Monday, February 10, 2020


Interview with Independent Arabia Feb 10 2020

UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon: Government Promises Alone not Enough for Lebanon

The international and Arab position seems more united than ever regarding the economic and financial crisis sweeping Lebanon in an unprecedented way in its history. Although there are some slight divergences over its political crisis that emanated as a result of the alliances that shaped its political decision, due to the intersection of regional interests with internal factors related to the country's power system.

Ambassadors of major powers unanimously agree that Lebanon's ability to overcome the crisis sparked by the popular uprising against the ruling political class is also unprecedented. The solution is in the hands of the Lebanese, after the country's politicians became used to requesting foreign assistance to address the imbalances of its public finances during the past decades, without fulfilling reform promises.

A single expression

"No blank cheque" for Lebanese authorities, pending the demonstration of its seriousness in implementing reforms to halt squandering and corruption that resulted from sectarian and partisan quotas, especially in the past few years. This is the expression repeated by all ambassadors in Beirut.

The clearest evidence of the unity of the international and Arab position regarding Lebanon's crisis is the latest statement of the International Support Group for Lebanon – which includes the five permanent UN Security Council members, in addition to Germany, Italy, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League – following the formation of the new government headed by Hassan Diab. It recalled the roadmap it put forward on 11 December 2019, less than two months after the outbreak of the popular uprising and the resignation of Saad Hariri's government, in an event attended by representatives of major Arab countries.

Tips for Diab

The ambassadors of the International Support Group have made it clear that official Lebanese reform promises are not trusted, and concrete measures are required.

In parallel, the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis has reiterated in the recent months a message he delivered to senior officials in Lebanon. Diplomatic sources told "Independent Arabia" that he offered advice to Prime Minister Hassan Diab on what the ministerial statement must include in terms of reform plans, in response to protesters in the streets and the international community, and based on the latest ISG statement, in terms of disassociation from regional conflicts, the implementation of Security Council resolutions and reforms, and the importance of setting timeframes for that.

"Independent Arabia" has met with the renowned diplomat who previously mastered crises like the one Lebanon is experiencing, and who realizes the intertwinement between Lebanon's crisis and the complexities of the region, especially since he previously worked in Iraq and delved into the evolving regional situation.

He commented on the remarks of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the importance of the stability of Lebanon for the stability of the region and about what can be done by the UN to maintain this stability. "The stability and security of Lebanon for the UN, the region and the Lebanese people should be of crucial importance because it is a positive factor, just as instability is a negative factor in a difficult, fragile and conflict-stricken region. The position of the Secretary-General confirms this, and he reaffirms the commitment of the UN to work for the stability and security of Lebanon. This is a positive indication that highlights the position of the entire international community, not only the UN. I can confirm that this position stems from the meetings of the Security Council and the ISG."

"How can this be achieved? You will find the answer in the Security Council, ISG and Secretary-General positions and resolutions, that is, through the quick, clear, and decisive implementation of a set of proposed reforms to address the reasons that led the country towards its deep economic, financial and social crisis. The socioeconomic factor is now the main component of the crisis and should be addressed to preserve stability and make the country safer too. I hope that the government will focus in its program on economy and social needs. I also hope it will set concrete goals, steps and standards in a way that enables both the government and the political forces that will back it in Parliament to be held accountable for delivering on the reforms or not. This is important regardless of whatever the program is and whoever will back the government. I hope that this will be the solution for the government's program and first steps. I expect the government's intentions to be quickly implemented and translated into an action plan, standards, goals, timeframes, that can allow the people to judge the commitment to the pledges, because words and promises are not enough. The programs of previous governments included many unfulfilled promises. Now, transparency, responsibility and accountability are crucially important for the government's credibility.

Addressing the banking crisis begins at home

Asked about whether the international community will assist Lebanon in dealing with its liquidity crisis before the implementation of reforms to prevent a total collapse, Kubis says: "this is not the case. Previous governments requested help after gaining the vote of confidence. This time, we have to see the government's first steps, its commitment to its obligations, accountability, good governance. Before that, there will not be many countries ready to offer blank cheques. What I hear is quite the contrary: no blank cheques. Regarding the availability of liquidity, this should be address by the government, the Central Bank, the banking sector, based on a clear plan that starts with transparency. There are many speculations about the available foreign reserves in the Central Bank. No one has a clear answer on that. If there is a will to solve the crisis, transparency should be the starting point, in order to have a clear idea about the country's exact situation and prepare a comprehensive rescue plan to allow the government to start implementing its first steps. Only then, and not before that, Lebanese officials can come to their international partners and ask them for support in the implementation of their own part of the plan."

