Remarks by Ambassador Richard Mills at a Civil Society Organizations Dialogue on the Security Council Presidency for March 2021

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 12, 2021


Thank you very much, Secretary-General, and good afternoon to everyone. I’m particularly honored to be here today. I see lots of organizational names floating across the screen; organizations that, several of which, I worked with in my previous career whether that was in Lebanon or Iraq, Armenia, Pakistan. So, I’m particularly honored to have a chance to talk to all of you, but especially some old friends that I have come across the previous years.

As the Secretary-General mentioned, I understand this is a bit of a tradition for the WFUNA to host a discussion between civil society groups and the incoming Security Council President. And I am certainly honored, on behalf of the U.S. Mission, on behalf of Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, our permanent representative, to be here with you today to continue that tradition in a small way. I would say this time may be a little different because, as the Secretary-General just mentioned, the United States does hold the Security Council presidency for the month of March, I don’t think it will come as a surprise to all of you when I say we also inaugurated a new U.S. president on January 21st. In addition to that we have a new permanent representative with the arrival of Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as I’m sure most of you know a 35-year veteran of the U.S. diplomatic corps, who just arrived over two weeks ago. Unfortunately, she’s unable to join us here today partly because of the press of Security Council work today. But I think it’s an opportunity today to not only answer your questions to provide insight into our Security Council presidency, but into the new administration’s policies writ large to the extent that they’re in shape this point into the Biden administration.

So maybe that’s a place to start.

We’re a relatively short time into the Biden administration, we’re coming up to the two-month mark, but I hope it’s already been made very clear, especially to informed observers like you, that this administration wants to send a message: The United States is engaging with the world once again. Not just by saying those words, but by actions. And I hope you’ve seen some of those. On Inauguration Day, President Biden said, “we will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.” And immediately after delivering those remarks, the President instructed his team, including those of us here at the U.S. Mission, to begin rebuilding a sense of trust and partnership. And part of that was announcing his intent to re-enter the Paris Climate Accords, the World Health Organization. And, speaking frankly, I don’t think it was a coincidence that he also nominated Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to represent the United States at the UN on that very same historic first day.

Since her arrival and her nomination, the Ambassador has certainly brought the President’s mandate to engage with the world and repair our alliances to her work here and to all of us who are part of her team at the Mission. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has made clear that she’s going to do this with a very principled approach that is rooted in our values, in our support for democracy and human rights, and in the promotion of peace and security. And those same themes, quite honestly, are what we want to signal and highlight this month during our time as President of the Security Council.

I think most of you know, but for those of you who don’t know the intricacies of how the Council works, the month-long rotation of the Security Council Presidency provides each of the Member States an opportunity to inform the agenda of the Council to reflect their national priorities for a given month. So, democracy, human rights, promotion of peace and security are at the heart of the U.S. program of work for March.

So, let me start there. In support of Human Rights, and this being Women’s History month, one of the first major events of our Presidency, was an Arria-formula meeting on Women, Peace, and Security that we wanted to be a call to action for the UN. A call to action to increase the role of women in peacebuilding, to protect women, especially women leaders, from violence. This meeting will be followed next week by Vice President Kamala Harris’s participation in the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She’ll be talking on Monday at the CSW giving a major address on the administration’s approach to encouraging and empowering women leaders across the globe.

As I also said, supporting peace and security also at the heart of our mandate and our instructions from the new administration, at the heart of the new U.S. foreign policy under this administration. So, it should come as no surprise that yesterday we held our signature event for the month. This was a Council session on conflict and food insecurity. It focused on how to break the cycle of conflict and famine that can lead to more conflict and human suffering in places that we are all familiar with, like Yemen and Syria. Our goal here was to have a discussion about how food insecurity can be a leader, a potential trigger, a spark for conflict, and how conflict can also drive food insecurity, the flip side of that. And we were quite pleased with how the discussion unfolded and that those themes were hit. You hear often that the Council needs to be thinking more long-term, looking ahead at what are the drivers of insecurity, conflict. So, we thought highlighting food insecurity as a potential driver of potential insecurity in the world was an important part of that; getting the Council to think about that and hopefully sparking the Secretariat – the UN system itself – to be more proactive about coming to the Council to share with us when they think food security around the world is going to perhaps spark conflict, in addition to where conflict is driving food insecurity and making it harder to end that conflict.

