Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister (l), Rosemary DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (m), and Najla Mangoush, Foreign Minister of Libya (r) on the way to a press conference after the 2nd Libya Conference in Berlin in June 2021. Thomas Imo/photothek.de

he year is ending on a challenging note. Hopes that the world was finally emerging from the worst public health crisis in generations have been put on hold. Covid-19 is surging again, adapting and exploiting weaknesses in our defenses, including a failure to make vaccines more accessible around the world. If the past two years are anything to go by, the direct impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus on the dynamics of armed conflicts will be minimal. But the devastating socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, which have been particularly acute in conflict-affected countries, risk accentuating long-term concentration of extreme poverty and, in turn, fueling rising social discontent and political volatility.

Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo during a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan. UN Photo/Junbeom Pyon

The year was also one of setbacks in other areas affecting international peace and security. Fighting raged in Ethiopia. In Afghanistan, as I saw during my recent visit, a Taliban victory led to, among other worries, acute concern grow regarding the protection of human rights, especially the rights of women and girls. Europe saw another flare between Armenia and Azerbaijan and warnings of a possible major confrontation in eastern Ukraine. In Asia, Africa and the Americas, coups or a shrinking of democratic space accentuated an apparent turn towards authoritarianism.

Secretary-General António Guterres visits the former Territorial Areas for ​​Training and Reintegration (TATR) Llano Grande, in Dabeiba, Antioquia. 23 November 2021. UN Photo/UN Verification Mission in Colombia

Without a doubt, 2021 saw a great deal of bad news in international peace and security. But even during the darkest moments of the last 12 months, the work of peace never stopped. The best way to achieve an end to hostilities and ensure against a recurrence is to settle differences via compromise, giving all involved a stake in building a peaceful, stable and sustainable future. That takes political will and, often, a lot of patience. That is why I take heart in the progress in Colombia, which just celebrated the fifth anniversary of the signing of the agreement that put an end to decades of war between the government and the former FARC guerrillas. As the Secretary-General reiterated during his recent visit to the country, the Colombian peace process had generated hope and inspiration in Colombia and throughout the world.

In Libya, the ceasefire agreed with UN assistance in October 2020 largely held in 2021.

Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo meets UN staff during her visit to Libya in October 2021. UN Photo

Even in Sudan, where the transition has been threatened by a military takeover, we continue to work with the different parties to put the process back on track as popular demonstrations with large numbers of women and youth continue.

Special Representative for Sudan Volker Perthes during a visit to River Nile State. UN Photo/UNITAMS

And although elections in themselves are not a panacea, we consider that the constant demand for electoral assistance from countries around the world is a sign that calls for inclusion and participation in governance are being increasingly heard.

As we look to 2022 and the challenges that await us, it is heartening to see that this guiding principle of our work — that people, including women and youth, must have a role in how they are governed and in making and building peace — is gaining ever more currency. This does not mean that meaningful participation has become the norm everywhere — far from it. But it is true that the old saying, “Nothing about us without us” has never been as relevant. We are convinced this development augurs well for the building of sustainable peace and are privileged to play a role in making it a reality for all.

Rosemary DiCarlo
Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs

The following timeline lists events or developments that marked the year for DPPA. It is by no means exhaustive — for example, some critical situations do not appear, including Yemen, where our mediation efforts continue; or Mozambique, which saw substantial progress in its peace process in 2021. The issues it does include are just as emblematic and show the range of work and concerns on our agenda, from situations that barely register outside their immediate regions to events that attract global attention.

IN FOCUS: Electoral Assistance

You may have noticed that our timeline lists multiple elections, in countries ranging from São Tomé and Príncipe to Venezuela. Elections are a vital part of democratic processes, including political transitions, implementation of peace agreements and consolidation of democracy. The United Nations plays a major role in providing international assistance to these important processes of change. The Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and head of DPPA is the UN focal point for electoral assistance matters.

A polling station in The Gambia on election day. UN Photo/Arthur Sessink

In 2021, a year that saw a retreat in democracy in different regions of the world, assisting countries in conducting credible and inclusive electoral processes was more important than ever. As Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo writes above, elections in themselves are not a panacea. But it is equally true that when people do not have a periodic, fair, inclusive and transparent way of choosing their leaders and representatives, they cannot truly have a say in how their societies are governed.

In 1991, the General Assembly established a framework for United Nations electoral assistance, which has continued to evolve and remains the basis for United Nations work in this field. The same year, the Secretary-General, with the endorsement of the General Assembly, designated the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs (now Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) as the UN focal point for electoral assistance matters.

Below is a snapshot of UN electoral assistance in facts and figures:

Between 1 August 2019 to 31 July 2021, according to the latest report of the Secretary-General on elections, the United Nations provided electoral assistance to over 60 UN member states, one observer state and one Non-Self-Governing Territory, of which 11 times assistance was provided under a Security Council mandate.

UN involvement; need for broad public support

Unless specifically mandated to do so by the Security Council or the General Assembly, the United Nations does not organize, certify, supervise or observe an electoral process, and these types of assistance are rarely mandated. Where a Member State, at a critical point in its political life, seeks a United Nations presence in its electoral process, there must be broad public support in the State for the assumption of such a role by the United Nations.

More information on how UN electoral assistance works in the explainer video below:

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