Crisis and Change in the Middle East and North Africa
The political tumult sweeping the Middle East and North Africa since early 2011 is challenging many including the United Nations to respond effectively to historic events that have been described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a “once in a generation” opportunity to support popular aspirations for democratic change in the Arab World.
Wide range of activities in the region
The Department of Political Affairs works at the centre of the UN’s response: assisting the Secretary-General in his diplomacy and public messaging; providing strategic leadership for the UN system; dispatching senior officials and teams to the field to assess conditions and develop appropriate actions; providing staff support and advice to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya and his Special Adviser for Post-Conflict Planning; and working with UN partners to make available the UN’s expertise on elections and democratic transitions to countries including Egypt and Tunisia.
While each situation in the region is unique, there is a common denominator in the yearning across the Arab World for dignity, democracy and opportunity. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned violence while calling on leaders to respect human rights and to respond peacefully, through dialogue and bold reforms, to the legitimate aspirations of their people for change. Senior officials of the Department of Political Affairs have reiterated these central messages in their many diplomatic contacts and in their statements and briefings to the Security Council on situations in a range of countries.
No uniform approach
“The United Nations and the international community should continue to support peaceful, democratic outcomes in the region -- with humility, of course, and a recognition that there is no uniform response that can be applied across the board,“ says B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. “Each nation and its history is unique and ultimately it is for the peoples of the region to be able to determine their future.”
Here is more on how the Department of Political Affairs is contributing to a multi-faceted UN response that involves the world body’s political, human rights, humanitarian and development arms:
Egypt and Tunisia
Following the protest-inspired changes in government in Egypt and Tunisia, the Department of Political Affairs has worked to make available UN support for any requests for assistance to these countries’ democratic transitions.
In March 2011, Under-Secretary-General Pascoe led the
first high-level UN mission
to Egypt following the events of Tahrir Square, to meet with interim authorities and convey the UN’s willingness to provide support to the country in a range of areas including socioeconomic development, electoral assistance, national dialogue and human rights.
DPA currently works closely with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to make UN electoral advice and support available as required to Egyptian authorities in the holding of credible and inclusive elections. Parliamentary elections are currently scheduled for September 2011, and Egypt’s transition plans also contemplate the holding of presidential elections and the drafting of a new constitution and its consideration by popular referendum. In making its electoral assistance available, the UN strongly emphasizes national ownership and sustainability of electoral processes.
On Tunisia, also through collaboration between DPA and UNDP, a team of UN electoral experts has been deployed to assist national authorities in the electoral process including the organization of Constituent Assembly elections currently scheduled for October 2011.
On Libya, the Department of Political Affairs provides staff support and guidance to the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Libya, Mr. Abdul-Elah Al-Khatib, who was appointed to the position in March 2011. Through his frequent missions to Libya and contacts with government and opposition groups in the country, as well as with key regional and international actors, the Special Envoy works to arrive at a political resolution of the conflict in accordance with Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. The Special Envoy also promotes full access for humanitarian assistance, and a coordinated international response to the crisis.
The United Nations is envisioned to play a leading role in helping to stabilize and build strong democratic institutions in a post-conflict Libya. DPA provides staff support and guidance in this regard to the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-Conflict Planning on Libya, Mr. Ian Martin.
Through its chairmanship of UN inter-departmental forums including the Executive Committee on Peace and Security and country-specific task forces, the Department convenes entities from across the UN system in strategic discussion and the sharing of information and analysis on events in the region.
The Secretary-General has been outspoken in calling on Syria’s authorities to respect human rights and to engage in genuine dialogue and democratic reforms in response to the Syrian people’s aspirations for change. The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, has
briefed the Security Council
on developments in the country, declaring that “repression is not the solution” in Syria. The United Nations continues to call on Syria’s leaders to take the path of dialogue and reform, and to fulfill its commitments to allow access for UN human rights and humanitarian actors.
Senior DPA officials have also led multidisciplinary missions to Yemen to express concerns about the tensions and violence in the country and to offer UN support for inclusive dialogue to resolve the political impasse in the country in a manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people.
The Department of Political Affairs also follows closely developments in Bahrain, where Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has similarly called on authorities and security forces to respect human rights and to genuinely respond to popular demands. In recent days, the Secretary-General has welcomed the opening of a national dialogue in the country. “Conducted properly, it can be a force for stability, national healing and change. That dialogue must be genuine, fully inclusive and concrete. It must set the stage for real reforms that meet the legitimate aspirations of Bahraini people,” the Secretary-General said.