I mentioned Yemen as an example of where food insecurity is driving conflict, and I can say that addressing the situation in Yemen, the terrible humanitarian situation there, remains a priority and will be addressed at the monthly briefing on Yemen on March 16. Certainly, I think everyone here will agree that humanitarian disaster has gone on too long. So that’ll be a focus of that Council session.

Those themes will continue to inform our approach to Security Council briefings throughout the month, including those that have already happened, as we are meeting half way through the month. And they informed I think much of our discussion earlier this month on South Sudan, the renewal of the UNMISS peacekeeping operation, our discussion on Sudan, UNITAMS, the new political peacekeeping mission there, and it will inform the briefings that are yet to come in our program of work: on Libya, the DRC, and MONUSCO, Afghanistan, and the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

And, of course, democracy and human rights, the promotion of peace and security will, unfortunately perhaps to say, be the themes that will inform our engagement on Syria next week. The Council and our program of work will take up Syria at the very moment that we mark the 10-year anniversary of a conflict that has brought so much suffering to the Syrian people. There will be several events, I think, across the UN system to mark what is a tragic anniversary. But we certainly are looking forward to this discussion on Syria on Monday and addressing the humanitarian situation, and both that and the political process we believe that’s necessary to resolve the conflict in accordance with existing Security Council resolutions.

I was pleased, I know Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield was pleased, that this week the Security Council was able to speak with one committed voice on Burma, when the entire Council condemned the violence against peaceful protesters there, protestors that included women, youth, children. We are prepared to engage on the most pressing global crises this month, whether it’s in Burma, Haiti, or Ethiopia. And we will remain vigilant, as President, against threats to democracy, human rights, peace and security around the world this month and, of course, in months to come.

I should also stress to this audience, that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has herself underscored how much the United States and this administration values the voice of civil society, the voice of NGOs who often know from first-hand experience the world’s most pressing problems and sometimes the best solutions. So, one of the Ambassador’s first meetings in New York actually was with NGOs on the ground in Yemen. She wanted I know from our discussions, she wanted to hear very much from people who live with these issues every day and who are actually on the ground dealing with them.

Civil Society activists, leaders are some voices that we feel, very much can offer a perspective that the Security Council needs to hear. They play such a critical role in holding UN Member States accountable to their international obligations. So, one of our focuses has been to continue to support civil society participation at the UN, including this month by integrating civil society voices in our discussions at all levels, including in the Security Council. And so far, we’ve had some very strong, very feisty civil society speakers at several of the meetings and briefings that have taken place.

Of course, also dominating or the context for much of our work this month is the pandemic, and as we all grapple with it, seek ways to mitigate its impact on the world – particularly its impact on the most vulnerable – the partnership between governments and civil society has never been more valuable. And, so, here at the UN, I would say that we’re very encouraged to see how civil society is playing an important role encouraging all delegations to do more, while they are providing important visibility into the most pressing problems that the pandemic has either amplified or triggered. My bottom-line message is we really want, as a delegation this month and looking forward into the future, to encourage all stakeholders, including civil society, to have a voice at the United Nations and to use that voice.

Let me close, before I turn it over to the Secretary-General, to take a moment to recognize some of your colleagues who have suffered intimidation and reprisals for the important work they do. I want to deliver the message that the United States will continue to stand with you and the work that you do. We look forward to our continued work together with OHCHR’s New York office to ensure this remains a priority area for UN engagement as well. I think all of you know the UN was founded on the ashes of a horrific war, and it was founded for the most noble of causes, and there is no place for any member to discourage open and honest engagement with the United Nations. And that is something we believe in very strongly and we are advocating for with all our fellow delegations here.

I’ve probably talked enough; I’ll stop there and turn it over to the Secretary-General to moderate a few questions, and I look forward to the dialogue.

Thank you very, very much.