Crisis in North Africa and the Middle East
The political tumult sweeping North Africa and the Middle East since early 2011 is challenging the United Nations to respond effectively to fast-moving and unpredictable developments at a moment of historic opportunity to support popular aspirations for democratic change in the Arab World.
The Department of Political Affairs works at the center of the UN’s response: assisting the Secretary General of the United Nations in his global diplomacy and public messaging; providing strategic leadership to the UN system; dispatching teams to the field to assess conditions and develop appropriate actions; providing staff support and advice to the UN Support Mission in Libya; and by making available expertise on elections and other issues to support democratic change in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned violence while urging leaders around the region to respect human rights and to respond peacefully, through dialogue and bold reforms where needed, to the legitimate aspirations of their people for change. Senior officials of the Department of Political Affairs have reiterated this central message in their statements and briefings to the Security Council on situations in a number of countries in the region.
On Libya, the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) provides staff support and guidance to the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
The political mission overseen by DPA is tasked with assisting the Libyan transitional authorities in the fields of security, democratic transition and economic recovery, among others.
UNSMIL is headed by Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya. Until mid-September 2011, Mr. Martin has served as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Post-Conflict Planning for Libya.
The establishment of UNSMIL signals a new phase in the UN's leading effort to protect civilians and help the Libyan people construct a peaceful and democratic future following the outbreak of conflict in February 2011. International efforts to ensure the protection of civilians were authorized by Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.
From March to September 2011, the UN sought a verifiable ceasefire in the conflict and access for humanitarian assistance through the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Libya, Mr. Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib. The Department of Political Affairs provided staff support and guidance to the Special Envoy whose appointment ended with the establishment of UNSMIL.
Egypt and Tunisia
Following the protest-inspired changes in government in Egypt and Tunisia, the Department of Political Affairs has worked to ensure UN support to any requests for political assistance to these countries’ democratic transitions.
In March 2011, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affair, B. Lynn Pascoe, led the first high-level UN mission following the events of Tahrir Square, to meet with interim authorities and convey the UN’s willingness to provide support to Egypt in a range of areas including socioeconomic development, electoral assistance, national dialogue and human rights.
On Tunisia, through collaboration between DPA and UNDP, a team of UN electoral experts has been deployed to assist national authorities in the organization of crucial Constituent Assembly elections scheduled for October 2011.
Through its chairmanship of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security and its task forces on Tunisia and Libya, the Department convenes leadership from across the UN system in strategic discussion and the sharing of information and analysis on events in the region.
Senior UN officials have carried out several missions to Yemen to express concern about tensions and violence in the country and to assist with diplomatic efforts to resolve the political impasse.