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Excellencies, delegates, friends,
Good morning – and welcome to this meeting on armed violence and development that Norway is co-hosting with UNDP.
As you all know, Geneva is not Oslo – but Geneva is indeed an appropriate venue when the Oslo conference had to be cancelled three weeks ago due to volcano ash drifting in the sky!
Today we meet with the exact same agenda, the exact same resolve and the exact same readiness to deal with substance.
We come together today to manifest our will to tackle armed violence as a barrier to development. On behalf of my co-host Helen Clark and myself, I am pleased that so many of you have taken the time to join us today – and would like to express our gratitude for the many messages from states expressing their continued support for and commitment to the ambitions of the Oslo Conference.
The realities that spur armed violence may be complex. But the reason for calling this conference was simple and compelling: everyday more than 2000 people are killed or die as a direct or indirect result of armed violence. This is a global problem that cuts across geographic regions and levels of development. The death toll from armed violence borders on epidemic proportions.
Armed violence prevents development and causes human rights violations and individual traumas. Armed violence creates an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. Armed violence fosters a culture of impunity and undermines trust in key public institutions.
At the same time, we know this much: sound, sustainable and people-centred development can reduce the problem of armed violence significantly. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is our chosen approach to this goal. Secretary–General Ban-Ki Moon has identified armed violence as one of the key obstacles to the achievement of these goals by 2015.
We – as governments – have pledged to do what it takes to reach these goals. By consequence we need to mobilise our efforts against the scourge of armed violence.
We wanted the very first testimony today to come from civil society. We invited the Brazilian NGO Igarape to make a film for us. They responded, as we just saw, and their film Faces of Violence presents us with brutal realities from around the world, but also with messages of change and hope – if there is will and courage to act.
We are here to tell the world that we – as states – will act to prevent and reduce armed violence, and protect our citizens and communities.
Armed violence may be hard to define precisely, but it is easy to recognise – as our friends from Brazil showed in their film. Definitions are important, but we need to get beyond concepts and move towards real insight into the complex social factors that cause armed violence.
A primary objective for us is to improve our common understanding of what armed violence is, how it impacts on people, across gender and age, communities and states, how we can measure the problem and the efforts to address it, and – not least – how we can move towards real reduction and prevention in the coming years.
We are not starting from scratch. Armed violence and the links to development, human rights and humanitarian efforts have been on the international agenda for years, both within and outside the UN.
Since its adoption by 42 states in June 2006, the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development has been signed by 108 member states.
My Swiss colleagues took an important step when they launched this declaration together with UNDP, and I am confident that the upcoming summit next year will take this work even further.
Furthermore, since the establishment of the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention in 1997, and later the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo 2008, we have seen increasing international support for the protection of civilians and their communities from the consequences of armed conflicts and wars.
The main lesson has been that the humanitarian consequences of the use of antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions were simply unacceptable.
Armed violence is a different issue. It is more complex as the definition of what we wish to counter is broader and more multi-faceted. But the effect of armed violence raises similar concerns and triggers the same humanitarian imperative for us to act as responsible states, as responsible leaders. And as we establish the link with development, we are reminded of the same imperative to combat poverty and inequity.
All of this has brought us to pool our resources in the efforts to address the problems caused by antipersonnel mines, cluster munitions and armed violence. At the core of these problems are the obstacles to development, the denial of the fundamental right to security and the unmet needs of the many victims.
We have a framework for the protection of civilians in armed conflict. However, while we have seen a strengthening of the instruments of international humanitarian law in the last decade, the system itself has come under pressure. We see again and again that core obligations are circumvented, unilaterally redefined or simply ignored. We witness, at the same time, that conflict zones are sealed off to avoid public scrutiny.
Armed violence in conflict does not only harm individuals. Armed violence also harms the social fabric, the physical infrastructure, buildings, markets and bridges. It affects the means of development.
Looking ahead, let us ask ourselves: Where must we be in five years? I would say that among our priorities should be the following three points:
1) We must stop the recruitment of children and young people into wartime militias, as well as into criminal gangs.
2) Women need protection against rape used as a tactic of war, as much as they need protection against forms of violence used in the context of crime.
And 3) we need to end the culture of impunity that lets the perpetrators walk away free in times of war as well as of peace.
The UN and its agencies increasingly report that armed violence is hampering their work, in long-term development and humanitarian actions, inside and outside conflict zones, in peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery operations, in inner cities and refugee camps.
UNDP, and in particular its hard-working staff at the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, has been at the core of these efforts, working closely together with other UN agencies, for example in the Armed Violence Prevention Programme.
Norway is proud to have teamed up with UNDP in this work, and we are delighted that other key UN organisations whose mandates include addressing armed violence, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR, will be joining us. The efforts of these organisations have convinced the UN Secretary-General that armed violence is such a threat to the achievement of the MDGs that he has requested member states to include this topic in the MDG Review Summit in September and in subsequent MDG achievement strategies.
Let me also highlight the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in protecting civilians from the effects of war and armed conflict. For decades, the ICRC has spoken out strongly for the rights of victims to receive adequate care and rehabilitation. It is the custodian of the Geneva Convention and a tireless campaigner for international humanitarian law.
Then there are the victims. They have played a crucial role in the fight to ban anti-personnel land mines and cluster munitions. Now we need to include victims and survivors in this work.
Because the real struggle takes place far away from the conference halls. It takes place on a day-to-day basis in rural communities and cities, and it is carried out by national and local authorities and civil society organisations, often in close cooperation.
Therefore, we are pleased to include civil society organisations from local to global level.
We asked one of our long-standing partners in humanitarian disarmament, Action on Armed Violence, to take responsibility for selecting and mobilising civil society participation. It turned out to be a huge task, as more than 250 NGOs from all over the world wanted to participate. We only had room for a small group of them, but we hear their voices loud and clear and I find this massive commitment to addressing armed violence very encouraging.
The main responsibility for addressing armed violence rests with us – the states. States have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their citizens.
Then it boils down to political commitment and resolve.
Only states can implement the measures needed to address the problem fully, through fair justice systems, health and education services, social and economic development including employment and equitable distribution of resources.
Only states can address the problem of the massive proliferation of small arms, which is causing so much death and misery, through a combination of national measures and legislation and international cooperation.
Only states can safeguard the rights of victims of armed violence.
Many of the most severely affected states are also among the poorest in the world. An effective system of international cooperation and assistance must therefore be integrated into to our common efforts.
Addressing armed violence is not a straightforward political exercise. Armed violence cannot simply be banned like antipersonnel mines or cluster munitions.
The only way we can address armed violence is by pursuing facts-based, long-term strategies that identify and address the direct and indirect drivers and instruments of the problem. The key is a firm political commitment from states to take on the challenge.
I hope that we can secure such a commitment from all of you present here.
Together with our partners, and in close consultation with you, we have developed a set of five commitments – “the Oslo Commitments” – that I believe to be a crucial step forward. I hope that later today you will join us in adopting these commitments.
Our ambition is that – together – we will strengthen and support an emerging framework for action, and thus achieve a measurable reduction in armed violence by 2015. We are determined to make a difference. I am confident that we will do so.