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Exclusion, Inequality and Conflict: High-level Open Debate*

Tomorrow (9 November), the Security Council will hold a high-level open debate on “Exclusion, inequality and conflict” under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. One of the signature events of Mexico’s presidency, the meeting will be chaired by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Secretary-General António Guterres and a civil society representative from Latin America are expected to brief.

At the time of writing, Council members continue to negotiate a draft presidential statement proposed by Mexico, which may be adopted tomorrow.

The open debate is expected to explore exclusion and inequality as underlying causes of armed conflict. The concept note prepared by Mexico ahead of tomorrow’s meeting builds on the notion that sustainable peace and development are closely connected—a major theme of the Council’s conflict prevention and peacebuilding work over the years. In this regard, in resolution 2282 of 27 April 2016 on the ten-year review of the UN’s peacebuilding architecture, the Council emphasised that “inclusivity is key to advancing national peacebuilding processes and objectives in order to ensure that the needs of all segments of society are taken into account”.

In the past year the Council has frequently explored ways in which socioeconomic and political inequalities and exclusion have exacerbated tensions that can lead to conflict. In an open debate convened by Tunisia in January on the “Challenges of maintaining peace and security in fragile contexts” (S/2021/24), some members emphasised that factors such as climate change and COVID-19 worsen inequalities and increase instability in fragile contexts. Following the May open debate convened by China on “Addressing root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa” (S/2020/420), the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/10) in which it noted that the pandemic has “further exacerbated existing conflict drivers in Africa” and reiterated the need for global equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine, including to the most vulnerable. The high-level open debate on “Diversity, State-building and the Search for Peace” (S/PV.8877) under Kenya’s Council presidency last month explored how certain groups’ marginalisation and exclusion from political processes and economic resources have sparked violence and contributed to the formation of separatist movements.

The concept note prepared by Mexico proposes several questions to help guide the discussion. Among others, these include:

Many Council members maintain that the Council should explore the relationship among peace and security, human rights, and development to tackle the root causes of conflict. At tomorrow’s meeting, these members (and other non-Council member states) may underscore the need for the Council to address inequality, poverty, and exclusion to prevent conflict and sustain peace.

Some speakers at tomorrow’s meeting may mention the importance of implementing the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, which was adopted by UN member states in 2015. There may also be references to the Secretary-General’s September report titled “Our Common Agenda”, which called for the development of a “social contract” between governments and their people to “usher in a new era of universal social protection, health coverage, education, skills, decent work and housing”. Several member states may further emphasise the importance of promoting equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine and of helping developing countries to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, including through climate financing and technology transfers.

Some Council members and non-Council member states are of the opinion that development and human rights issues should not be in the purview of the Security Council. These members maintain that such matters are best addressed in other UN organs, such as the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). At tomorrow’s meeting, these members may express the view that the Council is encroaching on the prerogatives of these organs when it tries to tackle the many challenges associated with inequality, exclusion and poverty.

*Post-script: On 9 November, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/22), which was spearheaded by Mexico. The negotiations on the draft presidential statement were not easy, despite the fact that the text is based largely on agreed language.

The statement reaffirms the links between development, peace and security, and human rights – the three pillars of the UN system. It further notes that exclusion and inequality may have an effect as aggravating factors in situations considered by the Council and emphasises that inclusivity is key to advancing national peacebuilding processes and objectives. In the statement, the Council also reiterates the need for “full, equal and meaningful participation of women and the inclusion of youth in all stages of peace, security, development and decision-making processes”.

One sticking point was whether to include the prevention of corruption as a factor in sustaining peace. Some members felt that corruption is already addressed by the General Assembly’s 3rd Committee and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and as such should not be addressed by the Council. Ultimately, corruption was not mentioned in the text.

Another difficult topic in the negotiations was how to address the language on the prevention of violent extremism and terrorism. India wanted a strong reference to terrorism, suggesting that the Council employ agreed on language from a press statement from August on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) (SC/14609). As a result, language from this press statement—which emphasises the need for a holistic approach to countering terrorism and violent extremism in accordance with applicable international law—was incorporated in the final text.

Late in the negotiations, language was also added and retained in the final text emphasising the importance of dialogue to mediate grievances based on religious, ethnic, racial and other differences.  It seems that this text was included at Kenya’s request.

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