Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at United Nations Headquarters

19 July 2012

Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at United Nations Headquarters

19 July 2012
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson


at United Nations Headquarters


Following is a transcript of UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s press conference held in New York, 19 July:

Thank you very much.

It is very good to be with you.  There are other matters that are of great interest to you, I understand, but I am very glad to meet with you on this occasion.

It is for me a coming home.  I have been at the United Nations in several positions, and I have met some of you in these other roles, starting with the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, when I came here with Prime Minister Olof Palme.  I was Permanent Representative in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then I was Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which is now OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].  And I served in several mediation missions. 

My most recent one was the Darfur situation, where I was representing the United Nations in 2007 and 2008.  I was working at the side of Salim Ahmed Salim of the African Union.  And I was also President of the General Assembly during the 2005-2006 period, where we had a number of projects to be negotiated.  Some of these goals were achieved.

I am very glad to be back at the United Nations.  I am proud and I am honoured to be asked by the Secretary-General to serve as Deputy Secretary-General.  We live in difficult times, turbulent times, great challenges to the United Nations, and to multilateralism, and I will do my very best to achieve results, together with colleagues inside the United Nations.  We also need support from the outside — from regional organizations, Governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, in order to mobilize the whole international community around the global challenges. 

My responsibilities will mainly lie in the area of development and the area of political affairs.  Those were the two issues that I discussed, and that is where I will say a few words.  I just now visited Addis Ababa at the AU — African Union — Summit.  I represented the Secretary-General and I had a number of conversations on both development and on crisis management.  The three areas where I would like to say a few words, which were the main subjects discussed, were South Sudan and Sudan; secondly Mali and the Sahel crisis, and lastly the flare up of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On Sudan, I noted some encouraging signs, developments — primarily because of the direct contacts between the leaders of the two nations:  President [Omar al-]Bashir and President Salva Kiir.  This is indeed very promising that they are in direct contact.  Of course, they will also be helped by the very important efforts done by the African Union, under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa, supported by the United Nations representatives for Sudan and South Sudan — Haile Menkerios and Hilde Johnson.

I had meetings with both sides, and brought up the importance of carrying on the dialogue at the highest level between the two Governments.  I brought out two particular issues where we need to see progress.  The first one was access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the humanitarian crisis is of an urgent nature, and where access should be provided on the basis of a proposal which has already been presented by both the United Nations and the African Union and the League of Arab States.  I hope very much that we will have progress on access to this area.

The second issue that I brought up with the two Governments was the need for a safe demilitarized border zone between the two, in preparation for a Verification and Monitoring Mechanism to be set up.  The reason why this is so important is that I know from earlier crises that if the military forces are too close to each other, the risks are much higher that you would have military incidents that could easily escalate.  So I hope now that the two sides will continue the discussions, not least on these two issues that I just mentioned.

On Mali, I met the President of Burkina Faso, President [Blaise] Compaoré, who is leading the mediation efforts on behalf of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] and with the support also of the African Union.  What is being discussed now is, of course, two particular issues. 

One is the full return of constitutional rule in Mali — Bamako, the capital — where I hope the efforts of the Government on increasing the inclusiveness of its work will be enhanced, so that you would have also great possibilities to deal with the other major challenge facing Mali, namely the developments in north Mali, where there are now serious developments of serious concern, not only to the Malians but definitely to the countries in the region, and also I think internationally.  This development must be taken very seriously.

The territorial integrity of Mali is of crucial importance — to have it confirmed, both in theory and in practice.  ECOWAS is discussing among themselves, together with other African Union countries, what kind of presence is needed, both in Bamako and in north Mali.  As you may know, ECOWAS sent a delegation to New York some weeks ago.  Some questions were asked, and we will see whether ECOWAS will come back to the United Nations with the request of participation in different forms.  I don’t know what shape that request will take.

We very much respect the responsibilities of the Burkina Faso President for leading the mediation, but of course, we will want to give our contribution, both to the stabilization inside Mali, and the leadership there, and of course, if we can, also to standing up for the respect of territorial integrity of all of Mali.  It is a very serious there.  And this also has a relationship to the Sahel crisis.  Here is one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world — 18 million people are at risk.  One million children are at risk; at fatal risk.  We need to have a comprehensive view of both the political challenges and the humanitarian challenges.  In fact, the Secretary-General will try to give a comprehensive view of the situation in Mali and the Sahel in connection with reporting to the Security Council, as requested, but also possibly having a special meeting in the margins of the General Assembly on the Sahel and Mali.

Lastly, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  You, of course, all know there was a flare-up of violence and the United Nations peacekeeping force was very active, particularly when there was a threat to the town of Goma.  The Secretary-General, as you know, made efforts to calm down the situation.  He was in contact both with President [Paul] Kagame of Rwanda and President [Joseph] Kabila of Congo, and asked for restraint in the situation, to make sure that we don’t have an escalation of violence.

I made the same case in meetings with both Mr. Kabila and Mr. Kagame in Addis, and I received quite a good understanding of this request.  However, of course, it was noted, particularly from President Kagame, that we also need to look at the root causes of this instability in eastern Congo.  They came up, after a meeting with the Great Lakes countries, with a proposal for, I would say, a border monitoring, neutral force.  This has not reached us yet.  We are not quite sure in the United Nations what request there is — whether there is a demand on the United Nations force, or whether there is a possibility of an African Union force, so we will see whether there is a preparedness to come to the United Nations on this issue.  What is interesting, however, is that both sides agreed to a monitoring border mechanism between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  But this has not yet materialized in a concrete proposal to us. 

