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National statements

Prevention of Conflicts in Africa: Addressing Root Causes

Thematic issues

  • Climate
  • Conflict Prevention
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Human Rights
  • Impunity
  • Justice
  • Kenya
  • Mali
  • Natural Resources
  • Peace and Security
  • Regional Organisations
  • Rule of Law
  • Sahel
  • Small arms
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Terrorism
  • Timor-Leste
  • Women

UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

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

Thank you, Madam President

We welcome this initiative by Rwanda and your presence today, when we mark the terrible experience of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda knows searingly the cost of all of our failure to prevent conflict.

Madam President

The UN Charter defines in its opening lines the purpose of this organisation: "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". The prevention of conflict was the primordial reason we created the UN. Yet typically we spend our time responding to situations in which populations are already caught up in the misery of conflict.

There is never any question that prevention is better than cure. Prevention can save countless lives and untold trauma and grief. It can also avoid enduring economic disadvantage and erosion of development gains. According to the 2011 World Development Report, a civil war on average can cost the equivalent of up to 30 years of missing GDP growth. No society in conflict has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal (MDG).

There are usually regional spillovers – countries lose an estimated 0.7 per cent of their annual GDP for each neighbour involved in civil war. Forty-two million people are displaced today as a result of conflict, violence or human rights abuses. We know that the chance of relapse is high: 90 per cent of all civil wars in the 21st Century occurred in countries that already had a civil war in the previous thirty years.

We are focused today on addressing root causes of conflict in Africa. These causes are, of course, varied and complex, reflecting the diversity and complexity of the continent. But there are common themes, such as historical legacies, challenges with governance and the rule of law, economic and social marginalisation; and violations of human rights.

Addressing such issues requires strong national ownership, leadership and political will, often with regional and international support. I would like to focus in particular on three issues.

First, institution-building. The links between strong and trusted state institutions, good governance, development and conflict prevention are well understood.

An example from our region illustrates these links. In Timor-Leste in 2006, four years after independence, violence erupted between the military and police, causing further deaths and massive internal displacement. Yet only two year later, Timor-Leste was able to withstand the shock of dual assassination attempts against the President and Prime Minister by rebel elements of the security services without further deterioration in the security situation. Over those two intervening years, Timor-Leste had developed stronger institutions, able to offer alternative "tools" to violence and handle the shock: Parliament, the security services, under civilian oversight, and the justice institutions all played their roles.

The UN and international partners played supporting roles, in particular through the good offices of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. But perhaps their main contribution was the work that had already been done to support the development of Timor's institutions. I should highlight in particular the importance of professional and trusted security institutions, under strong civilian oversight – a key gap in a range of situations the Council is grappling with today, including Guinea-Bissau and Mali. African countries should be encouraged in their efforts to institute security sector reform.

Second, economic opportunities. The nexus between security and development is obvious. We must work to create – and narrow the gap of access to – economic opportunities, particularly for youth, women and other marginalised groups.

Youth unemployment – and the active participation of youth in societies – merits special attention. Africa is often described as a young continent, with over 60 per cent of the population under 30 years of age. These youth are an amazing resource, but also a potential area of risk – militant and extremist groups often target disenfranchised and disaffected youth, for example.

Third – and closely related to the second – is natural resource management. Natural resources have frequently been a source of conflict, but can equally present a decisive opportunity for growth.

Australia is sharing its own expertise and experience through our Mining for Development Initiative to support African countries to maximise the economic benefits from their extractive sectors in a regulated and sustainable manner – which returns revenue to the state. Joint development across borders can often be effective. We are pleased to host the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Global Conference in Sydney in May.

Madam President

In addition to addressing root causes, we must of course also want to minimise the impact of global challenges that exacerbate conflict – issues such as transnational crime, trafficking and terrorism.

I would like to mention two such multipliers

First, small arms and light weapons, the "weapons of mass destruction" in Africa. Irresponsibly and illegally traded, these fuel Africa's conflicts. Adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) two weeks ago was an historic step towards controlling the proliferation of such weapons and their ammunition. When implemented, the treaty will have a profound preventive effect. We must see through its robust implementation, by our own governments and by assisting other States.

