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November 2007 Vol. 9 No. 2

Peruvian Diplomat Lectures at AUB

Alvaro de Soto

The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs hosted distinguished diplomat Alvaro de Soto in the Hambrecht Distinguished Peacemakers Lecture in West Hall on October 22, in a talk entitled, "Lessons Learned from a Quarter Century of Peacemaking on Three Continents."

The Peruvian diplomat, who has worked with the United Nations for 25 years, was the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. He has also worked on the decade-long war in El Salvador, as well as the Cyprus problem, Myanmar, and Western Sahara.

De Soto argued that not all conflicts lend themselves to mediation, explaining that third party mediation is required when the degree of suspicion or mistrust is high. Mediators must be impartial, need to be accepted by both parties and individuals, and carry out the exercise in "good offices."

There is a difference between wartime and peacetime negotiations, he said, with the former having a lot of advantages, because public opinion plays an important role in peace-making. This fact made negotiations between the two contending parties in El Salvador less complicated.

According to de Soto, the UN Secretary General has been the world's default peacemaker and chief diplomat in the last few years. He spoke of a revival in UN peacemaking, saying that the UN handles now many more conflicts than it did in the first 30 to 35 years of its establishment and during more than the Cold War period.

De Soto, who worked closely in his career with the UN secretaries, General Perez de Cuellar, Boutros-Ghali, and Kofi Annan, gave an overview of the major involvements of the UN in worldwide conflicts, including those in the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Central America, Africa, El Salvador, and others. In the 1990s, he said, "It seemed as though the UN could do anything. There was hope, a feeling of hubris."

De Soto said that the UN Secretary General should be independent and non-susceptible to external influence. The main problems the UN faces include dealing with the various activities of humanitarian and development assistance, as well as with political action.

Also, UN envoys have to deal with human rights violations during conflicts. "Peace supersedes all goals and stopping the fighting is the most important thing, yes, but for the UN Secretary General this is complicated, because as the personification of the UN, the secretary general has a duty to uphold the human rights law. The UN cannot be associated with deals, either open or backroom, to provide amnesty to war crimes or genocide.