5 March 2008


5 March 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Launching the United Nations Standby Team of Mediation Experts today, B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said its members would help carry out the Secretary-General’s efforts for fast and effective mediation through the use of top-flight expertise.

“We think that this is something that has been needed for a long time,” he said at a Headquarters press conference.  The Team could be rapidly deployed to support peace talks around the world.  Supported by the Norwegian Government, the six-member Team was part of the overall effort to strengthen professionalism in the Political Affairs Department’s approach to mediation.  Well versed in the range of United Nations responsibilities, the members had taken leave from their jobs to serve one-year contracts with the Team.

Recent events made such efforts timely, Mr. Pascoe said, adding that the importance of using political means to prevent and resolve conflicts had been clearly seen in Kenya.  With the outbreak of violence in that country, the Department of Political Affairs had sent a team to support the mediation leader, former Secretary‑General Kofi Annan.  “We all were extraordinarily pleased when Mr. Annan succeeded; when the two sides of the Government and the opposition decided on a new arrangement in power-sharing.”

Several agreements had also been signed in northern Uganda, moving along the process between the Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army, he said, adding that there were other areas in which regional expertise was not enough to address entrenched problems and where specific expertise was needed.  “These are not places where you can go out and begin a negotiation by the seat of your pants.”

To meet that demand, the Standby Team was already in action, with two members in Kenya supporting ongoing negotiations, he said.  Expectations on the United Nations were high, and Team members would likely spend 80 per cent of their time in the field.  They were ready for deployment, either as part of political missions or to support United Nations entities, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Most negotiations were complicated, involving issues such as constitutional and security sector reform, he noted, a sentiment echoed by Standby Team leader Joyce Neu, who pointed out that, although members had been chosen from various disciplines, including academia, what drew them together was their experience on the ground and their involvement with various aspects of peace processes.

Asked what other requests had been made for the Team’s involvement, Mr. Pascoe said that Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, had been requesting more experts for months.  There probably was work to be done in Iraq and in Cyprus, with the new leadership of the Greek Cypriots on the divided island.  There had been strong interest there for United Nations involvement.

Responding to questions about priorities and criteria for the Team’s involvement, he said it was not the Department that set the agenda, but the Member States and regional organizations.  The Department would try to focus on areas where it could make a difference.  It was stretched quite thin on the ground, and this was one way of strengthening it.  There were already special political missions in many countries, such as Iraq and Lebanon, as well as a team in Jerusalem.  A lot of work was being done in Somalia, where the difficult and complex situation had lasted a long time.

The mediation experts would not become special envoys, he said in answer to another question.  Rather, they were supposed to help special envoys or special representatives with their expertise.  Experts had been sent to Kenya because Mr Annan’s negotiating team had asked for expertise on constitutional and security sector reform.

Asked about budget and hiring, Michèlle Griffin, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Department’s Policy Planning and Mediation Support Division, explained that the experts had been hired by the Norwegian Refugee Council, who had a lot of experience in managing standby teams in humanitarian situations.  The experts were hired for one year, and the hope was that the programme would be so successful that it would be extended.  For the first year, the Norwegian Government was funding the Team through the Refugee Council.  The United Nations was working with that Government and other donors for extended funding.

A wide net had been cast to get the right candidates, she continued.  A year ago, a note verbale had been sent to Member States asking for nominations.  Twenty-one States had nominated 42 candidates.  Because ads had also been placed on numerous websites, there had been a total of 400 candidates.  Out of those, the Norwegian Refugee Council had produced a shortlist for the Political Affairs Department.

Asked whether the Team would be involved in the situation between Ecuador and Colombia, the Under-Secretary-General said the intention was to work closely with regional organizations.  The Organization of American States had met yesterday regarding that situation.  The United Nations was in close contact, but it was important that the regional body take the lead.

In response to another question, he said the Department knew about the plight of the Hmong, but it worked for 192 Member States and could not operate like a non-governmental organization.  When it came to mediation, there had to be agreement between various groups.  In order to play a role, there must be agreement with a State or with regional States.

Asked about the involvement of Jan Egeland, former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in developing the idea of establishing the Standby Team, he said Mr. Egeland had offered ideas and had been of use in some mediation efforts.  Ms. Griffin added that the former Under-Secretary-General had come up with the idea of rapid response teams in humanitarian situations and had suggested it for the political front as well.

Responding to a question about controversy in the Fifth Committee about the restructuring of the Political Affairs Department, and a request by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China to slim down the restructuring proposal and link it also to the revamping of development work, Mr. Pascoe said he had held lengthy consultations with the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement.  Many members of the latter group were the strongest supporters of strengthening the Department and had emphasized the value of its work.  Some concern had been expressed that the Secretary-General had talked about the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs.  They wanted him to talk about the “development pillar”.  Some Members wanted to see a link, but most countries did not.

Asked whether the Team had received requests to work in Gaza, Mr. Pascoe responded: “We are working on Gaza all the time.”  There were efforts to open border crossings, support the Quartet, improve humanitarian conditions and carry out long-running efforts to improve the overall situation.  The situation in Gaza was “very bad”.

For further information on the Standby Team, see Press Release PA/1.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.