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UNCOPAC: A Model for the Prevention of Violent Conflict

Reiner Steinweg
Realizing the Intention of the UN Charter. Invitation for discussion.

I. The Starting Point

The United Nations Charter emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. The death and suffering of many millions of people, the Holocaust and the destruction of many parts of the world were warnings calling out for a collective security system. The desire of the community of nations to be able to ward off future threats to peace through prompt and appropriate action was reflected in the United Nations Charter (Article 1, paragraph 1). Here, the community of nations commits itself:

“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

This noble goal, to prevent threats to peace, is a great challenge to the community of nations. Thus far, massive domestic violations of human rights and escalations of conflicts, even including genocide, civil war and wars between countries, have only been avoided in a few cases, such as Estonia or Moldavia, and only then thanks to a major complementary effort by international governmental and non-governmental organizations. The many cases where this did not happen, or where virtually no such attempt was made, make it clear that an appropriate international crisis prevention instrument is missing from the international architecture.

This instrument must be integrated into the UN system, taking two factors into account. One is the great importance of civil society – which is independent of state structures – in conflict management and transformation. The other is the lack of transparency in the selection of cases for preventive action by the international community. Both factors are addressed in the following proposed statute for a UN Commission on Peace and Crisis Prevention (UNCOPAC). It is seen as a model for further development of the UN system, appropriate for our time, on the basis of Article 1, paragraph 1 of the United Nations Charter, and as a contribution to the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence – for the Children of the World”.

II. Indispensable Crisis Prevention

Given the immense suffering resulting from violent conflicts, crisis prevention is above all a moral and political imperative. But it also makes economic sense. It is much less expensive to transform conflicts into dialogue and constructive action than to deal with the aftermath of violent confrontations. For example, the costs of the Kosovo war have run into billions. Yet it can be assumed that in this case, war could have been avoided had the international community undertaken a sustained non-military intervention in 1993, or at the latest in 1995, in order to avert the clear and predictable effects of a conflict. To this end, it would have been necessary to establish an international judicial system and independent police force obligated to guarantee the human rights of all ethnic groups in the population, and also ensure equal access to work, public positions and resources, accompanied by intensive efforts to transform the conflict.

Although appropriate legal bases exist in the UN Charter for such sovereignty-restricting external intervention, experience shows that the threshold for intervention by the Security Council is very high. Measures are taken, if at all, only when crises become serious threats to world peace. However, they are not taken preventively, to avert the realization of such a threat, even though such action would have a clear political and economic rationale.

Moreover, the humanitarian effects of UN economic sanctions against Iraq show that a careful appraisal of Security Council measures, by its own staff or by other UN bodies, is not adequately guaranteed.

III. Civil Society Participation at UN Level

The power game at UN level would assume a different dimension if relevant non-profit civil society organizations, i.e. NGOs, were able to participate formally in the process of averting threats such as genocide and civil war, and take on a wider role in the preservation of peace within the UN framework before any debate about coercive military measures were initiated.
This would reflect the increased importance of civil society in conflict management and transformation. Many NGOs are involved with great commitment in monitoring human rights violations, in humanitarian aid, in conflict resolution, in peacebuilding in post-war societies and in the fight against poverty, often with a substantial amount of donated funds. The time has come for them to contribute their experience and viewpoints to international decision-making, helping to prevent political disputes from turning into violent conflicts. The legitimation for this derives from their commitment, their extensive experience, their competence and democratic structure, and an international process of accreditation.


As a contribution to the ongoing discussion over a democratic reform of the United Nations' structures, this paper proposes the creation of a UN body whose members would be chosen with the involvement of civil society in a process in which international UN-accredited NGOs would propose candidates to be voted on by the General Assembly. The members of this body should not represent the NGOs, but be highly respected individuals from public life in the five UN regions and the world’s major cultures, selected according to the principle of gender balance (implementation of the Platform of Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 adopted in 2000.) This body should:
§ produce analyses and develop appropriate recommendations for the General Assembly and the Security Council on the necessity and urgency of early non-military intervention in crisis areas;
§ undertake a regular evaluation of crisis prevention measures;
§ initiate and coordinate the institutionalization of peace education and conflict transformation worldwide, and
§ have the right to informthe Security Council.

In addition, it is to be hoped that the Security Council will consult UNCOPAC before adopting decisions on military intervention.

UNCOPAC's integration in the institutional system of the United Nations should be achieved through its establishment as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly in accordance with Article 22 of the UN Charter. This would be entirely appropriate since the General Assembly, in accordance with Article 11, paragraph 3 of the UN Charter, is obliged to draw the Security Council’s attention to situations which could endanger world peace and international security.
Such an institution was also called for by Secretary General Kofi Annan in the 7 June 2001 report on “Preventing Armed Conflict” (A/55/985-S/2001/574), to which the General Assembly responded on 3 July 2003 with a “Landmark Resolution on Prevention of Armed Conflicts.” Kofi Annan's report includes a series of noteworthy recommendations, and it is helpful to quote three directly relevant ones here:

Recommendation 1
“I recommend that the General Assembly consider a more active use of its powers, in accordance with Articles 10, 11 and 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, in the prevention of armed conflicts.”

Recommendation 2
“I urge the General Assembly to consider ways of enhancing its interaction with the Security Council on conflict prevention, particularly in developing long-term conflict prevention and peace-building strategies.”

Recommendation 3
“I encourage the Security Council to consider innovative mechanisms, such as establishing a subsidiary organ, an ad hoc informal working group or other information technical arrangement to discuss prevention cases on a continuing basis…” (emphasis added)

The subsidiary organ, referred to here as UNCOPAC, should contribute to further development in the areas of peaceful reconciliation, conflict management and crisis prevention, and initiate and coordinate steps towards the worldwide strengthening of peace work, peace education and peace research. It should also, on the basis of existing early warning systems, enable the earliest possible intervention in conflicts, especially in those with ethnopolitical dimensions, in order to avert violent outcomes. UNCOPAC should have the right to make recommendations to the General Assembly, the Secretary General and the Security Council, but also to parties to conflicts.

When there are signs that political developments could lead to violent conflict, genocide or crimes against humanity, UNCOPAC should, within a specific period of time, draw up detailed proposals for non-military measures appropriate to reverse the trend in this direction. The deadlines chosen in the proposed statute are short so that proposals for crisis prevention can be made promptly, since time is a decisive factor in prevention, and because the proposed close cooperation between the civil society organizations doing related work and the highly qualified staff of UNCOPAC ensures that well-founded proposals can be developed relatively quickly.

In this way, the United Nations' institutional structure should – without amendments to the UN Charter – be complemented by a well-equipped subsidiary body of the General Assembly, dedicated primarily to crisis prevention. UNCOPAC recommendations would (1) provide an official reason for international non-military “early action” independent of the interests of the governments affected, (2) define the appropriate date of action, which at present is always uncertain, (3) provide a well-founded and well-considered concept and consequently, (4) generally enhance the often contested legitimacy of early action.

Candidates for appointment to UNCOPAC, to be voted on by the General Assembly, should be nominated by internationally active, UN-accredited NGOs which are actively committed to promoting peace (through peace work, crisis prevention, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, human rights, peace education, peace research or humanitarian aid). These organizations should also have the right to submit proposals to UNCOPAC concerning crisis areas in which they are active, and, conversely, to be consulted by the Commission. In this way, civil society will have a voice at the UN level, and the new subsidiary organ is less likely to be misused as a forum for the assertion of national interests. UNCOPAC's decision-making body should not exceed twenty members and must be equipped with a good professional staff. At this size, the Commission will be large enough to ensure that all UN regions, as well as the most important competencies, are represented. On the other hand, only a relatively small body can, in the long run, speak with one voice and not divide into divergent factions on difficult issues. This is the only way that UNCOPAC can remain independent towards international alliances and their hegemonic states.

V. Development of the UNCOPAC Proposal

The inspiration for the development of the UNCOPAC concept came during a meeting of the IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, with co-organizers: VDW/Association of German Scientists and IALANA / International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear War) held in Berlin at the end of September 2001, which gave rise to the Coalition for Life and Peace. The current draft of the UNCOPAC statute was subsequently developed during three study sessions of the Platform for Civilian Conflict Resolution in the Berghof Center for Constructive Conflict Management. It was based on three proposals with similar objectives:

§ The UN Council on Conflict Resolution, proposed by the Women and Peace Working Group of the German National Preparatory Committee for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (initiators Heide Schütz and Ingrid Lottenburger-Bazin);
§ The UN Civilian Peace Council, a concept formulated by Mohssen Massarrat and presented to the European Peace Congress in May 1998 in Osnabrück;
§ The International Intervention Council, proposed in the framework of the Linz Appeal for Peace Policies during the Kosovo war in summer 1999 (among others by Franz Leidenmühler and Reiner Steinweg).


Michael Bouteiller, lawyer and former mayor of the northern German city of Lübeck; Franz Leidenmühler, Institute for International Law, University of Linz, Austria; Ingrid Lottenburger-Bazin, Chair, Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, Berlin, Germany; Mohssen Massarrat, political scientist/peace researcher at the University of Osnabrück, Germany, former spokesperson of the German Independent Peace Movement and co-founder of the Coalition for Life and Peace; Frieder Schöbel, Board of Directors of the Peace Center Association, Braunschweig, Germany; Heide Schütz, Chair, Women’s Network for Peace, Bonn, Germany; Reiner Steinweg, Linz branch of the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Stadtschlaining, Austria, 2001/2002 Acting Director of the Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin, Germany; Peter Vonnahme, administrative judge, Munich, Germany, member of IALANA /International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear War.

On 19 January 2003, this group established themselves as the Initiative Pro UNCOPAC.

This document is a slightly extended version of the text approved by the Initiative Pro UNCOPAC at the end of July 2003. The draft statute was approved in April 2003.

For further information please contact:
Initiative Pro UNCOPAC
Am Glockenberg 8b, 45234 Essen, Germany
Tel/Fax: ++49-201-2696730
mailto : koordination@pro-uncopac.info
http:// www.pro-uncopac (homepage in development)

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