Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs

12 September 2011

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs

12 September 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs


Preventive diplomacy — first defined by former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld 50 years ago — was crucial to defusing tensions before they escalated into conflict, and such efforts were increasingly being undertaken by the United Nations, Member States and other partners amid the changing political and security landscape, B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said today at a Headquarters press conference.

“What we need to do is to make sure we’re out there fast, we’re out there early; we’re out there trying to solve problems before they begin,” he said.  “The sense that we should be involved — whether it’s in the Security Council, whether it’s in regional organizations — has been growing day by day.”  His remarks followed the 9 September launch of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report “Preventive diplomacy:  Delivering results”, the first-ever on that topic.

There had been a feeling that the United Nations had placed too much emphasis on stabilizing situations after they had fallen apart, or been too technically involved in elections, Mr. Pascoe said, suggesting that all such processes must be applied together in order to build a more stable basis for the future, particularly in countries emerging from conflict.  The United Nations had recently been involved in Kenya, Guinea and Kyrgyzstan, he recalled, adding that mediators in Malawi, where weeks of protests against the Government threatened to erupt, were working to avoid confrontations in the streets.  “We certainly cannot afford not to be doing this,” he stressed.

At the same time, the Under-Secretary-General said, it was important to work with regional organizations, as well as other entities such as the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to improve the tools being used.  Regional offices in Central Asia, as well as in Western and Central Africa, played a key role, as did United Nations resident coordinators, he said, adding that the aim was to increase the expertise of mediators sent into the field.

Citing one success, he said he had met with regional leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, last week to discuss the situation in Somalia and lay out a path for establishing stability in that country over the next 12 months, a undertaking that some would have called an “impossibility” in the past.

Accompanying Mr. Pascoe was Levent Bilman, Director of the Policy and Mediation Division in the Department of Political Affairs, who said the Department’s Media Support Unit had been given “a lot of work and a lot of power” after the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on strengthening the role of mediation earlier this year.  It focused on three broad areas — technical support for mediators, capacity-building, and guidance on mediation issues.  In addition, a standby team of mediation experts, deployable individually or as a group within 72 hours of a request to assist mediators in the field, covered seven areas of expertise, from power-sharing to gender issues, as they related to conflict.  A roster of mediators, operators and thematic experts, created in July 2010 to address such longer-term issues as transitional justice and ceasefires, had been deployed 50 times.

Responding to questions, Mr. Pascoe said his office was straight-forward about what could and could not be done with countries and others requesting help.  It did not normally take on issues relating to the Law of the Sea, he stressed, adding that it more typically dealt with requests for help in restructuring a constitution or ensuring that no conflict erupted after an election.  Working with regional organizations was often very effective as they brought different strengths to conflict-resolution efforts, he said.

Asked about Syria, he said the United Nations had not been invited to mediate in that country.  However, United Nations mediators were deeply involved in Libya and working towards establishing a mission there, he said, adding that his office had also been asked to carry out election-related work in Egypt and other work in Tunisia.  “We are the United Nations.  We go where we’re welcome and we’ve been asked.”

Questioned about the aims of the 22 September high-level Security Council meeting on preventive diplomacy, the Under-Secretary-General said the goal was to revitalize work in that area of conflict prevention.  Several Council members — including Nigeria and Lebanon — had expressed an interest in the topic, he noted, adding that the strongest support had come from Africa and areas where people believed the United Nations could provide help.

Asked about the use of special envoys, he said special political missions were always tailored to the issue and country at hand.  “We do not take a cookie-cutter approach to any dispute,” he emphasized, pointing out that mediators tried a range of techniques.  “What we’re looking for is results.”

Concerning the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Pascoe said the European Union was playing a strong role in the Balkans, taking the lead in negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo.  A variety of issues and questions centred on identifying needs and the level of receptivity to help, he said.

On the success of the Mediation Support Unit in Madagascar, he said it was working to support the Southern African Development Community (SADC), adding that he had himself made several visits to that country, as had the Chief of his Department’s Mediation Division and former Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios.  [Mr. Menkerios is currently Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and South Sudan].  More generally, he said that in every mission, whether focused on peacekeeping or political efforts, all mediators were involved in avoiding new conflicts, adding that the range of work on the political side was “very high”.

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