Skip to main content

National statements

Maintenance of International Peace and Security: War, its Lessons, and the Search for a Permanent Peace

Thematic issues

  • Accountability
  • Central Africa
  • Central African Republic
  • Commission of inquiry
  • Conflict Prevention
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • Justice
  • Mali
  • Peacebuilding
  • Regional Organisations
  • Rule of Law
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Women


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Mr President,

Thank you to Jordan for the boldness in convening this debate – a challenging subject for all Member States.

Conflict prevention is, of course, why the United Nations exists. But 69 years after the San Francisco Conference, we are still struggling "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". We witness the daily devastation in Syria, in South Sudan, in the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, and that objective seems as distant as ever.

Mr President,

In bringing us to today's debate, you have asked how our understanding of history can help prevent, rather than feed, further conflict, and how the Council can help to foster that understanding. These are crucial questions for the Council as we work to prevent conflict between states, and conflict within states.

To prevent conflict, we obviously must first understand what triggers and drives it. We must be able to recognize the warning signs. And we must recall the particular vulnerability of countries that have already experienced conflict. Between 1945 and 2009 more than half of all countries that suffered from civil war relapsed into conflict. Too often, history appears to be destiny.

National mechanisms will usually be best placed to establish what led to conflict, and what happened during it. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions can provide an authoritative account of events that led to or occurred during conflict, and so serve as a crucial bulwark against those who might seek to use and abuse history in order to foment further conflict. The Security Council should provide strong support to these mechanisms, as it did in Resolution 2100 in relation to Mali. Other parts of the UN system, including the Department of Political Affairs and the Peacebuilding Commission and the Fund should similarly support and encourage truth and reconciliation processes.

Accountability processes can also play an important role in helping to uncover the truth. Justice that is seen to be legitimate can help a society move past the pain of its past by holding perpetrators to account and giving victims a voice. Criminal courts – whether national or international -can, through their findings, confer legitimacy on otherwise contestable facts, making it more difficult for societies to deny past wrongs. There must be accountability for perpetrators of serious crimes regardless of affiliation: "victor's justice" is short-lived and ultimately destructive. One of the UN's formative achievements has been the spread of universal rights as an accepted norm – the idea that we all have obligations regardless of our relative power over others. The Council must continue to emphasise this.

The Security Council should also make full use of the tools at its disposal – inherently imperfect though they are. Commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions established by the Council under Article 34 of the Charter have proven useful mechanisms. The Council's recent decision, in adopting Resolution 2127, to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the Central African Republic is an essential part of addressing that conflict. Of course, other UN organs can also play a role – the Commission of Inquiry on Syria authorised by the Human Rights Council has played a persuasive role in establishing the terrible facts of that conflict.

Regional organisations can also play a key role. The AU's recent decision to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate events surrounding the current conflict in South Sudan is an example. In Australia's own region, ASEAN is working with the UN to document lessons learned through ASEAN's good offices, mediation and facilitation roles, and sharing experiences on the effective conduct of peace processes and negotiations.

All of these tools can assist societies to understand events that led to, and occurred during, conflict. Inclusive and transparent processes can help to ensure different perspectives and grievances are heard and acknowledged, and so build a picture of the broad history of a conflict. Incorporating women's voices in these processes is fundamental. Nurturing open and receptive education is essential.

But we must be realistic about the prospects for ultimately arriving at a "shared history". Often no single history of a conflict, or single understanding of events will be achievable – or necessarily even desirable. Differing interpretations of events are inevitable. But the facts about those events should be inescapable. We must make every effort to establish those facts, and to record and document testimony. Then we should be able to ensure that the victors or the powerful alone do not dictate the history. The UN has an instrumental role in this, one that can often be decisive. It is a role we should embrace seriously in our work.

Of course, it is not enough simply to advocate reconciliation and shared historical understanding. Practical efforts must also be made to ensure that differences cannot be exploited to spark further conflict. Central to that endeavour is ensuring that a post-conflict society is able to effectively mediate difference and address grievances.

This is where genuine – long-term – peace-building comes in – with its emphasis on the rule of law, observance of human rights, access to effective judicial or other institutions, and participatory democratic governance. The result – hopefully – will be institutional legitimacy and social cohesion. Ultimately, it is about the construction of inclusive societies where difference – whether ethnic, racial, religious, political or communal – is accommodated, and state protection is extended to all individuals. Where recourse to violence and reversion to conflict is not only unacceptable, but unthinkable. Only then will countries that have been devastated by conflict be able to transcend their history.

Thank you Mr President.

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
Back to top