International humanitarian aid

As he reiterated that there will be "no blank cheques," Kubis stressed that "the stability of Lebanon is very dear to the international community, but they have had their own experiences at the same time. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the government and political forces of Lebanon to convince the Lebanese people first, then the international community, that what is happening is not business as usual, and that they are serious and have a vision, a plan, based on transparency and accountability for all, and that they really want to break with previous practices."

However, Kubis was keen on affirming that "humanitarian assistance will continue. The UN is seeking to draw the attention of its partners that it is increasingly important to meet the needs of more and more Lebanese who are becoming poorer. There will be more mobilization at this level, and we, at least as UN, will provide more assistance to the Lebanese people in the coming period. But this only addresses the symptoms and consequences. The country needs radical solutions to the root causes of this difficult and existential crisis that Lebanon is facing."

Everyone is fed up

Asked about the responsiveness of the officials he met with the need to listen to protesters and take their demands into account, Kubis said: "I don't know. My message was 'listen to the people, not only those who are protesting, but also those who are not protesting but share the same concerns and needs with protesters.' Everyone is fed up with the lack of 24/7 electricity, unemployment, rampant poverty, lack of a social safety net, lack of proper healthcare for basic needs. These are concerns shared by everyone and not only protesters who are raising their voices."

Therefore, Kubis considers that "the government's ministerial statement will offer an early indication into its intentions, that should be quickly followed by concrete and clear steps, not only in the fields I mentioned but also in other fields as well. There are alarming priorities, including waste management that triggered the 2016 protests, and in which I think people have not witnessed significant progress. There are many issues on the agenda that need to be prioritized and translated into practical steps. Then, I would be able to answer whether the country's politicians heard the voice of the people. It is up to them to support the government's reform plan or not. If they fail to support the government's plan and act as the driving force behind it – and this includes those who back the government and those who are in the opposition because Lebanon is at stake and it is not a mere political game – then I would be able to answer if they have listened to the voice of the people. At the time being, I only see a chance."

The peace plan and Palestinian refugees

Assessing the implications of U.S. President Donald Trump's peace proposal on Lebanon, Kubis said that "the plan was announced and many of its elements have been divulged to the public opinion, and many have been implemented prior to the announcement. I don't have an answer at the time being, because there is an inclination to hold a Security Council meeting on this issue. We are monitoring what is happening in Israel following the announcement of the plan. Some countries – including some Arab countries – are encouraging the parties to engage in negotiations. For the UN, there is no need to repeat what the Secretary-General said regarding the total commitment to Security Council resolutions, the two-state solution, the respect of the pre-1967 lines, and this is the UN's main approach. As for its implications on Lebanon, I hope that the issue will not be excessively politicized here, and that this will not turn against the interests of the Palestinians in Lebanon. I know that the situation is difficult for the Lebanese, and it is also difficult for the Palestinians. They have the right to return, and we understand that this is Lebanon's position, along with the rejection of all naturalization attempts. But at the same time, I hope that this will not make things more difficult for the Palestinians where they are temporarily present, despite having been present there for a long time, and they should continue to live normally as part of the population of Lebanon."

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Secretary-General Appoints Jack Christofides of South Africa Deputy Head of Mission, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

31 JANUARY 2020 - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced today the appointment of Jack Christofides of South Africa as the Deputy Head of Mission for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

He succeeds Imran Riza of Pakistan, who became United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria in September 2019, and to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service.

Mr. Christofides brings a wealth of experience in diplomacy, international affairs, human rights and peacekeeping.  Most recently he served as Director of the Northern Africa Division of the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations.

Between 2012 and 2018, Mr. Christofides was Director of the Africa II Division of the Office of Operations in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  From 2016 to 2017, he was Director of the Division of Policy, Evaluation and Training for the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and of Field Support.  He served as Team Leader for Sudan in 2010 and for the Great Lakes team in 2011.

Mr. Christofides has extensive field experience, having served as Chief of Staff in the Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Director of the Joint Mediation Support Team on Darfur and Political Director in the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

Earlier in his United Nations career, Mr. Christofides served as Principal Officer of the Europe and Americas Division in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Senior Adviser on African Issues to the head of the Department of Political Affairs.  From 1994 until 1999, he was stationed in Geneva covering human rights issues, first as a diplomat and then as Chief of Staff to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Before joining the United Nations, Mr. Christofides was in the South African diplomatic service.

He holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Pretoria.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Remarks of UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis in Meeting with Press Editors Syndicate

Transcript – Remarks of UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis During Meeting with Press Syndicate, 5 February 2020 (edited for style)

Following opening remarks and questions, delivered by Joseph Kosseifi - Head of the Press Editors Syndicate, focusing on the work of the UN in Lebanon and the world

Thank you very much for the invitation. For me, it's the first opportunity to meet the Syndicate and I have expected discussion on a number of issues, notably with regards to the work of the media in the country, information about how you are organized, information that would perhaps provide more details of the challenges, because I am aware of a lot of challenges that you face.

It will help the United Nations and myself, to be even when more active in discussing what the UN has in its mandate and what we see as important when supporting Lebanon and its people, when supporting the stability, security, and development of this beautiful country.

In my previous missions, I learned to highly value the work of the media and journalists, and to protect and promote their rights to work freely without intimidation of any kind, but also to look at the legal norms that are there to protect them and to implement the relevant frameworks in courts if there are issues. To understand what is happening, whether they are pressured by media owners, by their own political audience to take sides, notably in the situation of Lebanon that is facing numerous and very critical challenges. At the same time, Lebanon is now hopefully in the phase of opportunities and can start effectively addressing those challenges.

For the leaders of the country to be able to play their role and be respected, one needs free media, one needs protection of the work of the media, and of freedom of expression. The media is not only a litmus test of democracy, but it can be a factor of change. And I'm very happy that here in Lebanon the media plays this role and can be a catalyst of change.

The UN role is not just to follow and report. In case of need, we raise our voice in protection of journalists, in protection of the media. My colleagues and I are active through statements, through positions, but also as necessary raising issues with the respective authorities of the country in case something wrong is happening to the media.

I hope that you have noticed that this is the way the UN in Lebanon works on the whole range of other issues. We are active, we are not only monitoring and reporting, but we are trying to play a certain role, of course in full respect of the noninterference principle, in full respect of working with the country and respecting its sovereignty on the issues and processes that are internal matters of the country.

But let's not forget, Lebanon is a founding member, one of the founding fathers of the United Nations as you yourself mentioned, Mr. Chairman. Lebanon is an active member of the UN and many other international organizations. Lebanon is a party to many legal conventions, and is obliged to follow certain norms, rules, principles, commitments and obligations. We will never hesitate to raise either the compliance or noncompliance of Lebanon with authorities of this country, as it is the case with any other country in case there are issues or problems. But also we come with advice on how to do better.

This is in response to a number of questions you have raised, Mr. Chairman. We don't just sit and observe but we help Lebanon in trying to move forward, help achieving the necessary change. This is the essence of the activism United Nations. This is our indispensable mandate, be it globally or, in this case, in Lebanon. It's manifested through numerous bigger and smaller activities.

The work of one of the largest peacekeeping operations, UNIFIL, has contributed notably since 2006 in a massive way to maintaining calm, peace, and stability in the south of the country, along the Blue Line. This is something that has been acknowledged highly by representatives of Lebanon and Israel. Of course, there are many issues with regards to the situation and implementation, or lack of implementation of different norms and resolutions of the Security Council, notably its Resolution 1701 (2006), by both sides.

It is not for me to give an assessment of the work of UNIFIL. This is for the Security Council and the Secretary-General. If you would like to have more information about the assessment and the positioning of UNIFIL, please read the reports of the Secretary-General and you will have many examples about the implementation, but also non-implementation of this and other resolutions. Read statements of the Security Council including the last Resolution 2485 (2019), that will provide answers with regards to your questions. I believe that then you all will have more clarity about what UNIFIL is doing and how open we are about both achievements but also issues and problems.

You asked about the activities and work of the UN here in the country, and I'm happy to see that you acknowledge the work of the whole UN system, including a number of UN agencies, funds and programs that are active in many areas, including providing assistance to refugees but also more and more to Lebanese that are suffering from increased poverty in the country due to the deep economic and social crisis that the country is facing, so far without the appropriate response of the authorities.

I can affirm that we are not only mobilizing ourselves, but the broader international community to provide more assistance to the Lebanese society, to whole groups and segments of Lebanese that are increasingly sliding down towards poverty. We understand the situation, and our development and humanitarian colleagues and partners are ready to increase assistance.

