15 February 2006

A resolution on 20 December 2005 by the General Assembly was described by its President as historic. It certainly has a history. A proposal to establish a mechanism that aims to prevent countries just out of conflict from falling back into it was indeed part of reform proposals proposed by Secretary General Kofi Annan and the 2005 World Summit. Yet it was also a central theme of "Agenda for Peace" submitted by Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Ghali in 1992. At the time it was an outcome of a Security Council Summit chaired by Britain and attended by U.S. 41st President Bush, Russian President Yeltsin, French President Mitterand and Chinese leaders as well as leaders of states of non-permanent members including the colourful and resilient King Hassan of Morocco.

"Agenda for Peace" which was produced in about forty languages, highlighted the peacebuilding theme using almost exactly the terms used in the 2005 proposals about the need to create in countries emerging from conflict a vested interest in the future of peace. That for example was the initial attempt in Eritrea -- after 30 years of conflict -- to create its peaceful vested interest with Ethiopia and other neighbors.

Regrettably, that first attempt was scuttled by U.N. Secretariat itself to placate forces that denounced peacebuilding.

Thirteen years later, in a rehashed presentation, it took the form of establishing a 31 member Peacebuilding Commission -- the same peacebuilding that was decried earlier as an intrusion by "Boostros Boootros" Ghali.

"The word, historic, is often over-used, but in this case, I have no doubt that it is merited," the President of the 60th General Assembly, Jan Eliasson of Sweden, said in introducing the resolution. "This resolution would, for the first time in the history of the United Nations, create a mechanism which ensures that for countries emerging from conflict, post-conflict does not mean post-engagement of the international community," he said.

Around 50 per cent of the conflicts of the past 20 years have recurred within five years of peace agreements, Mr. Eliasson added at a press conference after the resolutions' adoption.

"When the cameras disappear, the attention also disappears and five years later you pay an enormously heavy price, and people pay a very heavy price. This is what we are trying to repair when we fill this institutional gap," he said.

The resolutions defined the new Commission as an intergovernmental advisory body that will make sure attention is maintained on the countries in question, setting its agenda at the request of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Secretary General, or Member States on the "verge of lapsing or relapsing into conflict." The Commission will act only by consensus, proposing integrated strategies for stabilization, economic recovery and development, and providing recommendations for improving the coordination of the U.N. system in those efforts. Its membership will consist of seven Security Council members, including permanent members, selected by the Council; seven members of ECOSOC elected from regional groups, five top contributors to U.N. budgets, funds, programmes and agencies; and five top providers of military personnel and civilian police to United Nations missions. The General Assembly would elect seven additional members, with special consideration for States that have experienced post-conflict recovery.

In the usual tradition, Mr. Eliasson paid tribute to Secretary General Kofi Annan who, in turn, paid tribute to Mr. Eliasson.

The main point to be made is not about the authorship of the proposal -- whether it was Dr. Boutros-Ghali or Mr. Kofi Annan. It is that the intergovernmental international community moves exceedingly slow but it eventually moves forward. Political considerations, national interests and personal egos diverge and converge with excellent ideas falling by the wayside and others making it through. A tribute is well-deserved for those who made the Peacemaking proposal happen. Now, the real hard work will have to start.