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The Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

A more secure continent

African perspectives on the UN high-level panel report, A more secure world: Our shared responsibility

Seminar report, 23-24 April 2005

The Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR)

Posted with permission of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, University of Cape Town:
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Executive Summary

A more secure continent The Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) cohosted a policy advisory group meeting of about 40 policymakers, academics and civil society activists at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West, Cape Town, on 23 and 24 April 2005. The objective of the meeting was to consider African perspectives on the United Nations’ (UN) High-Level Panel report on Threats, Challenges and Change, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, which was submitted to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in December 2004. This meeting sought critically to examine the report’s recommendations, to devise strategies for disseminating African perspectives and recommendations to the UN community, and to consider how best to raise awareness of the report on the continent.

Prompted by the political divisions created as a result of the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq which was launched without UN authorisation, the UN Secretary-General announced plans to establish a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. This High-Level Panel was inaugurated in November 2003. At the time, the Secretary-General noted that “the events of the past year have exposed deep divisions among members of the UN on fundamental questions of policy and principle”. It was stated that the 16-member High-Level Panel was created to ensure that the UN remains capable of fulfilling its primary purpose as enshrined in Article I of its Charter, “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”. Forty-three High-Level Panel meetings and regional consultations were held globally and the final report was submitted to the UN Secretary-General in December 2004. The main focus of the High-Level Panel was the assessment of present and future security threats with the intention of developing collective strategies to confront them.

The Panel specifically examined six key areas:
  • Civil wars and large-scale violence;
  • Inter-state threats and the use of force;
  • Socio-economic issues, including poverty and HIV/AIDS;
  • Weapons of mass destruction;
  • International terrorism; and
  • International crime.
The High-Level Panel report recommends establishing new rules for United Nations military intervention, enlarging the organisation’s Security Council from 15 to 24 members, and creating a new Peacebuilding Commission to strengthen post-war reconstruction in war-torn societies. The report also argued that in order adequately to address global security threats, there was a need to recognise not only the “hard” threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but also “soft” threats triggered by socio-economic problems such as poverty and disease. The report thus argued that collective security necessitated addressing the security concerns of the entire global community through countering terrorism, resolving wars between and within states and addressing developmental concerns.

The Cape Town policy seminar was attended by a number of leading African figures including Mary Chinery-Hesse, one of the three African members of the High-Level Panel; James Jonah and Francis Deng, former UN Under-secretaries-General; General Henry Anyidoho, former UN Deputy Force Commander in Rwanda; and Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane. The policy advisory group’s aim was to elicit African perspectives on the issues and recommendations raised by the UN High-Level Panel report in order to provide policy recommendations based clearly on the continent’s priority areas. During discussion at the Cape Town meeting, a clear need was expressed for an articulation of African responses to the Panel report. While the acceptance of the relationship between non-traditional security issues such as poverty and health, and collective international peace and security was applauded, it was felt that African concerns must be raised further to impact on future UN policy and the reform of the world body.

It was agreed that if any of the High-Level Panel recommendations are to be implemented, consensus needs to be forged between the rich North and the global South on issues of common interest. To date, many African leaders had not been sufficiently involved in the High-Level Panel process. This made it difficult for African delegations at the UN in New York to adopt clear positions, and allowed the High-Level Panel debates to be dominated by western concerns. It was argued that as a result of this, the report’s recommendations were geared towards acceptability by western countries and this often jeopardised the interests of smaller states, particularly in Africa. Control of decision-making within the UN has become increasingly skewed towards western powers and there was thus a clear need to promote and encourage a unified continental approach to African interests. This necessitated a clear identification and articulation of Africa’s concerns, needs and priorities. Moreover, there is a need to articulate clear definitions for Africa of key terms such as security, peace and development.

The High-Level Panel report itself was seen by some as appeasing western interests in several key areas, most notably over suggestions for reform of the UN’s Security Council and the decision not to extend the veto to new Council members. The strategic issues that were raised in the report over reform of, and the UN’s relationship with, regional organisations attracted considerable debate. Discussion emphasised that reform should not simply aim to achieve greater African representation on the Security Council but is critical considering the extent of UN peacekeeping initiatives on the continent. It was noted that the UN High-Level Panel’s attention on Security Council reform was at the expense of focussing on the need to strengthen the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Debate considered developing a common African approach and it was noted that, while Africa should lobby for UN Security Council reform, it must also strengthen and utilise the continent’s representation within the UN secretariat in New York.

Though the High-Level Panel report acknowledged the issue of relations between African regional organisations and the UN, the report failed to live up to the expectations of many Africans who had hoped that this issue would enjoy more prominence. The necessity to strengthen the role of the UN in keeping Africa’s peace and promoting economic development on the continent was deemed critical and worthy of greater commitment.

The report’s drive to legitimise “humanitarian” interventions was also debated, particularly the adoption of the principles of the “responsibility to protect”. This argued that, if governments are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens from serious harm, then the international community has a duty to protect them. The report proposed the creation of a stronger human rights mechanism, the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission, and the creation of standby reserves of peacekeepers and civilian police in order to help prevent future human rights abuses. It was noted, however, that such interventions could potentially allow powerful members of the UN’s Security Council to intervene in countries without a clear legal mandate. Participants at the Cape Town meeting recommended that international rules to govern the use of force should be balanced and equitable, echoing the African Union’s view that military interventions should comply with the provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter which authorises the use of force only in cases of legitimate self-defence.

The Peacebuilding Commission has won the widest support among UN member states, and many feel that it may be one of the very few High-Level Panel recommendations that will be implemented in the end. Due to pressure from developing countries, the Commission will focus largely on post-conflict reconstruction and not on conflict prevention. The Commission’s intention is to address the “gaping hole” in the UN system created by the lack of sufficient mechanisms to assist transitions from war to peace. The Commission would engage the UN Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as the participation of international financial institutions. Many Africans are, however, sceptical about the feasibility of its mandate and question whether the resources required for post-conflict reconstruction in Africa will be forthcoming.

Discussion by the policy advisory group on definitions of security threats as outlined in the High-Level Panel report centred on what signified “threats” in Africa and what constituted issues of collective security. It was argued that while terrorism was seen as a direct threat in the West, in Africa, poverty, disease - in particular HIV/AIDS - and inter and intra-state conflicts were more pressing threats to the region. Participants noted that, while the High-Level Panel report recommends the creation of new institutions and reforms to address “hard” threats such as terrorism, it does not create any obligations for governments to fulfil their commitments to combating “soft” threats such as poverty and disease.

Within an inequitable international system, a more balanced approach to international security was thus considered necessary. In order to meet the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) aim of halving global poverty by 2015, donor governments must meet the target of contributing 0.7 percent of their gross national income towards development assistance; they must cancel external debts; and substantially reduce pernicious agricultural subsidies and other trade barriers. It was argued that the UN was incapable of solving all the problems faced by Africa and, therefore, it was important to identify what the UN can realistically do for the continent. Local solutions to peacekeeping and peacebuilding were preferable but there nevertheless remains a need to strengthen the role of the UN in keeping Africa’s peace and promoting economic development in the region. The necessity to address global security challenges through global responses requires the recognition that African concerns are the world’s concerns.

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