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Photo: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
On Thursday 3 November Mary Robinson addressed the UN Security Council on building resilience in UN peacekeeping operations and the need to tackle the root causes of conflict.

Watch Mary Robinson's speech


Read Mary Robinson's speech

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a privilege to address the Council today in such distinguished company for this timely discussion, and I would like to extend my thanks to HE Harold Agyeman, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Ghana, for his generous invitation and convening efforts.

I am speaking today in my capacity as Chair of The Elders, the group of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela 15 years ago who work on tackling conflict and the existential threats facing humanity including the climate crisis, nuclear weapons and pandemics. 

The Elders have a special bond with Ghana through the life and legacy of our dearly-missed friend and former Chair, Kofi Annan. In preparing my remarks today I was reminded of one of his insights which is particularly relevant to our discussion:

“The human family will not enjoy development without security, will not enjoy security without development, and will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

Security, sustainable development and human rights should be the bedrock of effective and resilient UN peace operations – but we know there remain significant challenges in turning this core principle into practice. The Security Council needs to lead by demonstrating coherence, acting in the collective interests of the whole United Nations, and working more closely with other parts of the organisation.

In order for UN peace operations to focus effectively on the underlying causes of conflict and insecurity and not just the immediate symptoms, the Security Council should play a more proactive role and promote a “whole of UN” approach that supports just and sustainable peace, making sure that peace operations draw on and complement the insights and experience of staff working in all parts of the UN at country level.

As a former Special Envoy of the SG to The Great Lakes in Africa, I am under no illusions as to how challenging this is, but am equally aware of the risks of failure and fatalism.

Today, the Council we believe is facing the greatest threats to global peace and security since its formation, including violent conflict and its intersection with global environment, food, energy and financial crises. The war on Ukraine has fully exposed the inability of the Council to respond to an aggression by a permanent member against a non-nuclear, sovereign state.

Too often, Council members have acted to keep friends and regional allies off the Council’s agenda, which seriously undermines conflict prevention efforts. The Elders support the principle of enabling regional organisations such as the African Union and ASEAN to take a leading role in conflict prevention and resolution where they are best placed to do so in their own regions, including through regional peace operations. The Council should cooperate closely with regional organisations, but where they are unable to take effective action, the Council also has a responsibility to step in.

From the outset, peace operations should be equipped to respond to the shifting conflict landscape we see today.  There needs to be a more holistic focus on the underlying causes of conflict, from political and economic instability to poverty, inequality and marginalisation of minorities within countries. I am pleased that this debate has expressly acknowledged women and youth as two particularly important groups who are too often excluded from decision-making. 

Through the Women, Peace and Security agenda, the UN has sought to promote the equal representation of women within peace-building and mediation processes, but the evidence tells us there is a long way to go.  Analysis by UN Women of 40 peace processes since the end of the Cold War shows that, in cases where women were able to exercise a strong influence on the negotiation process, there was a much higher chance that an agreement would be reached.

To ensure both fair representation and the meaningful integration of the rights and perspectives of women and girls into peace processes, it is critical that women are also equitably represented within security and defence structures as well as peacebuilding and mediation. It is encouraging to see UN peace missions pushing for greater representation of women in national security and defence sectors.  Firmer action must also be taken to deter and deal with the reprisals that women peace-builders and human rights defenders face, with targeted and rapid resources for responding to threats, as called for by Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs in this Council earlier this year.

In the context of resilience-building within peace operations that address the root causes of conflict, I want to focus particularly on the climate crisis as a threat multiplier and driver of conflict. I am pleased that there has been increasing recognition of the security dimensions of climate on the Security Council, albeit not yet consensus, and that there have been some modest steps towards integrating climate considerations into UN peacebuilding operations, for instance with the appointment of an environment advisor to the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.

This is progress, but in the Elders’ view we must go much further.  As the climate crisis becomes ever more acute across the world, similar roles should be considered for other UN peace operations. Last year, six of the 10 biggest UN peace operations, and over 80% of UN personnel, were deployed in countries that are highly exposed to climate change. Integrating environmental analysis into the work of the Security Council and the Peace Building Commission must now be a priority.  

I first visited Somalia thirty years ago, in 1992, as President of Ireland, because of the food crisis there at the time. I returned in 2011 with Irish Aid agencies as famine had been declared. Now in 2022 Somalia faces its third famine in 11 years with ever greater climate shocks exacerbated by the ongoing conflict and terrorism. Last Saturday at least 100 people were killed by explosions in Mogadishu, but the world barely noticed. These were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents leaving grieving families, targeted by Al Shabab extremists.

The agonies endured by Somalia’s people over the past three decades should compel all Council members to redouble their efforts to tackle the inter-connected threats of violent extremism, conflict and the climate crisis.

The links between conflict and climate are also evident in Tigray, which I visited as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on El Niño & Climate in 2016, and where I witnessed the great co-operative work by the UN and aid agencies that was done to counter the drought there, because there was no conflict at the time. 

Today, communities in Tigray and northern Ethiopia are suffering from both conflict and climate shocks with truly dire consequences.  The Elders commend the AU-led negotiations that have secured a new cessation in hostilities, and urge the Council to actively support this process to help turn the ceasefire into a lasting resolution to this devastating conflict.


Now is the time for the Council to step up and speak with one voice. Only through sustained engagement to tackle the root causes of conflict and build just and sustainable peace will your mandate be fulfilled and the promises of the UN Charter delivered to current and future generations.

Thank you.

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