Based on our humanitarian obligations but also on your, Lebanon's commitments and obligation based on the international humanitarian law, we provide as part of the international community assistance to refugees, Syrian refugees, but also through UNRWA to Palestinian refugees. Honoring the international humanitarian law, we actively seek, as the UN system, all avenues to facilitate safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees back to their home. That concerns not only the Syrian refugees but confirms the right of return for the Palestinians as well. These are the norms of the United Nations and have been stated very clearly by the Secretary-General in his latest statements.

To be able to do our work in Lebanon and for Lebanese, we need a partner, we need a government, that is managing the country on behalf of the people of the country. But, hopefully, and this is what we have been urging, in line with the aspirations and vision expressed by the people of the country. In Lebanon's case, those that are protesting but also those who share a number of the concerns but are not in the street. Listen to the voice of the people. This has been the message of the UN since the start of the 17 October uprising. What kind of government that is your internal business, but we hope very much that the ministerial program of the government in the making will reflect the intent to listen and take on board the critical needs and demands of the people, will promote and provide a clear roadmap with benchmarks necessary for action and accountability, and will provide the UN the opportunity to support reforms, starting with addressing the economic, financial, fiscal and social crises that the country is facing.

Question - Syndicate Chairman: We thank your contribution Mr. Ambassador., especially as you have shed the light on important issues. Your Excellency's role should not be confined to discussing a single issue. We are aware of the UN's commitment to the role of the media, and we are also working on achieving the same goal. We hope to learn from you how can the United Nations help the struggling media? We are facing many challenges, either related to freedom of expression and in dealing with the authorities and protesters, but we also have financial and logistical problems. Lebanese media played a prominent role in the region's freedom of expression, and we wish to learn about how we can cooperate with the UN in this regard. We also hope to have your generosity by allowing our colleagues to ask you several questions. You have a special role on the Lebanese political scene. It is normal that when you show up, we'll have all these questions. You are a focal point for all political actors.

Answer: I represent the UN, but I am not the whole UN. My colleagues and I are in constant touch with the political and constitutional leaders, but also with civil society, with experts. We try to garner their opinions to discuss with them their visions. I myself attended several meetings and my colleagues are in constant dialogue, including with those who are protesting, with different experts that are providing ideas for solutions, for change. Based on all of this, we sometimes also suggest ideas and proposals, based on our mandate. We can speak about and contribute to solutions for many things: anti-corruption, justice, elections, …etc.

Question: Lebanese newspapers are shutting down one after another. Yesterday, we had The Daily Star, and before we had Al-Safir, Al-Anwar… Does the UN play any role to support sustaining the media? On another hand, many reporters are being physically abused by either security forces or protesters. What mechanism can the UN adopt to ensure the protection of reporters in the streets?

Answer: I'll start with the second question. We follow the protests by watching the TV – some of my UN colleagues are in the streets watching what's happening there – and I know from your reporting that there are cases of abuse against journalists, coming from many corners. You can bring this kind of cases to our attention provided it is something you consider as necessary. First of all to authorities, but bring them to our attention as well. We do have instruments, and if we have more details – not only from the press or from us watching the things –we would be able to more effectively intervene on the grounds of freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and of course protecting the rights of journalists. We have a UN Human Rights office. They are very active and ready to assist. We have my deputy, who is responsible for UN activities in the humanitarian realm, but also in development and human rights. And I would be ready to assist as well.

On the first question, we are not an organization that can fund the media, because from what I've understood the pressure is mostly economic. But we are unhappy when we see the disappearance of any media. I can raise this issue with individual countries and respective institutions, because they may have funds and facilities. We are not happy to see any suspension of activities or disappearance of this or that media, regardless of what opinion they present, even if they have very partial, very partisan positions. Freedom of expression must be respected. Notably here in Lebanon where your role is extremely important as a catalyst and factor of change.

Question: Do you have any positive indications from the International Support Group for Lebanon? How can they help Lebanon and what are the conditions?

