Transcript of Press Conference by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Ms. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert

Baghdad, Iraq
7 September 2021

Q&A Session

Q.1: What is the volume of United Nations and other countries' assistance to Iraq on elections? What is the number of UN monitors? Will the disputed areas be within UN priorities in electoral monitoring?

A: SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert [JHP] So, the size of the UN support - I just needed to check one number - we have 160 technical advisers right now, up and running in the country, to assist IHEC and relevant authorities in organising - you know - credible elections.

In addition to that, I just explained, we have 130 short-term experts coming in to monitor - in advance and on Election Day - supported by 600 additional staff. So, there are big numbers.

You will see us, increasingly. Obviously, Iraq is a big country - but you will see us increasingly going around the country in doing our job. In addition to that, also, other organisations for example, the European Union, are deploying observers or monitors or any other form of expertise; and we expect some other countries, states or organisations to come in.

Also, but this is a question for IHEC, so I am not able to give you all the details, there will be a significant number of so-called "domestic observers". So, as I said, the world is watching closely - here in Iraq, but also beyond.

You also asked about the disputed territories. So, we have five regional hubs. The core team is being deployed here in Baghdad. Then we have the regional hubs in Basra, Kirkuk, Erbil and Mosul. But, at the end of the day, it is our aim to reach out to all Governorates. But, Kirkuk, because we know some of the sensitivities, will have our special attention. No doubt about that.

Q.2: Two questions about women. Are we ready to have a female president? What is your opinion on having more women in senior political positions and posts? We have women in parliament; women in government; and KRG also, how can we improve the situation, and does the UN have a role in this?

A: SRSG JHP A female president in Iraq - that would be highly welcomed by many. But I am not sure that any woman stepped forward as a potential candidate at this stage. But, why not? It's very good to have ambitions. A long time ago, I was appointed as the first female Defence Minister in my country - The Netherlands - and it's always worth trying it. I am also the first female Special Representative of the Secretary-General here in the country and I know that many of the current authorities wondered why on earth the United Nations is sending a woman, but it worked out fine - they told me. So, you know there is plenty of opportunity for Iraqi women to put forward their candidacy for the Iraqi presidency. We would welcome that.

Secondly, I just explained a bit about our ongoing activities - from the UN Iraq family as a whole. So, we work closely with the women advisory group; we work closely with individual female decision makers and members of parliament; we have of course UN Women in the country that is also doing a lot; but at the end of the day, we do not have executive powers, we do not run the country, so it is also up - not only to the women themselves because they will have to fight a lot - but to all the political forces and the current leadership to allow women not only to become members of parliament but also to get their voice heard. And here I feel that there's still lots of work ahead of us.

Q.3: How does the United Nations view the weight of the Government's decision to hold the election on the planned date? Do you think that the Government is serious in, or capable of, holding a timely, fair, transparent, and fraud-free elections?

A: SRSG JHP I think that the commitment of the Iraqi Government is genuine with regards to the elections to be held on October 10. Also, there is no way that it would be possible to postpone the elections now. I mean, we are - as I said the clock is ticking - only five weeks ahead of the elections. We are, as many others are, investing millions and millions and millions of dollars - tax payers’ dollars - to make credible elections possible. So, to delay or postpone at this stage, that would be irresponsible in my view.

Also, it is important for any government to be predictable. You cannot announce a date and then change it just a few weeks in advance. Having said that, the commitment of this government is genuine. This government turned to the United Nations and asked for monitors to monitor Election Day, determined to make credible elections happen because, you know, many of the authorities are perfectly well aware of the fact that a repetition of the events in 2018 will create lots of trouble in the country. So, yes, they are committed and let's hope it stays that way in the next weeks ahead of us.

Q.4: Do you think that the upcoming elections might promote and add strong figures to the current landscape, and these figures may manage Iraq's affairs better, ending the tragedy of the Iraqi people?

A: SRSG JHP It's a good question because, obviously, elections are never a goal in and of themselves. This is also what I emphasised in New York. It is, however, an important milestone and it's important for Iraq to move beyond elections to get things done. What comes next, obviously, is a very critical phase. A phase of government formation. And then, if we have a government in Iraq, it's another critical moment because: will this government have enough room and flexibility to kick-start the desperately needed reforms? So, the elections are just as I said a very, very first step on a very, very long road. But these elections are important.

Q.5: How do you view the situation related to the widespread election-rigging networks? Few days ago, the Government declared exposing election-rigging networks. How would you comment on exposing more of such networks that are involved in electoral fraud? The other part of the question is related to the issue of "Accountability and Justice"; Why these issues are not yet publicised before the public opinion?

