Following are UN Under-Secretary-General Maria Luiza Viotti, UN Chef de Cabinet briefing to the Security Council on challenges to Peace and Security in the Middle-East in New York on 20 August 2019:
I thank the Polish presidency for convening this timely discussion.
The situation in the Middle East remains troubling and complex, characterized by protracted conflicts, geopolitical tensions that play out at the regional level, governance issues, as well as severe deficits in socio-economic development in a number of countries.
Yet, as the Secretary-General noted to this Council last year, “The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present.”
Our shared aspiration must be to find ways for a region so rich in human capital and natural resources to fully realize its potential, for the benefit of all.
We must never lose sight of this.
In recent weeks alone, we have seen some of the challenges on full display.
The series of incidents in the Strait of Hormuz and adjacent waterways have raised tensions to dangerous levels.
It is crucial that the rights and duties related to navigation are respected in accordance with international law.
Restraint and genuine dialogue are urgently needed, in order to avoid the risk that a minor miscalculation would inadvertently lead to a major confrontation, with disastrous consequences even well beyond the region.
Deep disagreements about Iran’s nuclear programme are further exacerbating differences in the Gulf.
Notwithstanding the concerns about it, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains the only agreed international framework to address Iran’s nuclear programme.
In Syria, Special Envoy Geir Pedersen is sparing no effort to finalize the arrangements for the launch of the Constitutional Committee as a door-opener to a broader UN-facilitated political process in line with Resolution 2254, and to implement confidence-building measures, including on detainees.
However, the United Nations is concerned that the ongoing hostilities in north-west Syria may risk undermining the Special Envoy’s efforts to revive the political process.
In Yemen, the United Nations continues to provide desperately needed, life-saving humanitarian assistance, while Special Envoy Martin Griffiths remains engaged in efforts to implement the Hodaydah agreement.
We hope that this will lead to broader and fully inclusive discussions on ending the conflict.
And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the longest standing issue on the UN peace and security agenda.
A just solution acceptable to both sides is essential for the future of the whole region.
The United Nations remains ready to support efforts towards allowing Palestinians and Israelis to live in two democratic states side by side in peace and within secure and recognized borders, based on relevant United Nations resolutions.
As in other regions, realizing the promise of full respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and international humanitarian law requires commitment and bold action, especially with a view to ending conflict, addressing the root causes of violence and sustaining peace.
In the same vein, tackling the threat of terrorism and violent extremism must simultaneously address security concerns and uphold international human rights obligations.
Accordingly, accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is intrinsically linked to conflict resolution and prevention.
Inclusive growth, environmental sustainability, gender equality and opportunities for young people are all key aspects of durable solutions.
There have been some notable gains in gender equality in recent years, including substantial increases in literacy and education, and access to health services.
Yet equal opportunities remain limited and gender-based violence is still widespread.
Greater participation of women in governance and economic activities would not only improve family income and national economies, but would also reduce vulnerabilities to socio-economic shocks and liberate enormous potential.
While equality before the law is gradually gaining ground, there is still a long way to go in a number of situations in amending discriminatory laws and ensuring more representative participation in parliaments and leadership in political and public life more generally.
In conflict-affected countries we know how crucial it is that women are able to play a meaningful role in peace processes; indeed, women’s equal participation is directly correlated with more sustainable peace.
Yet women continue to be marginalized.
Moreover, with a pushback on women’s and girls’ rights at the core of terrorist and extremist agendas, it is all the more important that efforts to strengthen gender equality are central to our work in prevention, resilience and peace.
The power of youth is equally critical, as recognized by the Security Council in its landmark resolution on Youth, Peace and Security.
Children and young people make up nearly half the region’s population.
Job creation is an imperative, as is investing in education, training and skills that match the needs of today’s societies and markets.
The list of challenges is long.
But that should not deter us.
The first order of business must be preventing the most acute flash-points in the region from boiling over.
Keeping the channels of communications open needs to be priority number one, followed by confidence-building measures to move parties away from confrontation toward dialogue.
The United Nations is addressing the numerous challenges on multiple fronts: from supporting preventive diplomacy to mediating the ongoing conflicts; from providing humanitarian assistance to millions of people to addressing the human rights dimension; and from supporting sustainable development initiatives to nurturing capacities to tackle climate change, including through the region’s ample alternative sources of energy.
The Special Envoys and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General in the region are working extensively with a wide range of regional and sub-regional organizations, and national and regional stakeholders, including civil society and women’s and youth groups, in close cooperation with the United Nations country teams.
The role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security remains indispensable.
The Middle East region has many fault lines and divisions.
Yet, within these challenges lies the opportunity to build on the words and intentions of the United Nations Charter towards action that will bring real change and a bright future to the peoples of the region.
The United Nations remains strongly committed to that endeavour.