How the UN can prevent future atrocities

The names and places associated with the atrocities that stain the world’s recent history are only too well known. Rwanda being one of these, but examples from other parts of the world include Guernica, Babi Yar, Sharpeville, Treblinka, Hiroshima, Halabja, Srebrenica and, more recently, Aleppo and Yemen, to name but a few.

The names and places associated with the atrocities that stain the world’s recent history are only too well known. Rwanda being one of these, but examples from other parts of the world include Guernica, Babi Yar, Sharpeville, Treblinka, Hiroshima, Halabja, Srebrenica and, more recently, Aleppo and Yemen, to name but a few. The memories of those who have suffered are as painful as the list is long.

After every new crime against humanity, we all say “never again”. Yet new names continue to be added to the list. Many conflicts have occurred not because we failed to see them coming – the signs of exclusion, marginalisation, human rights violations and political, social and economic inequality are all too easy to see – but because we failed to respond early enough or quickly enough. Today, on United Nations Day, the Swedish Government calls upon everyone to ensure that no new names are added to the list.

We are living in a time when violence and conflict are on the rise. A new report from the World Bank and the United Nations – Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, launched on 21 September 2017 – shows that more countries were experiencing violent conflict last year than at any time in nearly 30 years. Since 2010, the number of violent conflicts has tripled and the number of people affected has increased dramatically. The consequences are devastating: hundreds of thousands of people dead and 65 million refugees in the world, most of them forced to flee due to violent conflicts. By 2030, more than half of the world’s poor could be living in countries affected by high levels of violence. If future generations are to be spared the horrors of violence, war and conflict, we have to act now.

The Swedish Government believe the following three points should be the focus of UN action to prevent future atrocities.

Firstly, the root causes of conflict and violence are myriad and complex. The entire UN system must therefore work in a more integrated way to achieve sustainable peace and development. This includes addressing the synergies between peace, security and development, as well as the effects of climate change, migration and inequality. The international community must also get much better at recognising the role of women and young people in sustaining peace.

Secondly, early warning must be followed by early action, not least by the UN Security Council. Rwanda knows this fact better than most countries. Risk assessment, prevention of violent conflict and peacebuilding must be integrated throughout all UN work. The international community must get better at identifying and responding to the root causes of conflict and the threats to peace at an early stage, and enhance national capacity to address the challenges that lie ahead.

Thirdly, and most importantly, peace can only be achieved by those who are party to the conflict. As an international community, we must do all we can to reinforce the incentives that deliver peaceful societies. Once parties have set out on the path to peace, they should not walk it alone. This is true at every stage of the conflict cycle. Regional cooperation plays a crucial role in this regard.

The United Nations was founded on a commitment “to maintain international peace and security”, and should strive every day, and in every way, to live up to those words. The Swedish government supports this commitment globally and in Rwanda by supporting the One UN development assistance plan 2013-2018 - especially the areas of governance, gender equality and environment. All these areas being crucial for reducing risk of conflict. Sweden and UN in Rwanda’s fruitful coordination and joint action trace back to 2008 when Sweden in Rwanda started to support the One UN initiative, Delivering as One.

However, when taking a snapshot of today’s world, it is clear that there is a lot of progress, hope and potential to build on. Despite mounting conflicts and increased violence around the world, life is also getting better for most people. In my lifetime, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Humankind can cure more diseases than ever before. More and more children across the globe go to school. We must not forget this. We cannot, and we must not, allow increasing conflict and violence to undermine the massive gains we have made. For this reason, addressing the risk of conflicts must lie at the very heart of the UN’s work. As a member of the UN Security Council, Sweden is fully committed to this end.

By preventing conflicts, we are not only avoiding the immense suffering that war brings to countries, societies and families; we are also safeguarding development gains, saving resources and creating the basis for the peaceful, just and inclusive societies we have all committed to in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Prevention always pays off. The cost of doing nothing is immeasurable.

Let us make sure that no new names are added to the list of the worst atrocities of modern times. Every new name is a failure. Future generations will judge us on how we rise to this challenge.

The author is the Ambassador of Sweden to Rwanda.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.