The SIIA hosted a closed-door seminar in November for Mr Ibrahim Gambari, UN Undersecretary-General of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA). Mr Gambari was in Singaporeas part of his trip to Southeast Asia, which included stops in Myanmarand Thailand.
At the seminar, Mr Gambari focused his remarks on the role of the UN DPA in conflict prevention, conflict management and increasingly conflict mediation. Putting aside his talking points and speaking off the cuff, he talked about his personal interest in conflict mediation and why this was a role the UN was increasingly making a priority, since “prevention is better than cure and far cheaper”. Mr Gambari drew attention to the exorbitant costs of deploying peace-keeping troops as compared to sending in mediators. It was also a critical contributor to economic growth and the development of strong and resilient societies.
Mr Gambari praised ASEAN’s decision to make peace and security one of the three pillars of the future ASEAN Community. This reflects not only the aspiration of ASEAN members to achieve peace, stability, democracy and prosperity in the region, but also a fundamental understanding of the linkages between development, security and human rights. He explained that the United Nations firmly believes that peace and security can only be successfully promoted and sustained when pursued in tandem with economic and socio-cultural development. He expressed the United Nations commitment to finding concrete ways to work with ASEAN to increase the region’s capacity for conflict prevention and peace-building in the future, as well as enhance ASEAN cooperation in areas of peace and security.
Coming fresh from a visit to Myanmarat the invitation of the government, where he met with both the ruling elite and opposition leaders such as Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aun San Suu Kyi, Mr Gambari took the opportunity to share insights on the situation in the country. He believes that the United Nations’ engagement with Myanmar, which is based on a principled approach of mutual respect, offers the best prospects for rebuilding confidence between Myanmarand the international community.
Mr Gambari also stressed the important role of neighbouring countries and ASEAN to develop a coherent and effective approach to the problem and to encourage reform in Myanmar. He reiterated that it is in the region’s interest to ensure a stable and democratic future for Myanmarwithin the ASEAN family.
Mr Gambari concluded by saying that the UN’s role in international peace and security is an ongoing challenge that requires creative thinking, flexibility and commitment. The UN could develop the overall political and security environment in Southeast Asiain partnership with regional actors, especially Singapore, which is one of the main driving forcesbehind the region’s stability and prosperity.
Some summarized comments from the Q&A segment:
Q: ASEAN countries have a policy of non-interference to their neighbouring states? Is that good?
IG: The policy of non-interference is an inhibiting factor and increasing pressure for ASEAN countries to interfere is beginning to show its effects.We must note that non-interference does not mean indifference to violations against human rights. It is the responsibility of all countries to protect basic human rights.
Q: Are early warning systems good for prevention? What can be done to encourage early action?
IG: There should be early warning systems on a national, regional and continental level. However, early warning systems are useless without early action. There must be political will to do what is known. Pressure and constant advocacy can encourage early action.
Q: Are there plans to work with organizations like the SIIA to assist in mediation?
IG: Yes. Such organizations help create awareness on what’s going on and they can help governments to work in the mediation process.
Q: For the question of Myanmar, is it better to use economic power and strategic sanctions instead of sanctions by the Security Council? Can China and Indiacope with Myanmar?
IG: It is always better to threaten action than to put the threat into action. The most effective tools of persuasion are when neighbouring countries speak up.
Q: Many Americans think that the UN is irrelevant. Is the UN irrelevant?
IG: Well, George Bush acted like the UN is irrelevant and 2,500 Americans have died to date in a war which does not have wide legitimacy. The UN is relevant and will be relevant as it embodies the respect for human rights, and plays a key role and offers an indispensable platform to mediate conflict on a global scale.
Q: What is the role of young people in Southeast Asia? Is involvement something tangible to work towards?
IG: Nobody gives you power, you have to go out and get it. Mobilise, (peacefully of course), to get your voices heard, and make the cost of ignoring you too high.