Friday, May 14, 2010

Press Conference by UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia - May 13th, 2010

With a transitional Government still trying to find its legs in Somalia, the top United Nations political official today outlined the aims of an upcoming high-level conference to promote progress on the ground and a more coordinated international effort to help stabilize the war-torn East African nation and spur long-term peace and development.

“We hope the conference will send a strong signal that there are solutions and hope for Somalia, provided both the Somalis and the international community are ready to do the hard work,” said B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, at a Headquarters press conference announcing the United Nations Istanbul Conference on Somalia, which will be held from 21 to 23 May and co-hosted by the Turkish Government and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

On a day which also saw the Security Council consider the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Somalia, Mr. Pascoe said it would be an opportune moment to flag “this extremely important event and explain how it fits into the bigger picture”. (See Press Release SC/9927.) He was joined by Turkish Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan, and Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia.

Mr. Pascoe said that the conference was in keeping with the Secretary-General’s long-held desire to “change the discussion on Somalia” and to engage with the Somalis and the international community in a serious effort to turn things around. Indeed, the United Nations chief did not accept that a country and its people could simply be abandoned or ignored by the rest of the world just because of its difficulties.

“And while at no time do we underestimate the difficulty and the fragility in Somalia -– and the very serious situation on the ground –- we believe there has been important progress that can and must be built upon,” he continued. Where there was once no plan and no light on the horizon at all, where Somalia was simply written off by many as a “basket case”, there were now reasons to hope and a reasonably clear path to follow in the direction of stability for the first time in two decades, he said.

That path is the Djibouti peace process. Its establishment in 2008 and subsequent results had come in no small part due to the capable efforts of the Special Representative working on the ground, Mr. Pascoe said. The process had led to a legitimate internationally-recognized Government — the Transitional Federal Government — which had not only survived repeated attacks by extremists, but had remained committed to peace and reconciliation. The Djibouti Agreement had also resulted in first steps towards developing professional national security forces, providing essential services and carrying out constitutional reforms.

“We also have today a much more engaged international community and regional effort,” he said, citing increased assistance to and discussion about Somalia, stepped up efforts against piracy, the greater attention of the Security Council and regional players, such as the African Union force, AMISOM, which was a crucial stabilizing factor on the ground in Mogadishu.

The question was whether that effort would ultimately prosper, as the United Nations strongly hoped, or whether it would go the way that two decades of previous reconciliation efforts, and more than $8 billion in international aid, had gone before. “We don’t have the answer to that now, but we have reasons to be more confident than ever before that Somalia can get back on its feet,” he said, adding: “We are not there yet on Somalia, but we are working in the right direction”.

Clearly, that would require a determined, long-term effort, both by the Somalis and by the international community, and that was where the Istanbul Conference fit in, he said. “It will give us an opportunity to look at how far we’ve come and what still needs to be done. It should help to increase international awareness of what’s at stake in Somalia and increase international commitment to help in a coordinated way,” he said, stressing that the conference should also help focus the attention of the Somalis themselves –- including the Government -– on where they needed to step up their own efforts.

Political reconciliation was among the specific areas the United Nations hoped would be considered at the meeting, Mr. Pascoe said, pointing to the Somali Government’s need to keep reaching out and bringing more Somali groups under the reconciliation umbrella. Those refusing to participate should take up the Government’s offers of peace. In addition, while efforts to increase and train the Somalia security forces were under way, the number of police trained with United Nations assistance should have reached more than 7,000 by July, but there was a funding gap on salaries. “We are appealing to donors to help fill that gap. Also related to security, more needs to be done to shore up AMISOM,” he added.

He said that important progress had been made to improve the structures in place to fight piracy off of the coast of Somalia. The United Nations was expanding its role in that area and a recently-established United Nations Trust Fund had just approved several projects to help improve the prosecution of pirates. “The meeting in Istanbul should allow us to cover all of this ground […] as well as efforts to strengthen the Somali economy and attract investment toward reconstruction and development,” he added.

Ambassador Apakan said his country was looking forward to hosting the conference. It had historical bonds to the Horn of Africa and Somalia. While Turkey would extend every effort to support Somalia and the implementation of the Djibouti peace process, it also considered itself to be a strategic partner of the African Union. “So any problem that is a concern for Africa is also a concern for Turkey. We see it as an obligation to find durable solutions to the problems on this continent,” he said.

He stressed that the Istanbul conference would not be a donors’ conference. The high-level segment, to be held on 22 May, was aimed at demonstrating the global community’s commitment to the implementation of the Djibouti Agreement. One of the high points would be the meeting on 23 May between the Government, United Nations Member States, and representatives of the private sector and international business investors. He hoped that strategies and plans would emerge that would help generate employment, boost local business, lead to social and economic development and contribute to the overall peace process. “We hope the Istanbul Conference makes a change in the lives of the Somali people, who have suffered for so long,” he said.

Responding to questions regarding international procedures for trying pirates, Mr. Pascoe said: “This is not an easy one […] it’s a very complicated mix of how to make sure pirates received fair trials, make sure evidence was collected and a range of other issues.” The Security Council had asked the Department of Political Affairs to provide some guidance on the matter, so discussions were ongoing. Matters regarding piracy would also be discussed at the Istanbul conference, as well as at an upcoming special meeting of the General Assembly.

To a question about the specific aims of the Istanbul meeting, Mr. Apakan said the hope was for a strong response by the international community and a strong show of support for the Transitional Federal Government. The discussions would be “sweeping” and the meeting would be an opportunity for new thinking on Somalia. He urged reporters to look beyond matters such as pledges and donor commitments, saying: “This is going to be an important meeting […] it will look at development, unity and integrity in Somali for a better future.”

Mr. Pascoe added: “We need a change from 20 years of weak governments and chaos in the country.” With that in mind, the Secretary-General had appointed Mr. Ould-Abdallah to “go out and work this problem from the ground up”. That official had outlined the elements of the Djibouti process, which had subsequently put in place a unity Government that was looking to be more inclusive. Going forward, more steps should be taken to bolster security and then to promote long-term development. Nevertheless, pieces of long-term peace were coming together and the Istanbul Conference would focus on development and reconstruction.

Asked to give his reaction to reported strong criticism against him in Somalia, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said that as far as he knew, the letter that had sparked the discussion by the Somali Parliament of his activities had been unsigned. In any case, he considered heavy criticism to be “a part of my job”. Further, if he had been accused of “taking sides”, that was true. He took the side of peace, stability and legality, and against human rights violations. “I’m not running for office,” he declared, reiterating that as mediator, he had to take sides to ensure the betterment of the country.

On the Istanbul Conference, which he said would be very helpful for Somalia, he noted that the meeting would tackle a host of issues including development and reconstruction. It had been a good decision by Turkey and the United Nations to shift the focus from donors.

Indeed, he said, such meetings had become “circus-like” affairs that often yielded results that were below expectations. Donors’ conferences were also problematic because they were reduced to a figure, for instance, $100 million. So when that number hit the Internet or television, the recipient Government was then “on the hook” for that money, even though it might be months before it received a dime and even longer before all the pledges were fulfilled.

Asked about the activities and influence of Al-Shabaab, he said that the “game has changed” because of the Internet. Groups like Al-Shabaab were able to blanket the web with manipulative statements that the wider world, and perhaps most damagingly, local populations, took as true. “They put out the news the way they want it and we grab it without checking,” he said, adding that perhaps it was time for the international community to take another look at how it operated in such new circumstances.