of human security, governance, social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Even before the COVID crisis, many of the SDG indicators were rolling back. Meeting the SDGs by 2030 was already seen as a challenge, especially in fragile and conflict-affected states with only 18% on track to meet the SDGs.

UNDP is entrusted as the technical lead role for the UN’s socio-economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the country-level. Our analysis gained through the Socio-economic Assessments, particularly on Pillar 5 focusing on social cohesion and community resilience, as well as the trends observed through our network of UNDP Country Offices and partners on the ground, point at a stark reality:

First, the pandemic failed to halt violent conflict despite the Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire, exacerbating existing risks to fragility, conflict and violence across communities and borders. Peacebuilding requires one-on-one interaction for social cohesion, consensus building and dialogue. Social distancing disrupted this critical process.

Second, the social contract between the state and its people is seeing further erosion. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, grievances, dismay, frustration was already spilling over into the street. Uneven COVID-19 responses in many places, further erodes trust in government and service institutions – just at a time when trust is most critical.

Third, the spread of the virus exposed deep inequality and key social fissures in societies − weakening social cohesion. We observed increases in discrimination, increases in hate speech and a few countries restricting freedom of expression.

What to do with this sobering new normal?

I would say, we must redouble our efforts to build peaceful and resilient institutions and societies. We need to make the renewed pursuit of peace a pathway beyond recovery from the COVID-19 crisis towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as our compass.

At the heart of the response are societies’ own capacities for preventing and addressing contested issues − through dialogue and mediation. Achieving and sustaining peace requires a capacity to build consensus and reach peaceful solutions across lines of division.

In the UN framework, we adapted our capacities and toolboxes to the COVID-19 crisis, including:

·         UNDP’s recently published Social Cohesion and Insider Mediation programmatic guidance notes, and governance programming tools were adapted to be useful in the crisis response. Our 90 mediators from 36 countries that were trained on insider mediation continue to be engaged during the COVID-19 response;

·         Also, together with the UN Peacebuilding Support Office, we led the finalization of the Conflict Sensitivity and Sustaining Peace guidance note  – which we accelerated specifically to help UN Country Teams ensure conflict-sensitive programming in their respective COVID-19 responses; and

·         These resources are effectively used by our Peace and Development Advisors currently deployed in nearly 60 countries.

Enabling national and local actors to continue their work at the time of COVID-19 is vitally important. Let me provide some examples:

·         In Ukraine, UNDP uses data from the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index to maintain active dialogue among the conflict-affected communities along the “contact line” in eastern part of the country with the goal of maintaining and promoting civic engagement during the times of social distancing and lock down; and

·         In Nepal, UNDP is supporting the government in using local FM radios to reach out to the populations who are hard to reach, mostly ethnic minorities and historically marginalized, and to communicate accurate and reliable information on its COVID-19 response plans and to build overall trust.

The impact on national and local conditions requires locally led interventions delivered through local mediators, local leaders, including from civil society, faith leaders, women, as well as youth are all key to the COVID-19 response. It is urgent to build the resilience of these actors and institutions to cope, manage and recover from shocks and stress, recognizing the multi dimensionality of these stressors.

·         In the Philippines, UNDP initiated a regional women’s insider mediator platform, aimed at strengthening the capacity of local women peace mediators to contribute to National Action Plans, as well as policy and programming on conflict prevention and prevention of violent extremism. These women peacebuilders, now deemed as essential workers in Mindano, continue to build peace and engage communities safely to inform the COVID-19 plans and response supported by the government.

To conclude, national ownership, strengthening inclusive institutions and governance must be at the heart of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to build forward better. A lesson already learned is that fragile and conflict-affected countries that prioritize core government functions are more successful in their transitions toward peace and development.

Our joint advocacy and work for prevention and peace must continue with a sense of urgency. Let us all commit to invest in peace to turn the greatest reversal of human development into a historic leap forward.

Thank you.