Chapter 3

Continuing the Legacy of Peace


On 30 October, 150 Syrian men and women gathered at the Palais des Nations to launch a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, credible, balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee facilitated by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen.   

The Constitutional Committee brought Syrians together in one room – within the formal political process mandated by the Security Council– for the first face-to-face talks in years.

There were 50 members nominated by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, 50 members nominated by the opposition Syrian Negotiation Commission, and 50 civil society activists and experts and other independents.

The Constitutional Committee has a clear mandate: to prepare and draft for popular approval a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement in Syria and the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).

The Constitutional Committee opened a door to a political effort to overcome nearly nine years of deadly conflict and chart a path for all Syrians.

Forest Whitaker

Actor, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, founder of the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative

“There’s 408 million people who are 15 to 29 years old in areas of conflict… If you want to have any effect on conflict, you have to utilize the motivating and moving source, which is the youth.”

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

Geneva takes pride in its long history as a diplomatic centre, with a nearly universal representation of States. Home to 37 international organizations, a strong community of non-governmental organizations, and prominent academic and research institutions, Geneva well deserves its title as the “Capital of Peace”.

Bringing all of these organizations, institutions and individuals together to share experiences and work collaboratively towards sustainable solutions for global peace, rights and well-being is the core objective of Geneva Peace Week.

Thirty-five events were held in the Palais des Nations this year for the sixth Geneva Peace Week, while numerous other activities took place in the nearby Maison de la Paix.

The Geneva Peace Talks, on the complex and delicate dimensions of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, were held on 21 September.

This event commemorates the International Day of Peace, which is devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples.

Geneva Peace Week has been organized in partnership with the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform and Interpeace since their inception in 2014.


© UN Photo - Adam Kane

Digital technologies impact all aspects of society and can bring significant efficiencies and opportunities to the mediation effort, a traditionally human-centred endeavour. Understanding the opportunities and challenges allows mediators to better leverage digital tools in their efforts to peacefully resolve conflict.

In 2019, UN Geneva supported a number of activities related to the use of digital technologies and mediation for the resolution of armed conflicts. The Toolkit on Digital Technologies and Mediation in Armed Conflict was launched by the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Centre
for Humanitarian Dialogue, in April.

The CyberMediation Initiative, a collaboration between the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, DiploFoundation and swisspeace, continued to explore how digital technologies are impacting the work of mediators.

In November, the Initiative hosted a conference in Geneva to discuss how digital technologies can be used to prevent and resolve violent conflicts.

Disarmament Pavilion

© UN Archives Geneva

© UN Archives Geneva

Throughout its extraordinary existence, the Disarmament Pavilion played an important role in strengthening multilateralism. It was constructed as an addition to Palais Wilson in 1932 to host the World Disarmament Conference of 1932–1934, which was organized by the League of Nations as the first major global effort to achieve disarmament.

More than 60 Governments participated in the conference, including Member States of the League as well as several non-member States such as the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Additionally, civil society representatives, feminists and pacifists brought forth petitions containing over six million signatures in support of disarmament.

Despite the ambitious goals of the conference, an increasingly tense political atmosphere at the time meant that Member States were unable to reach agreement. After Germany withdrew, the conference was suspended, in 1934.

Though the conference did not ultimately lead to disarmament, the process and discussions contributed to the founding of its successor, the Disarmament Commission, in 1952, as well as of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.

The Pavilion itself, located along the shores of Lake Geneva and looking out over the distant peaks of Mont Blanc and the French Alps, went through a number of changes over the years before ultimately being lost in a fire in 1987.

The 100Elles* project on gender and equality highlights the role of 100 women, people with marginalized orientations or gender identities and intersex people, who have made positive contributions to Geneva.
The project is organized by l’Escouade, a Geneva-based feminist organization, in partnership with the City of Geneva.

Mary McGeachy

1901-1991, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration diplomat

©Photo: Library and Archives Canada/Mary Agnes Craig McGeachy/PA-212297

Mary McGeachy:
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration diplomat

Mary McGeachy (1901–1991) had a distinguished career as an international civil servant, beginning with the League of Nations and later serving as a Director in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.   

Ms. McGeachy came to Geneva from Canada in 1927, and within one year was able to realize her dream of joining the League of Nations, where she began working in communications. At the beginning of the Second World War, she, along with several colleagues, traversed Europe and escaped to the United States of America. Upon her arrival, she was chosen to serve as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. In 1942, she became the first woman to receive British diplomatic status, though the designation was granted only on a temporary basis, unlike for her male counterparts.

