The UN Deputy Secretary General JAN ELIASSON spoke to PAMELLA SITTONI on issues ranging from the ICC to security in the Great Lakes region and Somalia.
Kenya is making crucial decisions regarding the ICC, and the country is in the process of withdrawing from the Rome Statute. What are your views on this?
Kenya was one of the founding state parties to the ICC and played an important role in bringing it about. It was one of the more supportive states of the ICC in Africa, and we hope the co-operation will continue.
We know that there have been difficulties in the relationship. ICC as you understand is an independent body and has its autonomy. We hope some of these issues can be dealt with.
We know that in November, there’s a meeting of the ICC state parties and we hope that some of the issues can be discussed. But we also hope that in these difficult times that Kenya is going through, we’ll be able to find a proper formula for continued co-operation with the ICC, and that we’ll have Kenya’s co-operation in this regard.
There is discussion about these issues, which is beyond the role of the Secretary General and myself, for instance, questions about deferral, which is in the hands of the Security Council. There will be a discussion on the deferral by the Security Council, so it’s for its member states to decide this issue.
Given your previous experience as president of the United Nations General Assembly, do you think Kenya’s situation qualifies for a deferral?
I cannot pronounce on that. There’s a delegation from the African Union going to New York. I know they’re in contact with members of the Security Council and they’ll be dealing with this in the Security Council at the end of this month. In the past, such deferrals have not been accepted. They have to be related to international peace and security under Chapter VII of the Charter.
But I understand that this time there is a reference to the aftermath of the Westgate tragedy that places particular responsibility on the President and the Deputy president. So, it’s up to the Security Council to decide whether such a deferral this time is possible.
What are your views on the very strong stand taken by the African Union on the ICC matter, and especially the leaders’ resolution that no sitting head of state should stand trial?
I am a believer in the international justice system that was established with the ICC. Any changes of this nature have to go through the Assembly of State Parties. It is a stand taken, and I understand the emotions among many African states.
But I think we should also recall that four out of the eight cases before the ICC that relate to the ICC are brought by African states themselves, two were brought to the Court by the Security Council, and the Kenyan cases are a result of Kofi Annan’s negotiations, which ended up with a referral to the ICC rather than going to national courts.
In the past, African states have been supportive of this. There have been some discussions about the degree of flexibility of the ICC, about which I’ve been informed by both Kenyan colleagues and others, and these are issues that have to be dealt with by the Court. In some cases, we have encouraged such flexibility from our side, but we fully respect the independent nature of the ICC.
But there’s much at stake. We need the support of the African nations to this very important aspect of international justice. If we take a step back from this it would be leading to serious consequences. So I hope that everybody shows maximum innovative approaches to deal with this situation so that we don’t have this crisis.
Well, the African leaders say ICC is a racist court, out to get Africans. Do you see their point?
No, I wouldn’t accept that. We have an African prosecutor, African judges, cases have been brought by African states to the court; I hope we can avoid seeing this in the context of racism.
I think there are legitimate questions raised as to why other situations in the world are not being brought up. That is something we all should think about. There are several situations where serious crimes have been committed and should be taken into account by the ICC.
And why has this not happened? Why hasn’t ICC acted on Syria?
Well, it would be up to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC since Syria is not a State Party to the Rome Statute. Other nations could also bring it up. So it’s a joint responsibility.
One of the most important principles of the United Nations is universality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the symbol of this universality, therefore, it’s important that we see the international community fostering the concept of universality for the Rome Statute rather than disengage from it. But for the moment, it’s up to the Security Council to refer cases such as this to the ICC.
On the recent terrorist attack being cited in the plea for a deferral, do you think the incident will have a bearing on Kenya’s status as a UN headquarters?
I hope not. It was a horrific event… We feel that it is a sign of the growing role of terrorism today, especially going after what we call soft targets. But we rely on the security services of Kenya and our own resources to protect ourselves. We’ll continue to see Kenya as a partner of the United Nations.
Are we likely to see Nairobi being downgraded by the UN as a result of the attack?
Security assessments are made by the specialists who have special information, which we always trust. We will follow their analysis and recommendations. We count on continuing our work as we’ve done in the past. It is important also not to be provoked by terrorism. On the other hand, we have to take security risks seriously.