A: SRSG JHP So, you are referring to some of the recent statements that all of us have been able to read. What I can say about that is that investigations are ongoing; that so far, we do not have any evidence that systems or processes have been compromised; but again, investigations are ongoing. The statement, in my view, should also be, you know, you could read it as a deterrent. So, to warn parties we are watching you - don't go ahead with whatever you have in mind. But, again, I need to refer to the ongoing investigations and in my introductory remarks I already referred to the fact that, you know, far reaching intimidation of candidates and voters, for example, by releasing all kinds of information - it is not on. So, it must stop. And, I think, if you read the statements, the recent statements within that context, you understand what's going on. But, again, investigations are ongoing and as soon as there are any results then we, obviously, will be able to share that with you as well.

Q.6: You have spoken of strict measures to maintain the neutrality of the electoral process and guarantee its integrity. Regarding the voters' cards and the current selling and buying of these cards, so given the measures put in place, is it possible to raise the numbers of international monitors … as part of these measures? Especially, the U.S. representative has demanded previously to raise the number of monitors before the elections.

A: SRSG JHP I just gave you the maximum people we can deploy. We got our mandate late in the day - at the end of May - and we're doing whatever we can within a very short period of time. The UN, as I said, does not have executive powers; does not run the country. We are - not only the UN but many others - are watching events closely; meaning that we will be on top of things. Are there such things as guarantees? The answer is no. You know, there is no guarantee in Iraq; nowhere else in the world. But, having said that, I do think that these elections have the potential to be different than the elections in 2018, as I just said in my introductory remarks. But, again, it's not a given. So, everything and everybody will have to be with us and the Iraqi people to make this possible.

Q.7: You said in your opening remarks that you urge political blocs and their representatives not to interfere in the course of the electoral process; do you actually think that there are political parties that try to interfere? What are the measures to stop this from happening?

A: SRSG JHP Well, what we do know is that in 2018 political parties did interfere and did distort, force or shape the election results. What we are doing now is to design processes, I mean in support of IHEC - again, we are just supporting and advising - is to organise the processes and systems in such a way that this is no longer possible. So, this is one of the, you know, measures to mitigate the risk of, again, political interference in the results of the elections.

We conducted our last simulation exercise two weeks ago and things look good. As always, as in any country, you always have flaws that you need to address at the very last moment; but, in general, I have to say things look good. But, again, no guarantees. So, that's why we're here - not only us, with monitors and supporting staff, but also the European Union, other organisations including domestic observers.

Q.8: If we talk about UN technical assistance, there are currently over 3 million voters' cards in the registration centres; are there plans to distribute these cards? Three million voters, may be more than the population of a neighbouring country; how would the UN assist the Electoral Commission in distributing these cards, maybe ahead of the election day? Thank you.

Repetition of the question: There are 3 million voters' cards that have not been distributed yet, and this is a large number; does the UN assist IHEC technically in coming up with alternatives and plans to distribute these cards ahead of the election day?

A: SRSG JHP You asked about two things at the same time. Could you split it into two? One question was about the electronic voter cards, am I right? And what they will do with the cards that are not being used?

This is what I said in my introductory remarks. They will be destroyed any time soon - today or tomorrow.


A: SRSG JHP With all due respect, IHEC cannot create miracles on its own. So, citizens are also required to step up and to collect their voting cards. This is still possible, and we still have five weeks. So, I can only urge the people to collect their voting cards. If they are not collected, they cannot be used. That is obvious.

Q.9: You have delivered a message to the Iraqi people, and President Abdulfattah Al-Sisi of Egypt had delivered the same message earlier to Iraqis, calling to widely participate in the elections and to choose their representatives. There are threats by some factions against citizens, warning them from participating in the elections; what is the role of IHEC in protecting people from those threats?

A: SRSG JHP Look, in general; so, what you are saying is that some people are being threatened not to vote? Is that your question? Okay.

Again, here, there is also a public responsibility. So those parties, as I said - IHEC can do a lot but cannot do everything on its own. So, there is also a role for the Iraqi government, other authorities, the UN, Iraqi people themselves, to step up and not to allow any form of intimidation. Whether it's intimidation not to vote; whether it's suppression or intimidation to vote for a certain candidate - it is just not on. Again, unacceptable.

So, if you have very concrete examples, because we need to go beyond storytelling, you are most welcome to share it with us. But, let me be clear - if we have sufficient evidence on people being intimidated not to vote or to vote for a certain candidate, our door is open.

Q.10: Are there guarantees that the election will not be rigged, given the presence of UN and international monitoring? How does the UN evaluate this aspect?

A: SRSG JHP Well, this is a question that I kind of answered already but I am happy to answer again, to respond again, is that obviously the UN cannot give guarantees. We would like to give guarantees, but it doesn't work like that. It's the same in any country; also, in Iraq. So, I listed some of the measures and I listed some of our efforts to contribute to credible elections. We do think that with all the measures in place and with the ongoing efforts that these elections have the potential - again, I cannot emphasise enough - these elections have the potential to be different from the elections in 2018.