After the war, she was selected to serve as director of the social protection department of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, helping to organize Europe’s post-war reconstruction. Though she was known to be uncomfortable being defined as a feminist, she eventually became President of the International Council of Women, a position she held from 1963 to 1973.


© UN Photo - Jean Marc Ferre

“Women”, noted UN Geneva Director-General Tatiana Valovaya, “can bring a different outlook and experience to disarmament-related discussions”.

Women have always played an important role in pursuing and promoting global disarmament. Despite the active participation of women delegates and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in the build-up to the first World Disarmament Conference in 1932, women have largely been underrepresented in efforts for global disarmament.

In his 2018 Agenda for Disarmament, the Secretary-General of the United Nations expressed concern about the continued underrepresentation of women in disarmament discussions and called for the full and equal participation of women in all decision-making processes related to disarmament and international security. This is particularly relevant as women are disproportionately affected by issues related to weapons of mass destruction, small arms, light weapons and landmines.

The Conference on Disarmament is a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community. With its 65 member States, it provides a platform for complex discussions and negotiations – on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and other issues contributing to global peace and security.

In 2019, Tatiana Valovaya was appointed Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament.

Now, the appointments of Nakamitsu Izumi as Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Anja Kaspersen as Director of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, and Renata Dwan as Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, reaffirm the commitment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to achieving gender parity in senior and leadership positions, in line with the System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity.   

In her first address to the Conference, Ms. Valovaya reaffirmed her unwavering commitment to supporting the critical work of disarmament, and noted the “bigger-than-ever need for the Conference on Disarmament to succeed in providing collective responses to current global challenges to peace and security”. As the first woman appointed to the highest leadership position of the Conference on Disarmament, she also stressed the need for greater gender balance in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.

While these appointments signal an increasingly enabling environment for the participation of women, women remain seriously underrepresented in United Nations disarmament meetings. There remains a critical need to recognize the valuable contribution that women make to global peace and security, and to promote the participation of women in decision-making processes in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.

Watch Mary Woolley, the only woman delegate from the United States of America to the World Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations, of 1932–1934.


© UN Photo - Nadejda Mecheva

Conflicts continue to be waged with a variety of conventional weapons that have devastating impacts on civilians. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, and its Protocols, seek to ban or restrict the use of weapons that cause excessive injury or unnecessary suffering to combatants or affect civilians indiscriminately.

The Convention is a dynamic legal instrument that allows relevant rules of international humanitarian law to be progressively developed and codified. Seeking to balance military necessities and humanitarian considerations, the Convention is valued for responding credibly and responsibly to advancements in weapons technology.

As a mechanism for furthering international rules relating to the development and use of conventional weapons, the Convention addresses emerging issues and provides for the possibility of negotiating new protocols. The Convention currently has five Protocols and is structured specifically to ensure future flexibility.

In 2019, annual conferences were held in Geneva on Amended Protocol II and Protocol V, which were preceded by meetings of experts.

Amended Protocol II is a critical part of the international community’s response to the harm caused by mines, booby traps and other devices. The 2019 meeting of experts focused its discussions on improvised explosive devices, including on how to protect civilians through risk education.   

Protocol V, on explosive remnants of war, is the first multilateral agreement addressing one of the principal dangers encountered by civilian populations in the aftermath of armed conflicts. The clearing of explosive remnants of war in urban settings, data collection and information management, as well as cooperation and providing assistance to victims, were the main issues addressed at this year’s meeting of experts on Protocol V.    


Photos submitted by participants

Advancements in science and technology continue to bring the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals closer to reality. This is especially true with advances in fields such as energy production, biomedicine, agriculture and electronics. Developments that were unthinkable just a few years ago, such as genetic engineering and autonomous artificial intelligence, are now at the leading edge of current capabilities. Along with their benefits, these technologies could also pose risks if used for malicious purposes.

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs has built extensive partnerships to expand the understanding of scientific breakthroughs and technological developments, and their potential impacts on disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.   

Technological and scientific advances continue to push the limits in regard to how established arms control instruments are understood and applied. Emphasis has been placed on developing a responsible culture for using science and technology,
and raising awareness about their role in global peace and security.


