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Concluding Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the UNHCR-International Peace Academy (IPA) Seminar on "Healing the Wounds: Refugees, Reconstruction, Reconciliation," Princeton, 1 July 1996

Speeches and statements

Concluding Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the UNHCR-International Peace Academy (IPA) Seminar on "Healing the Wounds: Refugees, Reconstruction, Reconciliation," Princeton, 1 July 1996

01 July 1996

In my closing remarks, I shall not try to summarize the discussions. I found them to be very rich and I now realize that "healing the wounds" is an even more complex and multi-faceted process than I thought! This reminds me of the words of Einstein, who himself was a refugee, and by the way stayed for a while here at Princeton. He said: "Politics is just like physics - only harder."

Healing the wounds and reconciliation are about building bridges between groups and individuals, but also between the interlocking aspects of peace making, demilitarization, reconstruction, establishing a legitimate basis for authority and refugee repatriation.

To build bridges between groups and people, there must be bridges between concepts and partners in the common implementation of peace building. We therefore need a coherent framework to help war-torn societies to get back to their feet again. Let me mention some aspects of this framework which, I think, transpire also from our discussions.

1. For our strategies, we must take into account that all situations differ: the nature of the conflict, its intensity, the type of compromise solution and the priority needs of the country and people in question are important guiding factors, among others.

2. I think there was recognition that the causes of conflict need to be better analyzed. Returning to the status quo ante is unlikely to produce lasting peace, as the pre-conflict situation led to conflict in the first place. We may have to be more imaginative and daring in pursuing solutions. We should certainly avoid to amplify or replicate in the peace reconstruction efforts, the causes and mistakes made previously in a particular society. In this regard equity of access to resources was noted as being particularly relevant.

3. We agreed that inter-community healing requires time because the challenges are in many situations huge: to re-establish common values, and to restore or sometimes even create a common identity. I am pleased that there was broad support for more realistic time frames to achieve refugee repatriation in both Bosnia and Rwanda. Some participants also underlined the importance of a strong post-IFOR international presence in Bosnia.

4. I would say that in peace building multilateralism is more than ever necessary. Bilateral political and economic efforts are of course important, but they should be coherent and complement and support multilateral action.

5. The focus on establishing military peace should be balanced with full attention and resources for the civilian aspects of peace. In this context and telling from the reactions in the audience, David Hamburg's idea of a civilian equivalent of NATO deserves to be explored.

6. Bearing in mind also what Minister Pronk said last night, I think we have to be imaginative in using the tools of reconstruction, such as development assistance, and be prepared to take risks. We are dealing increasingly with situations of no war and no peace: reconstruction must jumpstart and sustain peace and reconciliation initiatives, especially at the community level. As I said yesterday: "reconstruction that is too conditioned on progress in the peace building process, may itself undermine that."

7. Proper coordination is indeed vital, to avoid confusion and, instead, to ensure a unity of purpose and clear direction among all actors on the ground. Good management is crucial to rally their support. It may not always be possible to avoid inconsistencies in objectives and timetables of complex peace settlements and strategies; when they occur, they must be managed.

8. This also applies to the competing demands of justice and peace. By being too zealous on justice, we may postpone peace. But by being too lax on impunity, there is likely to be no healing and no lasting peace at all. There was a consensus that as a minimum, the truth must come out.

9. Healing and reconciliation require more than justice. I would like to amplify the plea of some of you to pay more attention to the critical role of women in restoring bridges between groups and people, and to the education of tolerance for children.

10.However complex the measures to promote healing, we should at least contain and tackle those forces which prevent healing, often intentionally: the "hate media", the former leaders in the Rwandan camps who were responsible for genocide, the war criminals in Bosnia.

I will stop here. Today, you all spoke less about refugee repatriation. In a way that is good: whereas just solutions for refugees and displaced persons are crucial for reconciliation, they depend to a large extent on the various other components of peace building.

In conclusion, let me thank the organizers of the conference - IPA, my UNHCR colleagues and Princeton University - the Secretariat, all panelists and all participants. I witnessed these two days an enormous eagerness for dialogue. That is hopeful. Humanitarian action can indeed be a rallying point, as Ambassador Owada said, for human solidarity, for mobilizing the will of major actors to help heal the wounds. I am enormously encouraged. I thank you all.