Interview with Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Q : Mr. Eliasson, you took up office almost a year ago as Deputy Secretary-General, at a time when the world is going through tremendous changes. What exactly are your main functions in the midst of all this movement ?
I support the Secretary-General by coordinating the work of the UN Secretariat on a wide range of political, humanitarian and development work. That can mean anything from working on the latest challenges we face in Syria and Mali to ensuring that the governments of the world will make a final push to attain the Millennium Development Goals and form a new Post-2015 Development Agenda. In working on these tasks, I am in regular contact with the Secretary-General, whom I also represent at different international meetings and forums. And I continue to work closely with the UN Member States, as I did when I was President of the General Assembly 2005 – 2006.
Q : In less than two years from now, we’ll have reached the deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. What is the current situation, and what will happen next ? Do you have other, post-MDGs in the pipeline ?
Thanks to the hard work of governments, civil society and other partners around the world, the MDGs have mobilized action and achieved results. Global poverty has been cut in half. We have improved access to drinking water and conditions for people living in slums. More girls are in school. Child and maternal mortality is declining dramatically. Yet we continue to struggle against extreme poverty, inequality and insufficient access to water and sanitation. And climate change remains a clear and present danger.In the time remaining before the end of 2015, that means scaling up success, empowering women and girls, taking action on water and sanitation, keeping fiscal promises and mobilizing people from governments to the grassroots. The UN and its Member States are also working hard on defining the next generation of sustainable development goals after the MDGs expire in 2015.
Q : Talk about another issue close to your heart : the humanitarian work. Today we have a feeling that the noble values of the humanitarians have been replaced by a huge industry and that is in fact ruling the game. Is this the case, and if yes, what can the UN do to remedy this ?
The scale of humanitarian work may have increased, but the values upheld by humanitarian workers remain constant, and they are indeed noble ones : helping people in need ; providing them with the food, water, shelter and medicine that they need to survive ; and facing great risks. The United Nations continues to support humanitarian work around the world, most notably in Syria, where the challenges – in terms of the numbers of people in need, problems of access, lack of funding and risks from heavy fighting – have been immense. Yet despite those challenges, the United Nations remains committed to its humanitarian operations, from Afghanistan to the Sahel to Haiti and beyond. I do not worry about the growth of humanitarian work as long as it is clear, as it is now, that humanitarian workers will continue to put people and their needs first.
Q ; You have often said that prevention should be key in order to avoid crises like the one we currently see in Mali. How could this be organized, and do you really think it would be possible for the UN to make a difference in this area ?
The United Nations has been working to strengthen conflict prevention efforts all around the world, including in Africa. To prevent conflicts, we must strengthen democracy, build stronger, more resilient, accountable State institutions, ensure adequate checks and balances, promote the rule of law and work to establish effective democratic control over the armed forces. The United Nations is organizing prevention efforts and is making a difference, particularly in our collaborative work with regional groups. We are working to strengthen the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) conflict prevention and early warning architecture. We are pursuing our ten-year capacity-building partnership with the African Union. And we are working with regional partners all over the world to boost our efforts to prevent conflicts at the outset.
Celhia de Lavarene