Convening its first 2019 meeting, the Peacebuilding Commission today elected Guillermo Fernández de Soto Valderrama (Colombia) as Chair of its thirteenth session, while also adopting a work plan aimed at expanding the Commission’s work and building synergies both within and beyond the United Nations system.
Elected as Vice-Chairs were the representatives of Egypt and Romania.
At the meeting’s outset, the Commission adopted, without a vote, the report on its twelfth session (document PBC/12/OC/L.1), presented by outgoing Chair Ion Jinga (Romania), who expressed his gratitude for having assumed the mantle at exciting time. The Commission has continued to diversify its work methods and address cross-cutting challenges. He cited as one such example the 2018 joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on “Linkages between Climate Change and the Challenges to Peacebuilding and sustaining peace in the Sahel”, which explored ways to enhance Sahelian countries’ resilience.
Mr. Fernández de Soto Valderrama said Colombia’s experience in peacebuilding, and support for the principle of national ownership, will guide his efforts to ensure that 2019 is a successful year. Laying out priorities, he drew attention to the Commission’s role as a bridge, bringing together the General Assembly, Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, and encouraged members to further explore those synergies and create more consistency.
He also pointed to the Commission’s broadened role as an adviser to the Security Council and the improved relevance and quality of its guidance. A stronger advisory role is particularly important in the creation, assessment and downsizing of peacekeeping operations, he said, recalling that in June, Colombia took part in a discussion with members of both bodies on that issue.
The Commission’s value is also clear when considering regional situations, he said. Noting that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) had recently closed, he said the priority now is to help Liberia carry out its peacebuilding plans and that there will be a dialogue on its national development strategy. In such situations, involving a range of interested parties, the Commission can encourage a consistent, coordinated focus on peacebuilding. Mr. de Soto said he will seek to ensure it plays a constructive role in advancing the Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, and to strengthen the idea that peacebuilding is universal, he will visit the Organization of American States to discuss areas of potential cooperation.
On the issue of partnerships, he advocated more cooperation with the World Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union. The Commission’s relationship with the African Union Peace and Security Council should continue to focus on conflict prevention, good governance, human rights and national reconciliation.
Also important are the synergies between the Commission and Peacebuilding Fund, he said, recalling that Colombia in 2017 shared its experience with the Commission and delivered a message on the need for more effective coordination with recipient countries. While fully respecting the Fund’s decision-making, he welcomed the trend towards greater coordination. In terms of best practices, the Commission has held various consultations — sharing the experiences of Kyrgyzstan, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Colombia — efforts he intends to broaden by following up with countries that had approached the Commission years ago.
With the 2020 review of the peacebuilding architecture also on the horizon, he said he will hold informal consultations with Member States on their expectations and maintain ongoing discussions with the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council. “We have ambitious, challenging tasks before us,” he said, requesting ideas and suggestions from Member States, which he will present in a draft work programme for the year.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, agreed on the need for stronger synergies between the Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund. At a time when Member States are calling for more coherence at the United Nations, and the Secretary-General is working to improve efficiency, there is a more compelling argument to coordinate efforts by the Fund and the Commission — not only in updating Member States on what the Fund does but exploring how the Commission can better inform the Fund’s decisions.
In such work, he underscored the need for transparency and maintaining the Fund’s independence, noting that the first informal meeting between the Commission’s Chair and Vice-Chairs and the Fund’s Advisory Group will be held this week. Discussing broader United Nations reforms, he said that on 1 January, the Peacebuilding Support Office merged with the Department of Political Affairs, creating the new Department of Political and Peacekeeping Affairs. His Office is working to identify a time for the new Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs to hear from the Commission on its priorities.
He went on to stress that the Peacebuilding Fund now provides support to Member States before, during and after conflict, encouraging nationally-led initiatives with a focus on people — placing “flesh and content” squarely on the sustaining peace agenda. The reforms aim to ensure that the system works in closer partnership with regional and subregional organizations, international financial institutions, the private sector, civil society, and above all, women and youth.
