Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mohamed Sahnoun spoke at the University of Geneva, about his decades of peace-making work in Africa at the end of January.

It was as part of a three-day seminar of ‘Africa-Geneva meetings’ organized by the University, in collaboration with UNITAR (the United Nations Institute for Training and Research). It offered a platform to five African peace-makers who had all held senior positions in the UN.

Mohamed Sahnoun, President of the Caux Forum for Human Security (Photo: Andrew Stallybrass)Sahnoun drew on his long experience as an international civil servant, at the service of the African continent. A former Deputy Secretary General of the Organization for African Unity, Mr. Sahnoun was also UN Special Adviser to follow developments in Africa; Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, on Sudan (2001-2005); on the Ethiopian/Eritrean conflict (1998-2000); Joint Representative of the UN and the OAU in the Great Lakes region and Central Africa (1996-1998); and Special Representative of the UN to Somalia (1992). He also served as Special Adviser to the Director-General of the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the Culture of Peace Program. He was a member of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), which produced the Report ‘Our Common Future’, as well as Senior Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). He co-chaired the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which produced the Report on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’. Mr. Sahnoun is also the founder and President of the Caux Forum for Human Security.

Mr. Sahnoun spoke about the ‘storms that announce an African spring’. (in French) He spoke of the importance of conflict prevention and of the need for good governance, citing many examples from his personal experience as a peace-maker. He quoted ‘The Imam and the Pastor’ film as a model for grassroots peace-making.

Also on the platform was Aminata Djermakoye, from Niger, who served as Head of Protocol at the UN headquarters in New York, and in the office of the UN Director in Geneva. She had worked on conflict resolution in Eastern Europe, in the Caucasus and the Balkans.

'To make peace, talk to those making war'

In the discussion with audience after their two presentations, both the African speakers insisted on the importance of listening, of empathy, and of sensitivity to the human aspects of conflicts. ‘To make peace, you have to talk to those who are making war,’ they insisted.

The seminar programme stated that the international community can no longer ignore the importance of Africa. The continent demands attention for its history, the youth of its fast-growing population, its agricultural potential, its natural resources, and the multinationals they attract. The many conflicts in the region have led the United Nations to intervene to try to prevent conflicts, and to resolve them. But the programme noted ‘the little-know fundamental work of some African personalities working as peace-makers’. The seminar offered them a chance to tell the story of some of their successes and failures, and their vision for the development of their continent in the decades to come.

(See the programme, in French)

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