Answer: The conditions are reforms, reforms, reforms. You can get some indications from the statements of the International Support Group. They are pretty concrete and practical. More importantly, you can get indications from what the people of the country are asking, once again, those that are protesting, those that are not protesting, because their needs and requests are broadly shared and obvious. For example, it's a shame to be without 24/7 electricity in Lebanon. So, I expect, I hope, that, for example, the new government will come with a clear action plan, how to address this, a plan that would provide for accountability. Not only intentions, but a clear action plan with deadlines, with timeframe, with responsibility and in a transparent way, including with the management bodies that are necessary to ensure the quality of the reform of the electricity sector, and this is just one issue. Then the international community is ready to assist. You will find such an attitude in many other areas, but now it starts with the new government, it's still in the process of making, so I'm not making any more detailed statement on anything. We will wait, the developments of the coming days, the session of Parliament. But at the very moment, if we assume that there will be a vote of confidence, we, together with the rest of the friends of Lebanon, will be not only watching, but encouraging reforms. It's obvious what the country needs, in which areas. And then, we will try to help, but it must start with the work of the government, and it must be the right set of reforms and their resolute implementation. If this is not going to happen, I'm sorry. If you don't help yourselves, why do you expect assistance from the outside world?

Question: Why hasn't the United Nations directed its power to respond to wars and economic crises resulting from U.S. embargoes. The Americans have adopted the approach of economic wars, and this is partly responsible for Lebanon's current crisis. The United Nations is apparently not having its say on this. The same thing applies for the media. A major chunk of the media's challenges today is linked to the digital revolution and social media firms, which have strongly affected and led to the bankruptcy of several media outlets. The United Nations should have intervened before these firms, because they are responsible for the bankruptcy of traditional media outlets. The United Nations must be revamped and develop its role.

Answer: Well, this is more of a statement than a question. I'm not sure that I would wish to respond to statements. It would grow into a sort of exchange of positions. As regards the UN, I can tell you that, although I would love to see the United Nations so strong as to be able to do all the necessary things that are prescribed by the Charter, and other norms, we are not in such position. We do, we report, we speak, and sometimes that's it. But we go further than that whenever there is a space. Sometimes the space doesn't exist. On major issues notably of peace and war, again, I'm referring to the paramount role of the UN Security Council, and, very often, it's them that are giving us the mandate or create space to do or not to do. So, it's a very complex situation. But I will say one thing, without the UN, the world would have been a much worse place. You would have had wars, conflicts, problems, without any mobilization of a concerted effort of the international community to stop or solve them, a world without norms, rules of the game, world that would be given to the mercy – 100%, uncontrolled mercy of different powers. You would not wish to be in such world.

Question: In addition to the challenges Lebanon is facing, a new challenge now is that of the Deal of the Century, or the U.S. peace plan. What is the role of the UN in this context, especially since we are talking about the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, and what role it will have to protect Lebanese interests, knowing that they will be consequently harmed, especially with regards to naturalization?

Answer: For us as the United Nations, the position is clear, and, again, it was expressed by the Secretary General several times after the announcement made in Washington. Allegiance to the respective body of the UN Security Resolutions, including allegiance to a two-state solution, and negotiations that are necessary between the parties, reference to the pre-1967 borders. Among the elements of these resolutions is clearly the right of return. This is the positions of the United Nations, as expressed many times by the Security Council, by the Secretary General. Also, I refer you to quite an elaborate press conference of the Secretary General yesterday, and there were questions to this extent, including questions related to Lebanon.

Question: You mentioned UN support to Syrian refugees. You certainly know that all the Lebanese agree against the permanent resettlement [of Palestinians] and support the return of Syrian refugees, especially because they have access to most aid, and they receive it in hard currency, and they are competing with the Lebanese [in the job market]. Most of them are pro-Syrian regime and can return, and many areas have been liberated and are now safe. What can the UN do to help Lebanon, especially because refugees are sharing with the Lebanese the infrastructure?

Answer: Well, there are several elements in your question. One, and I would like to confirm that we really help Lebanon to face the heavy burden of the long-term presence of refugees, starting a long time ago with Palestinians, but now, as of the last many years, with Syrian refugees here. We are aware of the heavy impact on the job market, on the infrastructure. We therefore plan to accelerate assistance for more and more of the Lebanese, including communities which are hosting refugees now that the situation is getting worse and worse. Secondly, we are committed to safe, dignified and voluntary returns. We will not go against these principles. We as the UN are working with the respective Lebanese and Syrian authorities, and we register that there is maybe a small but nonetheless an increase in the number of those that are expressing their wish to return back. We will facilitate that, if that's their wish. If you would like to learn more about details, I will refer you to my deputy, who is also the Humanitarian Coordinator, and he can give you a much more elaborate response to these questions. I'm also protecting his mandate, because usually, we try to keep some separation between the political mandate that is mine and the humanitarian mandate that is his.