Photos submitted by participants

Rapid advances in science and technology have rendered the possibility of engineering a bioweapon and conducting a biological attack more plausible than ever. Concepts such as biosafety and biosecurity,  and the responsible uses of biosciences and biotechnologies, have grown in importance.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, recognizes that youth are “a tremendous force to bring about change in the world”, to secure our common future.

Following this call to action, UN Geneva invited 20 young scientists from 14 countries in the Global South to participate in a conference to build a network and discuss issues relating to the peaceful and responsible uses of life sciences and biotechnologies. This also gave the young scientists a unique opportunity to meet with delegates and experts working on the Biological Weapons Convention, at the annual meeting of experts on the Convention that was also being held at the Palais des Nations.

The young scientists committed to raising awareness about the developments in bioscience and biotechnology. They learned more about the working processes of the Biological Weapons Convention. In a simulated exercise, they conducted “science diplomacy” in response to an infectious disease outbreak.

In line with the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, the scientists also committed to acting as agents of change in their countries and to harnessing the power of young scientists across the world.

The impact of science and technology on the Biological Weapons Convention

© UN Photo - Adam Kane

The Biological Weapons Convention, of 1972, is the only bulwark we have against the deliberate use of disease as a weapon. It effectively bans the development, production, acquisition, transfer and use of biological weapons. A total of 183 States from all regions of the world have joined the Convention, making it a near-universal norm against biological weapons.    

In 2019, nearly 400 scientists, experts, diplomats from around 100 countries and representatives of international organizations and civil society gathered at UN Geneva to take part in a forum for technical discussions, to share information and to establish new partnerships.   

There were wide-ranging discussions exploring specific topics, which included international assistance and cooperation, and strategies for strengthening the Convention and national implementation. Issues raised for the first time were the convergence between biology and artificial intelligence, and the gender-related impacts of biological weapons.    

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs highlighted three themes in 2019 to strengthen the Convention: improving response and preparedness for deliberate events, safeguarding the peaceful uses of biology, and enhancing capacities for reviewing scientific and technological developments.

Adama Dieng

Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.

“Fostering inclusive society is key if you want to prevent atrocity crimes. The big massacres start with little actions and language.”

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Technological advances in domains such as artificial intelligence can bring significant social and economic benefits across a host of sectors. Despite potential benefits, there are growing concerns over ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law in the development and potential use of autonomous weapons systems.

The Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament is committed to supporting the efforts of States to elaborate measures to ensure human control over the use of force.

In 2016, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons established a Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems, which has also had active participation from civil society and academia. The Group met twice in 2019 to discuss, among other things, potential challenges to international humanitarian law, the main characteristics of autonomous weapons systems, human–machine interaction and potential military applications.
The Group adopted 11 guiding principles for future discussions, and affirmed the relevance of international humanitarian law.    


  1. International humanitarian law continues to apply fully to all weapons systems, including the potential development and use of lethal autonomous weapons systems.

  2. Human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained, since accountability cannot be transferred to machines. This should be considered across the entire life cycle of the weapons system.

  3. Human–machine interaction, which may take various forms and be implemented at various stages of the life cycle of a weapon, should ensure that the potential use of weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems is in compliance with applicable international law, in particular international humanitarian law.
    In determining the quality and extent of human–machine interaction, a range of factors should be considered including the operational context, and the characteristics and capabilities of the weapons system as a whole.

  4. Accountability for developing, deploying and using any emerging weapons system in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons must be ensured in accordance with applicable international law, including through the operation of such systems within a responsible chain of human command and control.

  5. In accordance with States’ obligations under international law, in the study, development, acquisition, or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, determination must be made whether its employment would,
    in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by international law.

  6. When developing or acquiring new weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems, physical security, appropriate non-physical safeguards (including cybersecurity against hacking or data spoofing), the risk of acquisition by terrorist groups and the risk of proliferation should be considered.

  7. Risk assessments and mitigation measures should be part of the design, development, testing and deployment cycle of emerging technologies in any weapons systems.

  8. Consideration should be given to the use of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems in upholding compliance with international humanitarian law and other applicable international legal obligations.

  9. In crafting potential policy measures, emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems should not be anthropomorphized.
  10. Discussions and any potential policy measures taken within the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons should not hamper progress in or access to peaceful uses of intelligent autonomous technologies.

  11. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons offers an appropriate framework for dealing with the issue of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems within the context of the objectives and purposes of the Convention, which seeks to strike a balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations.