REMARKS OF H.E. MR. NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER
High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
4th Istanbul Mediation Conference
June 30, 2017
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
I would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey for this opportunity to discuss the critical issue of mediation and its place in a world mired in tensions, challenges, uncertainty and violence. I am well aware of the importance we must attach to the agenda of resolving and preventing conflicts. I had the privilege to address this issue in several capacities. As the Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, I participated in debates that addressed this agenda. As President of the 66th session of the General Assembly, I witnessed during my travels around the world the need to expand upon it and I came to Istanbul to the first conference on Mediation in 2012.
It is worthwhile noting that the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres in his earlier remarks this year talked about a “surge in diplomacy” for peace. Mediation is indeed an essential diplomatic soft power tool. Mr. Guterres noted in those remarks that he will launch an initiative to enhance the UN mediation capacity both at the UN headquarters and in the field and to support regional and national mediation efforts.
This session refers to a “broader spectrum of tensions”. In that respect we must acknowledge that, increasingly, the violence and the conflicts we face today are based on issues of identity. The polarization of the past may have been based on issues of conflicting national goals, colonialism or other forms of political difference. Today, however, the angry tone of political discourse is often attributed to differences in identity, whether defined by religion, ethnicity, or other distinguishing factors. It is these factors that divide peoples, divide communities.
When we speak about mediation in its classic form, we speak about an impartial interlocutor who works with parties to a conflict, assuming a number of roles. These can range from working with both (or all) parties at the table at the same time or serving as the path through which messages are delivered between parties. A mediator may be empowered by the parties to actively suggest ways to avoid impasses in negotiations. A mediator could be called upon to facilitate dialogues between parties. Mediators could even be involved in capacity building training for the parties engaged in the negotiations. These possible points of intervention for the UN are reflected in the creation of the Mediation Support Unit in the Department of Political Affairs, as well as the creation of the Stand-by Team of Experts.
The “broader spectrum of tensions” we address today reflect the changing nature of threats to the peace that we face. While we continue to face wars between nations as well as internal armed conflicts. We also face threats based on the violence perpetrated by non-state actors with no regard for borders. These are the actors most often associated with identity grievances. When we describe the space in which we operate in this way, it better explains the need for “complementarity” between classical forms of mediation and the work of the Alliance of Civilizations.
Our hosts have used the term complementarity and it is an extremely useful term to apply in these circumstances. The Secretary-General’s vision of linked, coordinated action between the fields of development, peace and security and human rights require a holistic approach to addressing conflict scenarios. This is needed whether the situation addressed is in the resolution phase or still in the prevention phase.
Mediators often face situations where parties at the negotiation table face the challenge of making concessions. Then they must defend those concessions with their own constituencies. When those constituencies are rigid in their belief systems due to emotions, polarization, and intolerance, the job of the negotiators is made more difficult, and, in turn, mediation becomes more challenging. UNAOC, through its efforts to build bridges between identity groups, can help provide a more conducive environment for effective mediation.
In my capacity as the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, I have embraced the need to promote those classical forms of mediation that resolve and prevent conflicts. But I also am deeply committed to efforts that bridge between identity groups. The origins of the Alliance of Civilizations were based on an attempt to deal with the challenges the global society faced in the first half of the last decade. Recall that, at that time, the world was reeling from a series of attacks in the United States, Great Britain, Spain and Indonesia, not to mention ongoing conflict in the Middle East. UNAOC came into being in the same year that the United Nations adopted its Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The first pillar of that strategy is dedicated to countering the conditions conducive to violent extremism. Through our work we fight against intolerance, xenophobia, and ethnic hatred.
In all of my interventions, my focus is bridging those divides created by identity issues. UNAOC’s project activities are all designed to address those underlying issues that contribute to the tension and instability that make conflict and violence more likely.
When we speak of complementarity between the work of UNAOC and traditional mediators we can see it in this division of labor – UNAOC efforts prepare the stage on which mediators can act. How do we do this?
- By engaging civil society to work for peace at the community level;
- By training youth in the values and lessons of peace education;
- By exposing journalists to the best practices in professional standards to avoid stereotyping minorities and migrant populations;
- By building capacity among promising civil society organizations.
This is real complementarity – one element supporting the work of another. I am proud to serve in this role. As our hosts suggest, this combined effort is essential if we are to achieve Secretary-General Guterres’s vision to surge diplomacy for peace.