Remarks by Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens, U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council, at a Meeting of the Group of Friends of the UN Alliance of Civilizations Group on Peaceful Coexistence as Path to Sustainable Development

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
April 2, 2014


Thank you, Mr. High Representative, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. On behalf of the United States, it is a great pleasure to participate in this meeting of the Group of Friends of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. The United States is deeply committed to our shared goal of promoting peaceful coexistence and working with all partners to lay the groundwork for peace through improved understanding and cooperation among people of diverse nationalities, faiths, and cultures. We look forward to the upcoming Sixth Global Forum and we commend Indonesia, as one of the most vibrantly diverse countries in the world, and a leading voice for peaceful conflict resolution, tolerance, and mutual understanding, for hosting the Forum in Bali.

We welcome today’s discussion on peaceful coexistence as a path to sustainable development in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We could not agree more.

The world has seen tremendous gains against poverty in the last generation, with over 675 million people lifted out of poverty globally. Yet the track record has been uneven, and countries torn by conflict and violence have been the most trapped by persistent poverty and the most impeded from reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

No one disputes that conflict and violence dramatically undermine development. Countries that experienced major violence between 1981 and 2005 had a 21 point higher poverty rate. Countries affected by severe violence fell behind twice as far in reducing infant mortality, their populations are three times as likely to be undernourished, and their children three times as likely to be out of school.

This is not surprising: violence and conflict, in addition to physical damage and the toll on human and social capital, create uncertainty about the future and undermine precisely the confidence and the mutual respect and trust that is necessary for economic activity and social support.

Significant violence amounts to development in reverse: the average cost of a civil war is equivalent to over 30 years of GDP growth for a medium-sized developing country, trade levels after major violence take an average of 20 years to recover, and the global economic impact of addressing such violence is estimated at 9.5 trillion US dollars, or approximately 11 percent of the Gross World Product.

Put another way, we can commit to universal access to quality education – including the kind of education that builds mutual respect and tolerance -- but unless we address questions of peace centrally, this will not impact the 28-plus million children in countries emerging from conflict who, according to UNESCO, are still not in school, or the women and children who make up 80 percent of refugees and internally displaced persons globally. That is too many to leave behind.

That makes the issue of peaceful and safe societies a paramount poverty issue.

Moreover, this is a universal issue –a child born in a community wracked by violence in any of our countries faces corrosive impediments to education, health, and future livelihoods. We all have important work to do to expand tolerance and mutual respect in all our communities.

The Alliance’s emphasis on peaceful coexistence reminds us of the imperative of tolerance, non-discrimination, and inclusion. The United States sees the Post-2015 Development Agenda as having a vital opportunity, indeed an obligation, to elevate inclusion as a development priority.

That is what underpins our commitment to a goal on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls – collectively, women and girls are the population that faces the most substantial structural and other impediments to leading empowered lives, including because of the violence to which far too many are vulnerable.

That is what informs our commitment to a dedicated goal on open, accountable, and responsive governance, with institutions that afford all individuals a chance for a life of dignity and promise, with equal rights, opportunities, and access to services.

And that is what underpins our commitment to a goal on peaceful and safe societies.

Finally, that is what underpins our commitment to ensure that the goals and targets we craft can create opportunities for all individuals and groups, combat discrimination in all its forms, and celebrate the diversity of all the world’s peoples, communities, and individuals. Harnessing that diversity is what makes all of our societies, and indeed our global community, stronger.

And that is of course the animating conviction of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.

If our organization can uphold and promote the ideal of peaceful coexistence effectively – as so many of the speakers here have already expressed today – the result can be a more inclusive, more tolerant society, that is fortified against the violence that can be so detrimental to lives and livelihoods around the world.

I thank you and wish continued success to the endeavors of the High Representative, his staff, and the distinguished panelists and representatives here today.


PRN: 2014/078