For the first time in the history of the UN, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the international organisation, stressing the need for reconciliation and mediation in an “increasingly complex international system”.
As current President of the UN Security Council, the UK government invited Archbishop Justin Welby to address the UN. He spoke for over 10 minutes and opened a debate that lasted nearly 7 hours on mediation and its role in conflict prevention.
Aiming to put a spotlight on reconciliation, Welby stated that “For the sake of future peace, we must invest in reconciliation” and that “where there are conflicts; we cannot and will not walk away from them”.
He also further suggested that the presence of the church was necessary in achieving such ambitions as “religious institutions are often the only functioning institutions in a fragile or pre-conflict situation”.
Last year, Welby was made a member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Board of Mediation, along with current or former world leaders, helping to create mediatory measures for the UN, although its significance inside the UN is unknown.
Welby also reminded the organisation of its duty to act united in conflict as “Mediation by itself however skilled is like using a garden hose to put out a forest fire, when what you need is rain over the whole area, to let new life grow and sustain itself”.
“National interests are still too often allowed, even in this chamber, to overcome the wisdom that had lived in a global war had learnt. Without dealing with even passionate disagreement peacefully no national interest can prevail”.
The Archbishop also gave a tribute to the late Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, who died earlier this month, citing how he had “lived his life with a vision of reconciliation and with a personal integrity that will earn him lasting renown”
The following debate on mediation was roundly accepting of the Archbishop’s beliefs, with the Secretary General António Guterres echoing his views by claiming that “mediation is no longer an option; it is a necessity”.
Amongst the large consensus for mediation, there were several calls from the likes of the UK, the Netherland and Kazakhstan for more women to be involved in the role of mediation, with Pakistani Mossarat Qadeem clarifying that “We as women remain largely outside the door”.
Despite his presence being an undoubted historical first, it is not known if such a feat will be repeated. Whilst Welby has a role in the UN, such an invitation by the UK government relies on the state being President of the Security Council, which revolves every month.