Second, climate change. Like Australia's neighbours in the Pacific, climate change is affecting Africa disproportionately, increasing competition for scarce resources such as food and water. Effective mitigation at the national and international levels must be our first line of defence – the UNFCCC is key in this. But we need to utilise all the tools at our disposal to minimise threats. This means bolstering our disaster risk reduction efforts, improving early warning and response capacities, strengthening resource management and building community resilience. The Sahel region is experiencing a "perfect storm" of these conflict multipliers. We look forward to the long-awaited UN integrated regional strategy for the region.

Madam President

I must highlight the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) during this discussion, convened by Rwanda 19 years on from the Rwandan genocide. Protection from atrocities – which are all too often an abhorrent feature of conflict – is not only a reason to strive to avoid conflict, but is itself part of conflict prevention.

Likewise, combating impunity for the most serious crimes, including through instruments such as the International Criminal Court – a lynchpin of the international criminal justice system – is essential. This has the capacity to deter would-be perpetrators from committing serious crimes that can entrench conflicts. Criminal processes also minimise the opportunities for perpetrators to re-engage in violence and defuse the motivation of victims to seek vengeance, and thereby play an important role in preventing the occurrence of future crimes.

Madam President I will now turn to the role of the African Union and other regional and sub-regional organisations. Such bodies can have unique comparative advantages in addressing root causes of conflict – not least because these often transcend state boundaries and have strong regional dimensions.

As Ambassador Tekeda Alemu – on behalf of the AU Chair – has said this morning, the African Union has made steady progress in building transformative peace and security architecture. The African Union Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) and the AU Peace and Security Department are firmly established. These are complemented by the strategic use of representatives and AU missions as demonstrated by the recent appointment of Special Representatives of the AU Commission Chairperson, including to Somalia and to the Great Lakes; the appointment of high-level mediators, including former Presidents Mbeki and Chissano; and the dispatch of fact-finding missions, for instance, the joint pre-election observer mission to Kenya.

I would also like to commend the African Peer Review Mechanism as an African-driven initiative allowing frank messages on governance.

The AU conflict prevention mechanisms are still evolving and there is a need to support their development. We would welcome for example: • Accelerated efforts towards full operationalisation of the Continental Early Warning System and its integration with sub-regional and national early warning systems. • Increased implementation of existing commitments, for example ratification by AU Member States of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. • Periodic review of peace and security mechanisms on the continent with relevant institutions, think-tanks, civil society and stakeholders. • A Strengthening of the inter-relationships between the Continental Early Warning System, the Panel of the Wise, and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are also vital to the continental peace and security architecture. Continued strengthening of the cooperation between the AU and the RECs will ensure that conflict prevention is addressed in a way that is responsive to the local context. The Panel of the Wise could support this process by documenting best practices.

African Union – UN cooperation on conflict prevention has been growing. Its impact has been demonstrated, for example, in efforts to avoid an outbreak of renewed hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan last year, with the Council supporting the AU's roadmap through Resolution 2046. However, this cooperation has often been crisis-driven. Efforts to move beyond a reactive approach have been helped by more institutionalised meetings and dialogues – at the working level, through the Joint Task Force and through annual Security Council and AU PSC meetings. We would suggest that we take up conflict prevention in Africa at the next meeting of these two bodies, in line with Resolution 2033.

In concluding, we must acknowledge that the Council itself is often crisis-driven. We should make better use of preventive tools including 'horizon-scanning' and increased responsiveness to early warning signs. We should lend our full support to the important preventive work of UN regional offices. We also welcome Rwanda's intention to focus on root causes in the Council's Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa.

While many of these root causes go beyond the Council's direct purview, the Council still needs to be focused on them and their consequences. The cost – in human suffering, wasted resources and lost opportunity self-evidently speaks to why.

Thank you.

(Check against delivery)

Last Updated: 10 June 2015
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