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The Launch of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention and Human Security

Thursday 26th March 2009

The Archbishop of York's keynote speech at the House of Commons...

John Donne said that no one is an island and this has never been truer today. We rely on each other throughout the world. Because of our global interdependence, no country can be isolated from what is happening in the rest of the world be it economic turmoil, climate change, poverty or violent conflict.

In February last year I was invited by Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, the Primate of Kenya, to see the work being undertaken by the Church in caring for those who were victims of the civil unrest that followed the disputed elections there.

In the post-election crisis more than 1,000 people were killed and 300,000 forced from their homes! And the phrase used to describe their plight, Internally Displaced Persons sanitised their desperate situation. They were refugees in their own country!

During my visit I saw many of these 'internally displaced people (IDPs) being cared for in homes – where families were taking in as many as 25 – 60 people. The refugees camps were housing between 300 to 2000 so-called IDPs.

In the many camps I visited I saw people with broken limbs and other physical injuries and many who had been terribly traumatized. One woman had lost her mind because she saw her husband hacked to death. In the Nairobi slums 60,000 children in 70 schools had been traumatized by the violence.

My meetings with those who were engaged in the dialogue and reconciliation process chaired by Mr Kofi Annan demonstrated to me a commitment by all to the priority of the political process over against violence.

It is that belief, that political dialogue can not only cure conflict, but also prevent it and guarantee human security that should serve to underline the vital need for what is being launched here today.

I believe that conflict prevention is an imperative on economic, humanitarian and perhaps most importantly moral grounds.

This Government is committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and through the lead of the Prime Minister it has committed substantial investment to help countries to develop their schools, health service and infrastructure.  However conflict can serve to rob us of these achievements if the causes of conflict are not addressed and prevented. Conflict Prevention is far more cost effective than trying to solve conflicts once they have broken out.

We spend far too little on conflict prevention resorting to peace keeping when the genie is already out of the bottle.  And, as a global community, we appear to be indifferent to what we are doing.  The UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change stated that, the "biggest source of inefficiency in our collective security institutions has simply been an unwillingness to get serious about preventing deadly violence".  This indifference has gone on long enough.  We need to act now.

Together with the economic need for conflict prevention is the humanitarian need for security. Kofi Annan has described human security as "ensuring that each individual has the opportunities and choices to fulfil his or her potential". Or to put it another way, in the words of a second century bishop, St. Irenaeus, "The Glory of God a man or woman fully alive". Without Human Security the continuing tragedies that we see unfolding in Darfur and Zimbabwe will continue whilst populations outraged at these daily acts of inhumanity wonder why their own Government's have been reduced to inaction as these conflicts continue with their increasing human cost.

It is this moral imperative that is aroused in each of us as we bear witness to inhumanity and cry out for justice that forms the most vital of my concerns. Each year, thousands of people are losing their lives or face displacement and loss of their homes around the world because of violent conflicts. As a result, there is a tragic loss of life and human misery. 

A blatant disregard for human rights is accompanied by stories of brutality and evil. Children being robbed of their innocence and having it replaced with a gun or a machete as they are forced into militias. Women and girls being systematically raped and murdered as part of a conflict plan. Unarmed civilians being shot on the orders of commanders.

All sense of human worth and dignity is lost in these most brutal conflicts. The underlying essential truth that each of us is created in the image of the Divine and that, as carriers of God's image, each one of us needs to be treated with love, care and respect is a truth denied and violated in each of these conflicts.   Each one of us is a stand-in for God. In the killing fields of our world, God is being violated and blasphemed.

The role of Parliamentarians when faced with such conflicts is to use your knowledge and power as people's representatives to make a difference.

Parliamentarians can put pressure on national governments to develop improved strategies for making peace, and not just peace keeping.  They can act as powerful advocates within Parliament for adequate sums to be allocated for conflict prevention and to develop more effective preventative diplomacy. And thereby facilitate the creation of good governance where power is used to help all citizens to flourish in an environment that is generous, safe, and trustful. For good governance leads to the prevention of conflict, by transforming power into tending to the needs of all citizens; and keeping to the task.

But perhaps most importantly as we gather for this launch here today is the major role Parliamentarians can play in helping countries to develop conflict prevention. As part of an international network of Parliamentarians working for this shared aim, there is an opportunity today to become a mighty movement for good.

This network will enable parliamentarians to share first-hand knowledge and best practice on political negotiation, conflict resolution, reconciliation and successful democratic transfer of power. They can also work with their respective countries to adopt legislative mechanisms to avoid violent conflict. 


They should hold their governments accountable for national commitments to prevent violent conflicts both at home and abroad.

We can only tackle this if we work together. On our own we cannot get it together. Together we can get it.  So we must take action now because our global village is losing hope, fuelled by a culture of blame and the animal instinct to look for scapegoats.

Last year, the World Bank was forced to issue a statement warning that 33 countries faced serious upheaval and violence due to rising food insecurity.  This is likely to intensify as we see increasing pressure on water, food and land, due to climate change and displacements of people through poverty and war.

So we need to act and act decisively now.  That is why this Parliamentarians Network on Conflict Prevention and Human Security is calling on members of the G20 to take the lead in creating a culture of prevention by properly resourcing conflict prevention.  I very much hope that members of the G20 will consider this when they meet in London next week.

We all have a vested interest in peace.  Our globalised world means we can no longer shrug our shoulders and say "this has nothing to do with me". Our duty to one another as children of God, as brothers and sisters all, is to work together for all our children to prevent conflict and guarantee human security. Only in this way, can we build a situation of lasting and sustainable peace in which we and all people may obtain the resources they need and live together in harmony.  I pray for the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention and Human Security and ask God to bless all that you do to bring about lasting peace.

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