But I also call on all candidates, political forces and voters themselves not to allow any illegal, intentional action that could influence the outcome of the electoral process. What can I say - there are no guarantees in life; but we are doing everything we can.

Q.11: You, as United Nations, were here in 2018 in Iraq, and all the events, you have just spoken about, took place, a matter that I don’t want to go through now. What if this scenario was repeated in the upcoming elections? What will be your role? Will it be the same as the last time, or we can expect that the UN will not recognize the legitimacy of the elections this time if similar events took place? And, if I may ask: Following the elections, do we expect to witness another controversy over the issue of the largest parliamentary bloc, or this issue has been settled? How would that issue be determined this time?

A: SRSG JHP On the largest bloc issue, you will have to ask this question to the political parties because the United Nations is not best placed to comment on that; honestly, it's a very political question.

On what happened in 2018, the role of the United Nations back then was very different. We had some technical assistance but not to the extent that we are providing for at this stage. We did not have monitors and supporting staff in the country; we had no mandate by the Security Council or whatsoever. So, the role of the United Nations is very different.

Now, I am aware - I was not in the country in 2018 - but I am aware of what happened in 2018, and I am also aware of the perception with regards to the UN role at the time. It is as if the UN rubber-stamped the outcome of the elections.

Now, let me be clear on this, on the upcoming October elections. The elections, also this time around, are Iraqi-owned, Iraqi-led; but with our technical assistance and with monitoring - not only by the UN but also by the EU and others. Meaning, that there is no such thing as the UN or EU or somebody else to certify the elections because that is an Iraqi responsibility.

But I am determined not to give legitimacy to the outcome of elections that are just obviously rigged. So, I do whatever I can - together with the many people we have on the ground - to make sure that these can be and will be recognised as credible.

Something that we need to bear in mind is that I noticed in many conversations in the country, many people talk about winning the elections. Very few talk about losing the elections. But elections are about winning and losing. So, if you lose the elections and the process was recognised as credible, it's also important to accept the outcome of the elections, and not to refer to 'oh, you know, because we lost, the process was rigged'. It will be sensitive.

But, again, I emphasise - the UN, UNAMI, myself - I will not give legitimacy to the outcome of the elections if they are not recognised as credible.

Q.12: Polling centres and polling stations will be so many in Iraq; will the UN be present all the time in all stations? How can we guarantee that there will be no pressures on citizens in the election centres? Will the UN be also present during counting and tabulation process in addition to the presence in electoral stations? Thank you.

A: SRSG JHP Let's first go to the voting process. Yes, we will be present. So, this is one. Secondly, we will not be able to be present at all polling stations because there are 53,000 polling stations - you can imagine if I would deploy 53,000 people - I would need billions to make that happen; so this is not going to happen. But we will make sure that we are present together with colleagues from the European Union and other observers. And there is obviously an exercise ongoing to identify in which polling station you will see UN presence. But, as in any country, it's impossible to be present in 53,000 stations.

Q.13: What is the role of your crew - monitoring or supervising?

A: SRSG JHP No. We have to be very clear. And that's why I just said these elections are Iraqi-owned; Iraqi-led. The United Nations, nor the European Union, nor any other country or state or organisation will conduct the elections on behalf of Iraq. Again, Iraq is in the lead. We are advising, assisting, to the maximum extent we can. We will be deploying, monitoring but we are not in the business of certifying the elections. But, again, if they are rigged, don't turn around to us and ask us to rubber-stamp or give the perception to the Iraqi people that everything is fine, because this will not happen.

Q.14: How do you view distorting candidates' images? Especially that several civil organizations have provided space for some of them and denied others.

A: SRSG JHP Yes, that's what I referred to in my introductory remarks and just now. Not acceptable. So, to put pressure on candidates by releasing all kinds of videos, photos, information, to make them turn to their constituents and to make them vote for another candidate - this is not on. And investigations are ongoing as I said.

Q.15: Is there a bloc or party that is supported by the United Nations to gain the post of the President of the Republic? Second part: What are the tasks that the UN will undertake during the elections, and afterwards during the counting and tabulation process?

A: SRSG JHP Let me finish this one first - no. There is no way. There is no way, that the UN will have any fingerprint on any candidate or any party. Just to be very clear, we are impartial. So, we do not take sides.

The counting process is in hands of IHEC, but we will be there. And, as I said, it will be published - all of it will happen in real time. So, it's very different from what happened in the past for your reassurance.

Q.16: You have elaborated in speaking about the elections, and that it will be different from the 2018 experience and its rate of turnout. In case the electoral results were similar to those of 2018, what will be the UN position in this regard?

