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World: Preventing Conflicts Is In The Interest Of Everyone

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 9 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A report which outlines ways of preventing armed conflicts, particularly ethnic and other strife within states, was launched in London today by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

The report says the nature of war is changing because in the past decade most conflicts have been within states, not, as in earlier years, between states. The strife in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tajikistan, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are examples of the new trend.

The report was drawn up by the Carnegie Commission, an international body of 16 eminent policy-makers and academics, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former Norwegian Prime Minister Mrs Gro Harlem Brundtland. The commission includes seven former foreign ministers (including Lord Owen, Gareth Evans, and Flora Macdonald).

A British Foreign Office minister, Derek Fatchett said in a speech today that the main victim of current ethnic and other internal strife within states have been the human rights of citizens.

He says nine out of 10 casualties are civilians. He said such conflicts threaten the poorest and most vulnerable groups, including women with children and the elderly; who cannot "easily retreat when the frontline moves through their villages." He said ill-disciplined militia groups often destroy food stocks of vulnerable communities or engage in rape.

Fatchett also said that border tensions between states can inhibit trade between nations and be detrimental to people's livelihoods.

The Commission says outside nations should try to prevent conflicts, not merely because it is the duty of all those committed to international peace and security, but because the growth of global trade, travel and communications makes it in their own interests.

Fatchett said: "As we approach the 21st century it is sad that we have to restate that all people should enjoy the basic right to live in peace, and free from fear of conflict."

He welcomed the Carnegie Commission's recommendation that the U.N. should take the lead in conflict prevention.

He said it is necessary to attack the underlying causes of conflict, whether it is ethnic strife, economic disparity or an imbalance of resources. But he said it not always easy for outsiders to prevent conflicts within states because of concerns over national sovereignty. So the key role must be played by the U.N. because of its international authority and legitimacy.

He cited the success of the U.N. Preventative Deployment Force in Macedonia which he called the U.N's first and successful attempt at putting troops on the ground before hostilities break out.

However, he said that the divided island of Cyprus shows that the deployment of a "thin blue line" of U.N. peacekeepers cannot tackle the underlying causes of conflict.

He said the risk of civil war within societies is increased by the absence of good governance and civil society; intense economic inequality and competition over how to earn a living; and deep ethnic and religious divisions "particularly if fault lines coincide with the lines of poverty and inequality." He said the world community can help tackle the underlying causes of conflict by encouraging the OSCE to encourage good governance by monitoring elections; assisting states to develop democratic and accountable armed services; and to ensure that export credits to poor countries are not wasted on military projects.

He also spoke of the need to expand the role of women -- often the first victims of civil strife -- in conflict prevention.

He said one of the main triggers for conflicts is hatred fueled by media propaganda. He said it is necessary to counteract such propaganda though neutral and objective reporting. He said the BBC World Service is playing a vital role in this endeavor. Fatchett said: "Conflict prevention anywhere is in the interests of everyone."