Op-ed on the occasion of the 72nd birthday of the United Nations
The names and places associated with the atrocities that stain the world’s recent history are only too well known: Guernica, Babi Yar, Sharpeville, Treblinka, Hiroshima, Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica and, more recently, Aleppo and Yemen, to name but a few. The memories of those who have suffered are as painful as the list is long.
After every new crime against humanity, we say “never again”. Yet new names continue to be added to the list. Many conflicts have occurred not because we failed to see them coming – the signs of exclusion, marginalisation, human rights violations and political, social and economic inequality are all too easy to see – but because we failed to respond early enough or quickly enough. The sad reality is that the choices we make or do not make can lead to conflict and violence. Today, on United Nations Day, we call upon everyone to ensure that no new names are added to the list.
We make this call at a time when violence and conflict are on the rise. A new report from the World Bank and the United Nations shows that more countries were experiencing violent conflict last year than at any time in nearly 30 years. Since 2010, the number of violent conflicts has tripled and the number of people affected has increased dramatically. The consequences are devastating: hundreds of thousands of people dead and 65 million refugees in the world, most of them forced to flee due to violent conflicts. By 2030, more than half of the world’s poor could be living in countries affected by high levels of violence. If future generations are to be spared the horrors of violence, war and conflict, we have to act now.
Today, the Embassy of Sweden together with the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Eastern European Studies Centre arranges a “Model United Nations” in Vilnius. It’s a simulation exercise for Lithuanian students where they will practise international cooperation and conflict resolution and how we can work to realise the values of the UN.
We believe the following three points should be the focus of UN action to prevent future atrocities.
Firstly, the root causes of conflict and violence are myriad and complex. The entire UN system must therefore work in a more integrated way to achieve sustainable peace and development. This includes addressing the synergies between peace, security and development, as well as the effects of climate change, migration and inequality. We must get much better at recognising the role of women and young people in sustaining peace.
Secondly, early warning must be followed by early action, not least by the UN Security Council. Risk assessment, prevention of violent conflict and peacebuilding must be integrated throughout all UN work. We must get better at identifying and responding to the root causes of conflict and the threats to peace at an early stage, and enhance national capacity to address the challenges that lie ahead.
Thirdly, and most importantly, peace can only be achieved by those who are party to the conflict. As an international community, we must do all we can to reinforce the incentives that deliver peaceful societies. Once parties have set out on the path to peace, they should not walk it alone. This is true at every stage of the conflict cycle. Regional cooperation plays a crucial role in this regard.
The United Nations was founded on a commitment “to maintain international peace and security”, and should strive every day, and in every way, to live up to those words.
Despite mounting conflicts and increased violence around the world, life is also getting better for most people. In our lifetime, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. We can cure more diseases than ever before. More and more children across the globe go to school. We must not forget this. We cannot, and we must not, allow increasing conflict and violence to undermine the massive gains we have made. For this reason, addressing the risk of conflicts must lie at the very heart of the UN’s work.
By preventing conflicts, we are not only avoiding the immense suffering that war brings to countries, societies and families; we are also safeguarding development gains, saving resources and creating the basis for the peaceful, just and inclusive societies we have all committed to in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Prevention always pays off. The cost of doing nothing is immeasurable.
Let us make sure that no new names are added to the list of the worst atrocities of modern times. Every new name is a failure. Future generations will judge us on how we rise to this challenge.
By Maria Christina Lundqvist, Ambassador of Sweden to Lithuania
Vice-Minister Neris Germanas, MFA of Lithuania
 Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, launched on 21 September 2017