Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Debate on Exclusion, Inequality, and Conflict

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 9, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for chairing this important debate on addressing inequality and poverty and their relationship to conflict. And I thank you, Secretary-General Guterres and Ms. Tibán Guala, for sharing how these challenges impact your work and for highlighting your recommendations for how to overcome them.

Today’s debate sends a clear message from the Security Council: inequality, marginalization, and exclusion are issues of peace and security. They drive instability, violence, conflict, and mass migration. There are more conflicts ongoing today than at any other point since the end of the Cold War. These conflicts are not the same as the older ones, though. They are more violent; they last longer; they are increasingly regionalized; and they involve more non-state actors.

The United States is laser-focused on stopping these conflicts and mitigating suffering. To do that, we must address the root causes of these crises. Otherwise, our work is simply applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound. These root causes are old: stunted economic growth, competition for scarce resources, hatred for those different from ourselves. But they are exacerbated by today’s modern challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and natural resource degradation. All these sources of conflict and contributors to instability represent forms of inequality, marginalization, and exclusion.

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, for example, have affected every country – but, of course, they have not affected us all equally. To address that, the United States is committed to being the world’s arsenal of vaccines. We have pledged over 1.1 billion doses, and have already provided over 230 million doses worldwide, with no strings attached, because we know not every country can afford to produce or purchase these lifesaving vaccines. It is also why, at the UN General Assembly, President Biden announced that he would work with Congress to once again double our public international finance to $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to help developing countries tackle the climate crisis.

We also know every single person is born with the human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that is what makes them universal. But some still face exclusion and marginalization because of factors that should be irrelevant, like who they are, or who they love, or what group they were born into, what religion they practice, or the color of their skin. That is one reason why, as President Biden reminds us every day, human rights are at the center of our foreign policy. By promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, we are doing the right thing and honoring our values. But we are also practicing preventative diplomacy – strengthening resiliency and ensuring societies are less vulnerable to conflict. All three of the UN pillars – development, human rights, and peace and security – are, in this way, intertwined.

We must therefore take an inclusive approach to peacebuilding and conflict prevention. For example, development promotes economic growth, which is often the biggest challenge for post-conflict societies. So those thinking through peacebuilding solutions must engage local development actors early to determine necessary steps for improving stability and ensuring a lasting peace. Meanwhile, forms of inequality and exclusion stunt economic growth. If economic disparity or the threat of violence makes it too difficult for excluded groups to survive and thrive, citizens will make the difficult choice to leave their homelands for the hope of a better future.

Similarly, if your society excludes women from roles in the workplace, you lose out on half of your workforce. That is a problem of development; it’s a problem of human rights and peace and security rolled into one. Ensuring the meaningful empowerment, participation, and protection of women in all aspects of the peace- and security-building process is necessary for building durable and peaceful societies.

For these reasons, the United States supports UN missions with robust human rights mandates, gender mainstreaming across mission activities, and strong coordination functions with humanitarian and development organizations. Additionally, peacekeeping missions need to promote the protection of civilians and strengthen democratic structures of governance and rule of law. That is how you address the root causes of conflict; that is how you build the conditions for enduring peace.

For our part, the United States is working through international and NGO partners to provide humanitarian assistance for those impacted by these threats and stressors, including refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and those vulnerable migrants in countries around the globe. But no country can address inequality, marginalization, and exclusion alone. We must take on these intertwined threats together. Our peacebuilding solutions need to take an inclusive approach – one that ensures development actors, human rights activists, and security experts are all talking to each other and coordinating to build just, equal, and durable societies. We hope the Security Council is up to the task of organizing these efforts, ensuring that our approach is inclusive, and addressing these root drivers of conflict so that we can build a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Thank you, Mr. President.