Global Policy Forum

Conversation with Ellen Margrethe Loj

UN Chronicle
March 29, 2006

Ellen Margrethe Lí¸j, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations and co-Chair of the General Assembly Working Committee on the Peacebuilding Commission, was interviewed in November 2005 by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, founder and Director of Global Interfaith Peace. On 20 December, the Assembly decided, acting concurrently with the Security Council, to establish the Peacebuilding Commission.

What is the purpose of the Peacebuilding Commission?

The idea of a Peacebuilding Commission was raised in the high-level report on UN reform, as well as in the Secretary-General's [Kofi Annan] recent reform proposal. It addresses a gap in the United Nations system dealing with the transition from the military to long-term development phase. Unfortunately, the international community has not been very effective in building peace, as the statistics show the relapse of certain countries into conflict situations after a passage of time. It is high time the international community has gotten together to build sustainable peace and sustainable development.

Could you elaborate on the mandate, function and composition of the Peacebuilding Commission?

When Heads of States met in September 2005 to adopt this reform, they all agreed that creating the Peacebuilding Commission was a good and timely idea. The discussions since the World Summit revolve around the two main issues of the institutional linkages of the Commission and who will serve on it. There has been a consensus on the Commission as an advisory body, and the central issue of debate is about its linkage to the Security Council on the one hand and to the Economic and Social Council on the other. To elaborate, there is no doubt that for the purpose of an integrated approach, in circumstances where the Security Council is already involved particularly with respect to peacekeeping missions, an important element of keeping the peace is building the peace on a long-term basis. One of the discussions is when does the Economic and Social Council take over from the Security Council in such circumstances? And then there is the question of membership. Concerning the latter, the General Assembly resolution calls for an organizational committee, which sets its agenda, and then the Commission organizes its work in country-specific formats. Hence, there is a great deal of focus on the steering committee, as well as on the participation from the field in country-specific settings.

Granting that the Commission has been mandated to "marshal the resources" and "coordinate" various UN activities, will it have an operational dimension as well?

No, it will be advisory only; and the political and other operational questions will be taken up by the Security Council and other UN organs and relevant institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, according to their respective structures. However, if by operational you mean inter-agency operations, the hope is that by having all the actors around the table, it will streamline the process, utilize efficiently the available resources in the international community at large and the UN system, and thus prevent reinventing the wheel from conflict to conflict.

Is there a consensus on where the initiative should come from?

There is no disagreement on the importance of national governments and the eventual national ownership of the peacebuilding process. A key question is what to do when there is no national government and a country is emerging from a conflict situation and is in transition to establishing national authority. Some argue that we cannot wait until then and that we must begin building peace, such as by holding national elections, as has been the case in Liberia recently, which in turn will hopefully pave the way to an effective national government.

What will be the main focus of the Commission: intra-state or inter-state conflicts?

Looking back at the sixty-year history of the United Nations, there has been a change in the nature and type of conflicts the Organization has been dealing with. In the beginning, it was for the most part inter-state conflicts, but over the past twenty years or so the United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, increasingly has been grappling with conflicts within countries. I do not believe that the Peacebuilding Commission will prioritize one form of conflict over another, but it is clear that the majority of cases it will be dealing with falls within the category of intra-state conflicts. That is why we are increasingly talking about national reconciliation, the rule of law and the necessity for institutions establishing well-functioning governments and laying the basis for sustainable development.

The resolution refers to two categories of membership: permanent and country-specific members. Will they have the same voting rights and powers?

Well, we have to distinguish between the organizational committee, which per the draft proposals will have equal members from the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as membership from top donors, and the country-specific members. The real work, in my opinion, will take place in the country-specific format, be it Haiti, Liberia or elsewhere, where it will be crucial to get the actors on the ground involved. It is also crucial to get the international financial institutions, which will have a say in the long-term development of post-conflict societies, directly involved. Let me give you an example from personal experience of more than thirty years of involvement in development programmes. In the past, the aid agencies used to refuse funding for police training by saying that it is too close to "military". But no one makes that argument any more since everyone realizes the importance of a well-functioning police force. Think about it—what is a police force going to do with criminals if there is no good prison system to put them in and no working court system to adjudicate justice. So, things being interlinked, we need to pursue an integrated post-conflict scenario, where development transpires at all levels simultaneously, instead of repeating the past cycles of jumping to conclusions and packing back home without laying the true foundations for sustainable peace in a conflict-ravaged society.

What gives you the hope and optimism that this particular reform will be successful?

While there is no guarantee of success, what makes me hopeful is, first of all, the determination of the international community to address this important gap in the UN peace efforts and thus improve the UN performance. We owe it to the men, women, boys and girls in conflict-ridden societies to make sure that their future is not yet another conflict. Thus, we must try and work hard to make a real difference, even though there is no guarantee that our efforts will in the end pay off as anticipated. In the final paragraph of the draft resolution, we have called for a review of the Commission, the way it has been established and its modality, after five years, since we have to be prepared to admit that we could make mistakes or that we might not have the answer to every problem from the outset.

Can you elaborate on the Commission's role with respect to the situation of women?

Let's keep in mind that the Security Council at the end of October 2005 marked the fifth anniversary of resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. And we have received certain letters, such as one signed by several foreign ministers, urging the Peacebuilding Commission to prioritize the participation of women in the post-conflict societies. I think there is general agreement among Member States on including women in these efforts right from the start.

The resolution calls for a peacebuilding fund drawn mainly from voluntary contributions, and a support group to be established from "within the existing resources". Will there be separate funding sources for these functions?

We are waiting for the Secretary-General to tell us how he intends to proceed regarding the funds. We have noticed, however, that the majority of expenditure for the activities will be on the civilian side; it will therefore come from voluntary contributions and not assessed as, let's say, are peacekeeping operations. Hopefully, this allows us to circumvent the bureaucracy and avoid having crucial time wasted before the funds can be dispersed, again talking from personal experience. Case in point, I remember that the United Nations Development Programme in Afghanistan faced deadlines with schools opening, but the funds had not yet been allocated, so there was a time lag. So, in order to move as quickly as possible, the nature of the peacebuilding fund will be very important.

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