PRESS BRIEFING ON OIOS INVESTIGATION IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
07 January 2005
The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of local Congolese women and girls has concluded that the problem was serious and ongoing, Barbara Dixon, Director of OIOS’s Investigations Division, told correspondents today. Equally disturbing, she said, was the lack of a protection and deterrence programme even now. Briefing correspondents on the findings of the investigation, Ms. Dixon described the investigation as a difficult process, especially because of the very general nature of the allegations investigated.
She nevertheless commended the courage of the victims and the witnesses, and praised the stand taken by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Swing, as well as cooperation of the Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) in seeing the investigation through.
Talk about even 72 or 150 allegations was in some way a misnomer, she said. Even to talk about them being distinct allegations was probably not correct either, as there was a lot of overlap among the allegations. Given the nature of the allegations and how generalized they were and given that in many cases with very young girls who could not distinguish one non-Congolese from another, and who had already been traumatized by the strife in Ituri province, the fact that OIOS was able to put together evidentiary cases with victims and witnesses picking people out of line-ups was, in her view, amazing under the circumstances.
The findings were contained in the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the OIOS, entitled “Investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” (document A/59/661).
Explaining the background of the investigation, Ms. Dixon said it was initiated following media reports in early 2004 that indicated the recurrence of acts of sexual exploitation and abuse of Congolese women and girls by United Nations peacekeepers serving with the United Nations in Bunia. The MONUC and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had subsequently approached the OIOS to investigate the allegations, which investigation was conducted in Bunia between May and September 2004. According to the report, interviews with Congolese women and girls confirmed that sexual contact with peacekeepers occurred with regularity, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money. Many of those contacts involved girls under 18 years old, with some as young as 13. Getting those very young girls and witnesses to come forward and actually identify people and tell their stories in sufficient detail that action could be taken said much about the courage of the victims, Ms. Dixon said.
Another point worth stressing was that the OIOS believed that the problem had been and continued to be widespread, as there were allegations that covered the entire DRC. In fact, the problem was not just limited to the Congo. Consequently, while originally focused on the Congo, the OIOS had also included in the report recommendations for measures to be system-wide.
The recommendations also called for ensuring that individual soldiers and others that had been identified through the investigations were not hired again, neither at Headquarters nor in another peacekeeping mission, thus, effectively and permanently blacklisting them. There were also recommendations about prevention, so that the girls and women involved would know that there was a “safe harbour” where they could go and make a report; they needed to know that there were professional investigators who knew how to handle such cases, she said.
The investigation had run into “fairly substantial resistance” from some of the contingent commanders who did not want the cases looked into, she said, a trend not unheard of in the military. However, SRSG Swing and the Force Commander had acted to ensure cooperation with the OIOS investigators in Bunia.
The investigation had not been an easy process and was not “an end game”, she said. Investigators remained stationed in MONUC, and allegations would continue to be examined under the mandate. The OIOS would also continue to protect the confidentiality of witnesses, as well as work with the new teams that were sent in by DPKO.
In response to a question, Ms. Dixon said it was probably a mistake to talk about the allegations as individual allegations because of their vague nature.
Asked how many people, how many soldiers were involved, she said that was not the nature of the allegations, which made the situation more difficult. A similar problem had been encountered in West Africa where, in many instances, there were no specifics with regard to the names of either the victims or the perpetrators. The investigators, nonetheless, spent a lot of time delving into the charges.
Asked to confirm the existence of pornographic videos and pictures in the care of the French soldiers, Ms. Dixon said that since she had not seen the materials she could neither confirm nor deny their existence. When asked what action had been taken against uncooperative commanders, she said that SRSG Swing had previously commented on that by stating that two of the commanders had been repatriated for failing to cooperate with the investigators.
In conclusion, she said that, given that the problem of sexual abuse was not unique to MONUC, and with new peacekeeping missions being opened in areas where similar problems could arise, it was recommended that DPKO should consider a wider application of prevention and detection policies aimed at protecting against sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers.
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