30 June 2008


30 June 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Vigilance was the order of the day as the United Nations was increasingly becoming a target, Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel and Premises told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Briefing on the Panel’s report, entitled “Towards a culture of security and accountability”, he said: “The bad guys are not stupid, they also work very, very hard to do their dirty work.  There is no perfect security for the United Nations, and there never will be perfect security.”  The report was not the last word on how to protect the United Nations, because security was the work of every moment, and needed to be improved all the time.

The 11 December 2007 bombing in Algiers, which claimed the lives of 17 United Nations staff, had shown that the United Nations system was not working as it should be, Mr. Brahimi said, adding, however, that the report definitely did not say who was responsible for that tragedy.  Expressing his regret that Under-Secretary-General David Veness had resigned, Mr. Brahimi said he hoped Mr. Veness would use the remaining months until a successor was appointed to implement some of the report’s recommendations.

The Panel members were Colonel Paolo Coletta ( Italy); Elsayed Ibrahim Elsayed Mohamed ElHabbal ( Egypt); Anil Kumar Gupta ( India); Umit Pamir ( Turkey); Major Thomas Boy Sibande ( South Africa); and Margareta Wahlström ( Sweden).

Responding to correspondents’ questions, Mr. Brahimi said that the Algerian Government had provided protection to the United Nations office for 15 years, during a period when more than 100,000 people in the country had been killed by terrorists.  However, after the visit of France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and the elections, when troubles had been expected, Algeria’s vigilance had relaxed.

Relations between the United Nations and Algiers were channelled through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as prescribed by the Vienna Convention, he explained, adding that it would have been better if the United Nations security adviser had had access to his colleagues in the Ministries of Interior and Defence.

Like any other State with security problems, Algeria had been nervous about the United Nations upgrading the security phase, because that could have an impact on other factors, such as foreign investments, he said.  The Panel, therefore, had recommended that the United Nations address such situations in the future in such a manner that would avoid embarrassing attention for the countries concerned.

He said that political will was important in addressing competing pressures from different agencies to put people in difficult places.  One idea was to draft a number of countries to work together to create a “best practices code” that could be accepted by other Member States.  Not all countries were equally equipped to provide security to the United Nations as requested, and it was often in the less-equipped countries where the United Nations had the largest presence.  The Member States, therefore, must provide security for the United Nations.

As for a culture within the United Nations where people were reluctant to ask for better security in order not to appear weak, he said that people had been talking about increased threats to the United Nations since the 1990s, but that had not been assimilated.  United Nations staff tended to see themselves as the “good guys”.  The “blue flag”, however, no longer provided protection in itself.

Asked how the United Nation could address the fact that some people in the world did not believe in the Organization’s principles, he said that the “bad guys” were not reconcilable and their acts could not always be prevented.  However, “the UN should not stop being the UN because of that”, he said.  The Algiers bombing had not happened because the United Nations had failed in any way.  A lot had been learned from the bombing in Baghdad, and the United Nations was now better protected than before, although the improved system had some shortcomings.

As for the Secretary-General’s responsibility, he said that as the United Nations “CEO”, the Secretary-General was responsible for security overall, but the Panel had not said that he or anybody else was responsible specifically.  The Panel had recommended the creation of another panel to see if everyone had done their job properly, and the Secretary-General had already appointed such a panel.

Asked what the United Nations could do about the perception that it acted as a tool for the “big movers”, Mr. Brahimi acknowledged that the Panel, wherever it went, had been told that the Organization was not perceived as impartial, independent and neutral.  What happened in the Middle East had a lot to do with that.  There was also a perception that the big Powers used their muscle to influence the Organization, and that the United Nations, at times, did not speak on behalf of its 192 Members.  When the Security Council decided to send people somewhere, it should consider how that decision would influence the security of those people.  The Secretary-General should tell the Council what it needed to know, and not what it wanted to hear, he added.

Security standards for the United Nations could not be compared to those of embassies, Mr. Brahimi replied to another question.  Most embassy work was done inside the embassy buildings, whereas “the UN has to be open to the public, otherwise it is not the UN”.  Moreover, most of the Organization’s work was done outside Headquarters, in the field.  Although Member States had been very generous in providing finances for security, it was still a fraction of what the United States, for instance, spent on security for its embassies.

Responding to a question about implementation of the Panel’s recommendations, he said that the Panel was not involved in implementation, but had been conscious of the fact that its recommendations had to be realistic.  It had, therefore, recommended modest and affordable measures, and what had been done so far had been encouraging.

As for whether it had been appropriate to ask an Algerian to investigate the Algiers bombing, Mr. Brahimi said that he did not consider himself to have been included because he was an Algerian, but rather because of his qualifications.  The Algerians had not considered him to be their “insider man”.  “I stand to be judged by the result of our work,” he said.

* *** *

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