I would leave it at that.  It is a long introduction to some of the subjects that I dealt with in Addis.  But I leave it to you now, under Eduardo’s skilful guidance, to possibly raise questions on these issues or other issues.

Question: Mr. Deputy Secretary, first of all, welcome and congratulations.  We know each other.  I know you.  You probably do not remember me, but I made a long interview with you a few years ago.  Anyhow, here is my question.  The Secretary-General is travelling from tomorrow in the Balkans.  This is his first Balkan journey.  Somehow, that is the area affected very much, as he said, by trauma, trauma in whole area, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina in Srebrenica.  Now, I’d like to hear your views, also, your thoughts regarding the commitment of United Nations to that area, especially to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What else should be done beyond recognizing the failure of the United Nations in the past?

Deputy Secretary-General: I would like to step back a little bit on that question.  I have only been in this function for only just two weeks, and I was away now for Africa.  The Secretary-General is going on a very important mission, and I think you should see this mission as a confirmation of his and the United Nations’ commitment to peace and security in this war-ravaged area.  I am sure that, I know that he will try and give constructive contributions to the different outstanding issues, but I would ask for your understanding that I would, at this moment, refrain from commenting in detail.

Question:  I am from the AFP news agency and I welcome you, as well.  On another more general question, the Security Council has been debating Syria today and it has not yet decided on the UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria].  Is the United Nations leadership worried about safety of the observers there and what action are they going to take on this in the coming days?

Deputy Secretary-General: Well, I have great respect for the deliberations of the Security Council.  I hope that they will come to decisions that will help the situation in Syria, which is dramatic and dangerous.  We will await the deliberations of the Council.

But, of course, we are taking different steps to make sure that we will be able to monitor the situation and also take into account the security aspects that you mentioned.  We have decided today to send our military advisor, Babacar Gaye, to the area.  Also, the head of the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], Hervé Ladsous, will also go there in the next few days.

As you know, General [Robert] Mood is leaving and we need to have a leadership which both sends the message of the continued military aspects of this situation, but also, of course, the need to play a meaningful role in the context of the new situation.  It is a fluid situation, but we find it important now to make sure that we have a strong leadership in place.  We will then be guided by what the Security Council decides, of course, and also by the situation on the ground.

If we can play a meaningful role with UNSMIS and its possible continuation, we will do so.  But we will, of course, also watch the security situation extremely carefully.  We have had traumatic experiences at the United Nations in the past, and that factor will have to be taken into account.

Question: What can you tell me, Mr. Deputy Secretary-General, about any discussions, you may have mentioned in passing in some reports we got, in reference to efforts to curb the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army].  I am sure my readers, particularly my Uganda readers, would be most interested in that.  If you recall, I don’t know if it started during your Assembly Presidency, there was at one time an SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for LRA-affected areas, President [Joaquim] Chissano of Mozambique.  No one was appointed to succeed him.  Now the situation is oozing into at least two adjacent countries, meaning the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] and CAR [ Central African Republic].  And one recent article about [Joseph] Kony said that he is always one step ahead.  What effect do you think the United Nations can have and how did it come up in any of your discussions?

Deputy Secretary-General: It didn’t come up so much in my discussions, but as you may have seen, it was part of my speech.  I was speaking to the Summit and I brought out the dangerous nature of the LRA activities.  I have been assured that there are a number of contacts with the concerned nations and their leadership.  And there is a very concrete cooperation to find out more about the whereabouts of the LRA leadership.  So, this is certainly on the radar screen for the United Nations and I reflected that pretty strongly in the speech that you may have seen at the opening of the Summit.

Question: At the African Union, and if you spoke about this, I apologize, has there been any discussion, even given the fact that we have human lives as a priority, of the cultural destruction and what if anything an outside force can do in Mali?

Deputy Secretary-General:  This matter was taken up in several conversations, several meetings.  The Secretary-General was deeply concerned about this, and made some phone calls to some key personalities in the Islamic and Arab world who could influence this destruction of shrines and mausoleums that is taking place.  I think it is part of a pattern of violations of human rights, also, which we have seen many indications of in the last few days from the north, and this unfortunately adds to this image of very extremist groups being in charge.  We very much hope that those groups in the north that do not dispute the territorial integrity of Mali could be reached and play an important role, so that we could avoid situations of this extreme nature that you have just now reflected upon.

Question:  On the border force between Rwanda and Congo, what has to happen for it to be created?

Deputy Secretary-General:  The Great Lakes meeting concluded with a consensus decision to stop interference in the situation in eastern Congo, and then there was a follow-up which reached me just hours before I left that, yes, they were going to ask for a neutral force to do border monitoring.  I really don't know what shape this yet will have — whether it is a request on MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], the United Nations force, or whether they are thinking of a separate force set up by the African Union.  So we will wait and see what we will get.  But the interesting aspect of this is that both sides have in principle agreed to a border monitoring function.  I myself thought this was going to be a much bigger border area, if you see the size of the Congo, but it is evidently an area that is less than 100 kilometres.  So we will see how this works out, but of course, we are willing to discuss this with the African Union.

Thank you.  Good being here.  I might see you more often.

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