Reconciliation Open Debate
On Tuesday (19 November), the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on: “Peacebuilding and sustaining peace: the role of reconciliation in the maintenance of international peace and security”. Lord Ahmad, the UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth, the United Nations and South Asia, will preside. Secretary-General António Guterres; Alpaslan Özerdem, Dean of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University; and a female civil society representative from Somalia will brief. No formal outcome is anticipated, although the UK is planning to produce a chair’s summary of the meeting. Over the years, various resolutions and presidential statements have stressed the importance of reconciliation as part of a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and sustaining peace.
Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, the UK has circulated a short concept note. According to the note, the UK’s objective is “to contribute to a deeper understanding of what produces reconciliation in the context of efforts to build and sustain peace, its role and value as a process and an objective within broader peacebuilding efforts, and how the United Nations can better support reconciliation to prevent the recurrence of conflict and advance sustainable peace and security”. It also highlights the importance of learning from best practices in past reconciliation efforts. It asks member states in their statements to consider how the Council could most effectively support national reconciliation processes and include reconciliation more systematically in country-specific situations.
The Council rarely addresses reconciliation as a thematic issue: it has more often been discussed in the context of country situations. This occasion seems to stem from an open debate held by the UK during its previous presidency of the Security Council, in August 2018, on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Mediation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts”. While that meeting focused on the role of mediation, reconciliation was a part of the discussion, with several speakers raising the topic. In particular, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke extensively on the role of reconciliation. He was invited to participate as a member of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation. In his statement, Welby said that mediation is only effective in the context of reconciliation, which he defined as “the process of transforming violent conflict into non-violent coexistence where communities have come to terms with history and are learning to disagree well”. Several member states talked about how mediation efforts are complemented by national reconciliation and post-conflict development. Additionally, some member states stressed that the parties themselves must recognise their own interest in reconciling and take ownership over any reconciliation process.
In the 2018 open debate, Council members spoke about reconciliation being needed in order to have inclusive societies. They also referred to the importance of confidence-building in local reconciliation. Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Poland, and the UK made specific mention of the need to include women in conflict resolution at all levels. China stressed the need for those involved in conflict resolution to recognise national sovereignty and to avoid imposing unilateral solutions. Many of these themes may be reiterated on Tuesday.
The topic appears relatively uncontroversial, as well as broad enough for the discussion to accommodate a wide range of issues. Some may choose to stress the important role of reconciliation during transitions and peace consolidation, and maintain that successful reconciliation efforts benefit democracy, security, and the rule of law. Council members may discuss the practical impacts of various forms of reconciliation—for example, truth and reconciliation commissions and national dialogues—in different settings and their impact on transnational justice. There may further be discussion of how to support national and local reconciliation strategies in countries emerging from conflict; whether and how to support reconciliation processes as part of exit strategies for peace operations; and how the Council can engage with other parts of the UN system, including the Peacebuilding Commission and UN Country Teams, to support such processes. Members may raise the roles that regional countries and organisations can play in reconciliation processes. Additionally, Council members may draw on lessons from their own historical reconciliation experiences. The UK, in particular, may focus on the critical role played by community and faith leaders in supporting reconciliation efforts.
The last Council meeting focused specifically on reconciliation took place more than fifteen years ago, during an open debate on 26 January 2004. The meeting addressed: “Post-conflict national reconciliation: role of the UN”. It was organised by Chile but seen by several member states as an extension of the 24 September 2003 ministerial-level meeting on the rule of law, spearheaded by the UK. Thirty-seven member states participated in the open debate in January 2004. At the end of the meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement that reaffirmed the vital importance of the UN’s role in post-conflict national reconciliation and underscored the experience and expertise in the UN system and among member states with respect to such reconciliation.