Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Working Methods

Amy Tachco
Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
February 6, 2018


Thank you very much, Mr. President. And I want to thank Mr. Martin for his important briefing which I think will give us a great roadmap for our work in the informal working group.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of working methods. Those details are important, without a doubt. We want the Council to operate as effectively and efficiently as it can. But we, the United States, want to focus on just one aspect of our working methods today. That is, we want to talk about people. We need to commit ourselves to listen carefully to the people around the world who are affected by our decisions and to keep the impact of conflicts on them foremost in our minds.

If we could truly channel the perspectives of the people living in places like South Sudan, Syria, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo that have been traumatized by years of conflict, think of how our responses would change.

But, all too often, that’s not how our meetings work. Instead of thinking about actual conditions on the ground, we default to talking in generalities that can dull the senses. We talk in statistics that can never fully capture the suffering that happens outside this chamber.

That is why the information the Council receives from on-the-ground monitoring is essential for conflict prevention. And we must be inclusive and allow for a full range of voices to explain the dynamics of conflicts and the totality of their impact on civilians, communities, and societies. It is for these reasons we have so frequently sought to have civil society, human rights defenders, and humanitarian experts brief the Council.

The voices from the field are important for two main reasons. First, the information we receive from humanitarian workers and human rights defenders differs from other types of reports. In part, that’s because without their perspective, our knowledge of a conflict is incomplete. When civil society briefers join us, we hear about cases of torture, arbitrary arrests, and crackdowns on peaceful protest – these are human rights issues that can deeply affect our understanding of a conflict. In fact, these human rights violations may be the source of a conflict, and pursuing accountability can be key to a durable peace. So we need to hear perspectives not just from government elites but from the people who are documenting credible cases of human suffering. Closing our eyes and ears to these voices does not advance our interest in maintaining international peace and security. Rather, it leads to discussions that are detached from realities on the ground and impedes our ability to fully deliver on our responsibilities as a Security Council.

We need to be especially mindful of importance of hearing perspectives from women and girls in conflict. These voices are easy to overlook in official reports. But a fundamental part of this Council’s modern agenda is recognizing the need to include women and girls at every stage of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. We know that peace agreements are more durable when women are at the table. By the same token, we strengthen our own mandates when we take these gender perspectives into account. The best way to do that is simple: inviting women from conflict areas to share their views with us directly.

Second, human rights reporting and monitoring gives the Council improved situational analysis and early warning capabilities. Both are needed if we are going to improve this Council’s track record in preventing conflict. The Council has already acknowledged in Resolution 2171 (2014) “that serious abuses and violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, including sexual and gender-based violence, can be an early indication of a descent into conflict or escalation of conflict.” But this is also just common sense. It’s hard to imagine any conflict on our agenda that did not begin with widespread human rights abuses, often against women and girls. The sooner we know these situations are emerging, the faster we can react.

However, this Council’s standard practice and working methods do not fully capture this link. Once conflict emerges, this Council immerses itself in the details of political and peacekeeping missions, often spending large amounts of resources in the process. But, if we acted decisively when we receive warning signs of human rights violations, we could stand a better chance of preventing conflict in the first place. That is where we must aim to improve. And we certainly can improve. For example, we could create an annual Open Debate for NGOs engaged in mediation and conflict analysis to ensure that the Council is aware of best practices. We could invite relevant NGOs to engage with the Council ahead of mandate renewals or the adoption of thematic resolutions, similar to our practice of engaging with troop-contributing countries in advance of mandate renewals. We could more frequently invite humanitarian and human rights organizations to speak under rule 39 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, making them participants in the meetings, and we can ask them to provide more input into briefings and reports. We can also make better use of our VTC capabilities to hear directly from the people affected by the situations on our agenda.

We hope the Council can soon begin expanding on these ideas and seeking ways to increase our engagement with key humanitarian, human rights, and civil society partners. These are the voices that should inspire all of us on this Council to act in defense of the most vulnerable. This alone will not overcome our deepest political divisions, of course. But when we are confronted with the voices of ordinary people demanding an end to conflict, our responses can change for the better. That will never change. But we should structure this Council in a way that maximizes the chances to see that our common interest lies in preventing the outbreak of war and addressing pressing threats. Hearing directly from people is a powerful way to achieve that goal.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.