The new Department will enhance its support to the Commission to strengthen its advisory role to the Security Council and exercise its convening role. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the reforms is that the United Nations is improving its ability to carry out joint strategy development, making use of its entire toolbox to build and sustain peace. Such work will help to bring about the cultural change to ensure the United Nations is fit for purpose for this century.
In other business, the Commission re-elected representatives to serve as chairs of its country-specific meetings during 2019, who each outlined their priorities.
Mauro Vieira (Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration, said the first order of business is to address legislative elections on 10 March, as the country was unable hold them on 18 November. Marshalling resources to confront the financial crisis is the second priority, as Guinea-Bissau’s delivery of basic social services has been hampered. The third priority is to support better teamwork with the United Nations Integrated Peace-building Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), the United Nations country team, and the World Bank.
Olof Skoog (Sweden), Chair of the Liberia configuration, said 2018 saw the first democratic transfer of power in years and the withdrawal of the 15-year-old peacekeeping mission, “a victory for the Liberian people”. The Commission must continue that political accompaniment. On 1 February, it will hold its first ambassadorial-level meeting of the year, where a new national development plan will be discussed. The focus is on how to assist the Government in ways outlined in that plan, as well as ensure resources and support synergies among the country team, regional banks, international financial institutions and others.
Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration, said attention will turn towards the 2020 election cycle, with socioeconomic challenges at the core of the configuration’s activities. It seeks to support any East African Community-led mediation effort, as well as renew the conversation between the Government and its international partners, draw attention to humanitarian needs — especially the severe underfunding of the refugee return plan — and ensure that gains made through the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement are consolidated.
Marc-André Blanchard (Canada), Chair of the Sierra Leone configuration, said efforts will centre on proactively engaging the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Some describe the political situation as tense, while others say it is less so, and the Commission can help ensure a parity of information on all sides. Along with the country team, the configuration will assist the Government in delivering on its priorities. “This is the next frontier for the configuration,” he said, and efforts to ensure that institutions are perceived as delivering for the people.
Ms. Abbar (Morocco), chair of the Central African Republic configuration, said her delegation will visit the country in mid-February and she urged all interested parties to join. She also described efforts to draft a work plan, adding that she will brief the Security Council on 21 February.
Several member States took the floor to share views on enhancing the Commission’s work. “It is time focus more on concrete ways to assist the countries,” said the representative of the Republic of Korea, advocating respect for their national ownership, notably by engaging regional organizations, civil society and others in mobilizing funding and expertise. Guatemala’s delegate, drawing attention to Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, said his country had proposed exchanging information and best practices with the Organization of American States. “More coordinated, consistent and integrated focus on peacebuilding will provide better results,” he said.
Stressing that the Commission “is strongest when it speaks with one voice and has all members engaged,” Germany’s delegate said nationally owned peacebuilding strategies are helpful in shaping the Commission’s contributions. Countries no longer on the Council’s agenda might still need attention and the Commission can maintain the focus on priorities that might otherwise be overlooked. Kenya’s delegate advocated a focus on strategically connecting work at United Nations Headquarters to efforts to sustain peace on the ground, notably through conflict prevention and support for peace agreements, while Sierra Leone’s delegate said that by mid-year, the Government aimed to set up a peace and national cohesion commission, which he hoped would continue working with the Commission.
Vice-Chair Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt) also shared his vision for 2019, stressing that he will continue efforts to enhance the strategic partnership between the United Nations and the African Union, noting that his country will host the African Union Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development starting this year. Vice Chair Ion Jinga (Romania) said the Commission’s spirit of solidarity and fact-based reports will help it chart the path forward.
Also speaking were representatives El Salvador, Peru, Norway, Bangladesh, Ireland, Japan, Nepal, France, United Kingdom and India, as well as the European Union.