28 February 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on safety and security panel

 


The United Nations flag that had provided protection to United Nations personnel was itself becoming a target -- and it was important to factor that into how the Organization behaved, Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the newly-established Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel and Premises told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning.


Mr. Brahimi said that the Secretary-General had established the Panel following a brutal attack on Algerian and United Nations targets in Algiers on 11 December 2007, expecting it to look at increasing risks to the safety and security of United Nations staff around the world.


He said that the Panel would first look at what had happened in Algiers and see what immediate lessons could be learned from that extremely shocking and sad event.  Of course, the new body was also expected to take a wider view of the situation in terms of threats and challenges and to analyse the capacity of the United Nations to successfully adapt to the new circumstances.  The Panel was currently composed of six members and was trying to determine if it needed one more member.


The members were expected to possess “a mix of experience and expertise” to understand what had happened and provide “doable recommendations”, things that could be implemented by the United Nations, by its Member States, to allow the Organization to continue doing its business, while better protecting its personnel, he continued.  They would take a critical look at the existing situation and visit a number of duty stations and field operations to determine the conditions on the ground. The Panel would also study the reports that had been produced in the past to see whether their recommendations had been implemented.


“We will do our best, and we hope that our best will be good enough,” he said, before going to questions.


To several queries regarding the reason why the United Nations flag had become a target, rather than protection, Mr. Brahimi replied that the Organization was no longer seen as independent and impartial.  Many people perceived it as taking sides, and there were quite a lot of people who did not make it a secret that the United Nations had become their enemy and, therefore, they considered it a legitimate target.  The United Nations had been put on notice that its flag was not providing protection anymore.


To a comment that the Algerian Government had objected to the establishment of the Panel in the immediate aftermath of the 11 December attack, he said that he believed the Algerians’ objections had related to the fact that they had not been consulted or informed.  His understanding now was that they were fully on board.   Algeria and the United Nations were on the same side of the table.  Nobody was accusing the Algerians of being responsible for what had happened.  Both Algeria and the United Nations had been victims of that terrorist attack and had the same interest in understanding what had happened and why.


To several other questions regarding the responsibilities of Member States and the United Nations, he replied that it was up to the United Nations to decide what its needs were.  It had to give a very high priority to the protection of its people.  It was true that Member States were responsible for the safety of United Nations property and personnel in their respective countries but, ultimately, it was the United Nations that was responsible for it.


He said:  “If I send somebody to Algeria, definitely, I will expect the Algerians to do their utmost to protect them.  But I have got to decide whether that utmost is good enough or not.  And if I think it is not good enough, then either I will add something to what the Algerians are providing, or I don’t send my people there.  I am responsible for the people I send there.”


Thus, he added, if the Security Council decided to send people somewhere, it also had to take into account the hazards they were likely to face there and make sure to limit those risks, through providing added protection to those people and not placing their lives in danger.


Asked to comment on the remarks by Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), that UNDP had asked the Algerian Government for assistance in blocking off the street in front of its location and there had been no response, Mr. Brahimi said that the Panel would look into that.  He had heard that UNDP had asked for a number of measures and that the Algerians said they did not believe those measures were necessary.  Something had certainly gone wrong – otherwise, the attack would not have happened.  “Whether the Algerians were a little bit overconfident, or whether the UN was overly confident -- we will look into that,” he said.


A correspondent asked if, as a former Algerian Foreign Minister and United Nations official, Mr. Brahimi could be trusted to conduct a really independent investigation that might be critical of the Algerian Government or high-ranking United Nations officials.  Mr. Brahimi said that, over the years, he had shown that he was capable of not trying to protect his former colleagues.  He was very much aware that someone who worked for the United Nations -- no matter how shortly -- had to accept the principle that “you neither seek, nor accept instructions from anybody else”.


A correspondent asked if there would be a concerted effort to find out who was culpable for what had happened, and Mr. Brahimi replied that something horrible had happened in Algiers -- he had been there, and he wanted to understand why it had happened and how to avoid things like that in the future.  It was important to understand why the United Nations was being attacked.  He was not sure the Panel would be able to identify the individuals and point its finger at Mr. A, Mr. B or Mr. C.  If it did find somebody who could have done something that could have saved lives and did not do it -- it would certainly say so.


As to what could be done if the Panel found out that there had been mistakes or miscommunication that had cost lives, he said he was not sure it was empowered “to arrest or hang anybody”, but the Secretary-General would get all the information available to the Panel.  “Will we make recommendations, please sack Mr. So-and-so, or arrest Mr. So-and-so, that I am also not sure whether it is expected from us.”


To several questions about a recent letter from the Staff Union, he said that he had full sympathy with their concerns and fears.  He also fully sympathized with all the questions they had raised about the safety of their colleagues, not only in connection with Algiers, but before.  “My door is open to them,” he said.  “If they know anything, if they have any questions, if they have any ideas of how things can be done better […] that are going to increase and better the safety of their colleagues, they are most welcome to come and tell us.”


To a question about financial implications of the Panel’s possible recommendations, he said that, should it be confirmed that the risks were greater than the protection, additional resources would be definitely needed.  Member States had to accept that, if they sent people to implement certain mandates, they had to pay much more attention to security.


To questions about the Panel’s immediate plans, he said that it was ambitiously planning to finish its work in two months.  Next week, the Panel intended to assemble at Headquarters to work out the details of its work.  Following its visits to various sites, the Panel would reassemble to work on its recommendations.  Mr. Brahimi had read the report prepared by David Veness, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, and was in close touch with his Office.  He had also started speaking with various agencies and Member States.


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For information media • not an official record