Rebuilding Societies Emerging from Conflict: A Shared Responsibility

Panel discussion on: Restoring Social Services: Identifying Priorities
United Nations, New York, 10 September 2002

I am delighted to have this opportunity to chair this morning’s panel discussion on the very important subject of “restoring social services and identifying priorities” as part of rebuilding societies emerging from conflict.

We have a very distinguished panel whom I will introduce shortly.

As an introduction to the discussion, I would like to briefly set the context and touch on some important issues, based on my experience with UNICEF.

The biggest challenge facing those of us working to help rebuild societies in a post-conflict situation is that while the world’s attention and concern is rivetted at the height of armed conflicts, once the violence subsides, international media coverage, political concern and financial support often diminish. That is precisely when the work to rebuild and restore basic services is most essential. Failure to act decisively in the immediate post-conflict situation often has tragic consequences for the most vulnerable groups, in particular children, women and elderly.

During conflict, access to essential services is often disrupted and civilian populations, in particular women and children, are disproportionately affected. There are no redeeming features to the reality of people living in a war zone. Many people lose access to basic social care and other essentials for survival. It is life without enough food, without adequate nutrition or safe water and adequate sanitation. It is life without education and teachers and schools. Human rights violations are often widespread and impunity is often the norm.

Civilians are not only unintended victims, but they are often specifically targeted in an unprecedented manner in today’s conflicts. Women and children in particular run the risk of being killed, forcibly displaced, and sexually exploited.

In a transition period from war to peace, the international community has the challenge to support civilian populations as they strive to rebuild their lives and put the horrors of war behind them. The importance of the re-establishment of basic social services and infrastructure, the provision of health care and basic education, special care and services for women and girls, restoration of the rule of law and addressing the impact of small arms and landmines on civilians cannot be overstated. These are important both for their own sake and to consolidate peace efforts.

This has been underlined by the Security Council, which has expressed, on a number of occasions, its grave concern at the harmful and widespread impact of armed conflict on civilians. In several resolutions, the Security Council has urged all parties to armed conflict to