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Briefing by The Elders on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security

On Tuesday (7 September), the Security Council will hold a briefing on the maintenance of international peace and security with The Elders, a non-governmental organisation of independent global leaders founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela that strives to promote peace and human rights. The expected briefers are Mary Robinson—Chair of The Elders, former President of Ireland and a past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—and Lakhdar Brahimi, an Elder Emeritus and former Foreign Minister of Algeria. Two additional members of The Elders will attend the meeting: Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Laureate.

Ireland has circulated a concept note ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, which says that the briefing aims to provide an opportunity for Council members to engage with The Elders to discuss how to promote multilateral solutions to global peace and security challenges, and to enhance the Council’s efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts and address emerging threats to peace and security. Members are encouraged to interact with The Elders and to pose questions during the meeting. Ireland intends to produce a summary of the meeting highlighting key themes.

The concept note suggests several questions for consideration during the meeting, including:

At Tuesday’s meeting, the briefers and Council members are expected to highlight a wide range of issues, including several thematic matters. The importance of addressing climate change and nuclear non-proliferation—long-standing concerns of The Elders—may feature prominently in the discussion. These are also key themes of Ireland’s September presidency, as it plans to hold signature events focusing on climate change and security and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) this month. The briefers and some Council members might also call for enhanced efforts to increase the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in conflict-affected and other vulnerable states: this is an issue that has garnered attention in the Council, including through the adoption of resolution 2565. Cyber warfare may also be raised in the meeting as a threat to international peace and security that merits the Council’s attention. To date, the Council has only held one formal meeting on cyber security, a high-level open debate in June, which was initiated by Estonia and featured a briefing by High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu.

Women’s welfare and empowerment—including the full and equal participation of women in all phases of the “peace continuum” from conflict prevention to peacebuilding—are likely to be important elements of the discussion. This is a theme Robinson has emphasised in previous briefings to the Council in her capacity as Chair of The Elders. In this regard, during a 12 June 2019 briefing on “Conflict prevention and mediation” under Kuwait’s Council presidency, she stated that “the Council…should now redouble its collective efforts to make sure that women’s perspectives and experiences are reflected in the mainstream of peacekeeping and conflict prevention policy”. In a 1 September press briefing, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) similarly underscored that women, peace and security will run like “a golden thread” through the Irish Council presidency and during the upcoming presidencies of Kenya (October) and Mexico (November).

Robinson and Brahimi, who served as a UN Special Representative in Afghanistan (2001-2004), may share their thoughts on how the UN can best address the situation in Afghanistan, particularly in light of the Taliban’s recent takeover of the country. In a 17 August statement, The Elders called on “the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, to lead the international community’s efforts to encourage a peaceful transition and protection of human rights of all Afghans”. The briefers may reiterate this view, while calling for unhindered and impartial humanitarian access in the country and respect for the rights of women and girls. Crises in Ethiopia, Haiti, Myanmar, and other countries and regions might also be addressed in the meeting, both by The Elders and by Council members.

Some members may underscore the importance of upholding the multilateral system to promote international peace and security. They might note that while the Security Council is a key player in this system, the collective efforts of the UN, regional organisations, member states, and local actors are needed to tackle the many transnational threats facing the world.

Finally, there could also be a discussion of how to make the Council’s working methods more fit for purpose. This could include exploring ways of making better use of article 34 – which gives the Council the powers to investigate disputes or situations that “might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute”— and calling for veto restraint among the permanent members in cases in which atrocities are being perpetrated or appear imminent. As the concept note proposes, members may encourage the Secretary-General to make effective use of article 99 powers to warn the Council of deteriorating or impending crises.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Council members are expected to hold an informal meeting with Brahimi, Sirleaf, Robinson, and Zedillo outside of UN premises. This may allow for a more frank discussion on the Council’s role in addressing pressing peace and security challenges than is possible in the open chamber.

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