So it’s a balance that we have to make. I think is an obligation both for Kenya as a host nation, and the UN to safeguard the security of our staff is concerned.
Kenya’s security is compromised by the situation in Somalia. What are the UN’s plans for Somalia?
We have just established a new organisation for our presence in Somalia (UNSOM). We have seen positive delopments. We unfortunately had a tragedy affecting us in June when there was an attack and a colleague from UNDP was killed.
That has led to certain restrictions in terms of our presence in the country.
But we still believe there is a positive trend, and that we should support Somalia’s legitimate government and parliament, and the draft constitution to be accepted by 2016.
We are committed to this work. We work very closely with other partners. We are extremely grateful for the work done by the African Union, and of course for the sacrifices made by AMISOM during these years. There may be a need to strengthen Amisom’s presence.
There has been a joint African Union and AU mission looking into the security situation. Their proposals will be discussed in the Security Council at the end of this month. The of course we hope that we will be able to help in the establishment of institutions.
We hope that Somalia, in spite of its history of clans, will still be able to establish a federal structure and that the government will expand its control over all of the country.
We know that there are very serious security concerns, not least in the countryside. I think we now have one of the best opportunities to support Somalia. And, if things normalise in this country, you will also see the possibility for refugees to return to their country. This will take pressures off Kenya, which has paid a very heavy price, and shown a great hospitality to refugees all these years.
Kenya seems to be getting worn out by the refugee situation, and there have been calls by politicians for the closure of the refugee camps. What will the UN do about this issue?
For the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all repatriation has to be voluntary. The head of the UNHCR has suggested that we should intensify the work of the commission set up between Kenya, the Somalia government and UNHCR. He hopes the international refugee laws will be respected. But we also all understand the pressures under which Kenya is now working with this problem.
What about the conflict in the Great Lakes Region?
When I started as Deputy Secretary General I discussed with the Secretary General that sometimes we are forced to put bandage over infected wounds. We continue with more of the same.
In the case of DRC, we tried to take a wider approach in two dimensions: One was to see the crisis in the DRC in its regional dimension, hence the strategic framework.
We also are very strongly supporting the Kampala talks between M23 and the DRC government. One formula that I was proud of gaveling as President of the General Assembly in 2005 was: there is no peace without development, there is no development without peace and there is no lasting peace or development without respect for human rights and the rule of law.
So, we need also to bring in not only the aspects related to the conflict, we need also to take in the political, the developmental, and the human rights perspective, including the protection of civilians. So, this is a serious approach to the conflict. If we can broaden it to the regional context, and having the region also to try and help to solve this problem, and at the same time broaden it in terms of the different elements with which we work: peace and security, development and human rights and rule of the law, then we have higher hopes this time.
Shifting to development, what does the scorecard look like so far, and where is the UN going post 2015?
We have seen some progress. There’s a reduction of extreme poverty, there’s great progress in education in practically all parts of the world. There have been some improvements in dealing with diseases and health issues, but there are also lagging goals: Maternal health, water and sanitation.
What should the world look to post 2015?
I could summarise it in three parts. First, I believe we should put poverty eradication first. We still have growing inequalities. There are more poor people living in middle-income countries than in poor countries. Second, sustainability. We are the first generation in history that has to think of the existence of life ... 25 to 40 countries are under threat.
The way we deal with resources, the way we destroy oceans, and the way we compete for resources, like water, instead of sharing them, is almost an existential issue. Therefore we have to combine poverty eradication with sustainability. Sometimes in life people will ask, what’s your Plan B? On this issue, we have no Planet B.
The third dimension, I think is extremely important, and I hope the member states will take this up. And let me underline that this is the member states’ responsibility. It is they who will negotiate this. I believe in the power and importance of institutions, rule of law, for development. I hope good and strong institutions will be part of the 2015 agenda.
I come from Sweden, which was ranked one of Europe’s poorest countries 80 years ago. We were third or fourth at the bottom. My family lived in one room when I was growing up, my mother had four years of school, my father had seven, my aunt died of tuberculosis, which was a combination of starvation and cold weather, In the thirties there was a major change in three directions: One was building a good strong infrastructure, roads, railways. Secondly, we built a fairly strong education system and the third element was institutions. That’s what built our country.