United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson met with a small group of journalists on Monday to discuss the role of the UN in managing complex crises and conflicts. The two major topics of discussion were Syria and Mali, where ongoing combat situations need to be alleviated before peacekeeping efforts can begin and where new and more organized forms of terrorism present distinct challenges for the UN.
After outlining the humanitarian problems in Syria — 4 million people in need, 2 million displaced, a third of hospitals closed, one in five schools closed, hundreds of thousands of people taking refuge outside of Syria — Eliasson emphasized the need for a negotiated transition as outlined in the 30th of June document. The humanitarian issues facing Syria are immense, but the political components are also cause for concern, he said, with borders becoming less relevant, conflicts taking on sectarian ethnic characteristics and a regional crisis growing out of the Syrian one.
Mali is also a crucial area for the UN. With conflict ongoing and the growing use of tactics like suicide bombers and explosive devices, the UN faces a new environment in peacekeeping. First they need to see what kind of stabilization can be achieved and what elements of risks for flare-ups exist. Then there is the question of how the security situation will affect humanitarian assistance, and how the changing types of conflicts and the different qualities and environments of peacekeeping present new challenges that the UN must analyze. Mali, Eliasson said, is a volatile situation that the UN can only follow “day by day, week by week.”
While there are many similarities between the conflicts in Syria and Mali, perhaps the most pressing is the fact that as more people are killed and hatreds grow deeper, it becomes increasingly difficult to settle on a solution. As death tolls rise and hostilities grow, “the emotional temperature also rises,” Eliasson said, and all involved perceive the stakes as being higher. The goal in both nations is a negotiated transition and a pacific settlement of the disputes. In the meantime, the UN is planning and ready to move on issues like human rights, and is working to facilitate commitments from the parties to get on the road to reconciliation.