A: SRSG JHP Look, turnout. Obviously, we - that's why I am also very clear about, you know, those who call for boycott of the elections, turnout is important; voter turnout. But we cannot impose or force people to vote. I can only encourage them because if you do not cast your vote, you will give it to those that you most likely oppose. So, use your vote. See, that's a very first step to participate or shape your own future. It's your country; your future; your vote.

The voter turnout, to be clear - there's no threshold that would kind of boost the credibility of the elections. And this is important because if the voter turnout is 10 per cent; 20 per cent; 30 per cent; 40 per cent; 50 per cent or higher, we will not use it, honestly. So, I can only urge everybody to go and, you know, cast your vote.

Q.17: In the interest of transparency (inaudible) would it be important to make public the findings of the mission. I understand that the arrangement is that those will be reported to the Security Council. Can you explain what will be made public and reported to the Security Council, whether those findings will be made available for others to understand?

A: SRSG JHP The report will be public - as is any Secretary-General report to the UN Security Council. If I will report in person to the Security Council, also you will see that there is a public statement. There is always a session behind closed doors. But what is relevant, because sometimes it's easier to talk openly behind closed doors, but it will never be very different from what has been said publicly. So, the report, the written version, will be public 30 days after the elections, latest.

The EU has a different but similar procedure. Also, they will put forward recommendations and these kinds of things. So, most of the information - if not all - will just be public because there is no reason for me to hide, you know, information if it's obvious that it forces another outcome of the elections.

Q.18: How will IHEC deal with those who have destroyed their electoral cards? Will they be given new ones?

A: SRSG JHP I don't get your question. I'm so sorry because I mean why did they destroy their voting cards and it's too late, by the way, now. Now, it's too late. So, if you did not get your act together by now, you will miss the opportunity to vote. Again, there is also a responsibility - I mean a citizenship comes - as in my own country - with rights and also some duties. I have no idea why would people destroy their voting card? First of all, if they did, they lost an opportunity to update and register themselves. And I sincerely hope that most people use that opportunity.

Q.19: Thank you for your interaction with us on the issue of the upcoming elections. There is so much negative energy, there is a large-scale reluctance within all three media: Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds. How will this be dealt with?

A: SRSG JHP Yes. Look, I said, the cause not to participate in the elections vary because of loss of hope, frustration, anger and disillusionment. And disillusionment - for a number of people in the country - is very well understood by the United Nations. But by not voting, it will not be solved. And, again, elections - it's not like the next day that you will immediately see miracles in the country - but the elections are a very first and necessary step. And use that step. And use your vote. This is the only thing I can emphasise time and again.

Q.20: Is there any cooperation between Iraq and the United Nations to protect IDPs in the camps? How is such protection achieved?

A: SRSG JHP Yes, of course. I mean we have, as you know, the United Nations in Iraq. So, the IDPs are part of the so called 'special voting process', they will take part on the 'special voting process' on the 8th of October. Secondly, we pay lots of attention to the IDPs also because in the past, in 2018, for instance, there were some issues - to put it mildly. Does that mean that they do not face obstacles, or they did not face obstacles in registering themselves? Yes, they did. But we tried to provide as much information as we could. And, not only us, but also IHEC has a number of outreach activities that are planned in the next weeks to make sure that IDPs will use their rights and to cast their vote.

Q.21: Through your presence in Iraq and the presence of your experts, are there emergency plans you developed to control elections fraud?

A: SRSG JHP Well, you know. To prevent fraud, I mean, I listed a number of measures in my introductory remarks and in my response to some of the questions, that are there and the ongoing efforts to mitigate and prevent fraud. Again, if you ask me - are there guarantees? No, but that is the case in any country, also in Iraq. But, what we say time and again - I mean, somebody said 'you are so optimistic' - I'm hopeful, because with all the efforts ongoing, with all the measures already in place, these elections - again - have the potential to be different than the elections in 2018.

Q.22: My question is about the role of the UN Mission and also the international monitors. Will this role conclude after the completion of casting ballots and announcing results? We know that there are other steps to follow announcing the results, such as approval of candidates, electoral challenges that some bloc, individuals, entities might file regarding the elections results.

A: SRSG JHP The official complaint system is obviously controlled by IHEC; and has to be. Again, they are - we are not running the country; we do not have the executive powers; but we assisted IHEC in designing the procedures and we will also assist them in the follow-up of the complaint.

Your first question, I did not really get - your first question was about whether the role of the UN stops after the elections? No, it will not stop there. Because first of all, our mandate is being renewed on a yearly basis, and there are lots of things that we would be ready to assist Iraq and the Iraqi people to improve things.

SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert Alright. Thank you so much for being with us today. And, please, again, dear members of the press, we also count on you for accurate reporting; stick to the facts; we would be most grateful. Thank you so much.