In what United Nations officials hailed as an historic milestone in global efforts to help countries avert a relapse into bloodshed after emerging from conflict, the first meeting of the newly created Peacebuilding Commission was held today at UN Headquarters in New York.
“There are few issues on which there is greater consensus, or higher expectations, than on the responsibility of the United Nations to help States and societies recover from the devastation of war,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared as the Commission’s Organizational Committee began its inaugural session.
“The Commission represents a symbol of both hope and perseverance: hope for the many millions of people throughout the world who are striving to keep their societies on the fragile road to peace; and perseverance, because you have overcome considerable difficulties to get this new and vital endeavour up and running.”
Speaking to reporters following today’s meeting, the Secretary-General called today “an important day for the Organization.”
Echoing this view, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden proclaimed: “This week we are writing history in the United Nations.” In his address to the Committee, he saw its meeting as part of a continuum on the road to reform. “Last Monday, we opened the first meeting of the new Human Rights Council. Today, we are here to inaugurate the Peacebuilding Commission,” he noted.
“The United Nations has been successful in ending wars; building sustainable peace has proved much more difficult,” Mr. Eliasson added, citing recent events in Timor-Leste as a reminder of “the need for sustained attention.”
Burundi and Sierra Leone, two countries that have made much progress in emerging from devastating civil conflicts but which continue to face great political and economic challenges, are the first to be referred to the Commission for attention, officials said. Last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Carolyn McAskie, who until recently was his top envoy to Burundi, as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.
The Commission’s Organizational Committee, made up of Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Poland, Brazil and Belgium, is also tasked with setting up the new body’s procedures and working methods.
Elected chairman today was Gaspar Martins, the Ambassador of Angola, a once war-ravaged country where the United Nations helped to foster stability.
“Peacebuilding is about liberating people from the conflict trap and laying the foundation for sustainable peace and development,” he told those present. “As we embark on this integrated and innovative approach, let us not forget that we will be judged not by the eloquence of our statements but by the concrete actions we help set in motion in order to meet the expectations of those trapped in conflict.”
Following the inaugural meeting, Ambassador Martins joined Mr. Eliasson as well as Foreign Minister Stig Moller of Denmark, current President of the Security Council, and Ambassador Ali Hachani of Tunisia, President of the Economic and Social Council, to welcome the beginning of the Peacebuilding Commission’s work.
“For peace-building we really mean to pull our efforts together,” Mr. Martins told the press on behalf of all the bodies represented, “to bring about something which can make a difference, not so much here, in New York, but to make a difference right there on the ground.”
The notion of a Peacebuilding Commission was first proposed in 2004 by the Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Threats Challenges and Change. In his 2005 report In Larger Freedom, the Secretary-General envisioned the Commission as an intergovernmental advisory body, which could marshal resources at the disposal of the international community to advise and propose strategies for post-conflict recovery, focusing attention on reconstruction, institution-building and sustainable development, in countries emerging from conflict.
Later endorsed by the 2005 World Summit, the Commission will lay the groundwork for the creation of a unified strategy for dealing with the specific problems of each country emerging from conflict. Its mandate requires that members of the Commission act only by consensus, proposing integrated strategies for stabilization, economic recovery and development.
The Peacebuilding Commission’s membership includes seven members of the Security Council, including its five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States); seven States from the Economic and Social Council, elected from regional groups; five top contributors to the UN budget; and five top providers of military personnel and civilian police to UN missions. The General Assembly elected seven additional members, giving special consideration to States that have experienced post-conflict recovery.