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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

07 January 2005

With the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations Organization Mission there entering a critical phase, the only viable solution was to stay the course, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for that country said at a Headquarters press briefing today.

Briefing correspondents on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the head of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), William Lacy Swing, said that the country was dealing with a very difficult and sad legacy in the period of its independence. With two wars in the past five years, some 15 years of chronic instability and about 40 years of economic and political mismanagement, it was the cruel irony that one of Africa’s potentially richest countries was one of its poorest, with per capita gross domestic product hovering at about $100.

Significant achievements had been made in the past 18 months since the Transitional Government’s establishment, he said. The most dramatic among them was that those previously on the battlefield were now working in the Transitional Government. The institutional architecture put in place after the July 1999 ceasefire was now operational. A functioning Parliament with an ambitious legislative programme had also been established.

Composed of 105 nationalities, with 51 troop-contributing countries and 19 contributing to the police force, MONUC was the single largest peacekeeping activity in the world, he said. That partly reflected the country’s size, which was equivalent to the distance between Madrid and Moscow or New York and Miami.

Among the daunting challenges facing the country was the presence of 10,000 to 15,000 foreign armed elements in the country, primarily the Interahamwe and ex-FAR, he said. Those armed elements had to be repatriated. While MONUC had already repatriated some 11,300, a much more active and robust approach was needed in order to meet the timetable for solving the problem in 2005.

Continuing, he said there was also the issue of the 300,000 armed Congolese elements, for which a $200 million World Bank programme had been designed to bring two thirds of them back into civilian life through training and career counselling. That needed to be done quickly, and was closely linked to the issue of creating a new integrated army. Progress was also needed in creating a new police force. There was renewed activity by a number of countries to help in that regard. Some 388,500 refugees were clustered in all nine of the Democratic Republic’s neighbours, all of whom needed to be returned. The internally displaced also needed to go home.

Among other outstanding issues, he said the constitution needed to be completed and a referendum held. State authority still had not been extended, particularly in the eastern part of the country where much of the recent violence and instability had occurred.

Security Council resolution 1565 of 1 October 2004 had provided the Mission both with new responsibilities and resources, he said. The MONUC was presently undergoing its most significant transformation since its creation in 1999, in particular its military concept. The strategic and operational aspects were being separated, with the strategic remaining in Kinshasa under a Force Commander, and a divisional headquarters in Kisangani. That put the Mission two hours closer to the areas of instability in the Kivus and the Ituri district.

New mechanisms had also been created, including the Joint Verification Mechanism, which had been signed on 22 September, the SRSG continued. That mechanism allowed the Congolese, the Rwandans and MONUC, along with the African Union, to verify allegations on both sides of the border and to build confidence between the parties. Another such mechanism was the new Tripartite Commission, which brought together the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Such confidence-building measures would allow the countries to build a more stable region.

While many issues remained, there were also reasons for encouragement, he said. The Congolese people had held together during a very difficult period. The international community had stepped forward with about $4 billion in aid. Some 80 per cent of the country’s $14 billion external debt was in the process of being forgiven.

What bolstered everybody’s courage in the DRC these days was the knowledge that, if put right, the country would offer more to the rest of Africa than practically any other crisis situation on the continent, he said. For that reason, MONUC was committed to staying the course.

The Mission, however, continued to face the serious problem of sexual exploitation and abuse, he said. “We are shocked by it, we are outraged, and we are sickened by it.” Peacekeepers -- sworn to protect those in need -- had instead caused grievous harm. It was inexcusable behaviour, and the Mission was determined to stamp it out.

Responding to a question on the allegations, he noted that, when the Mission first broke the story early last year, they had started with MONUC-led investigations. Realizing that it did not have professional investigators, the Mission had done what it could with what it had. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) then lent a strong helping hand. As its report indicated, OIOS had been on the ground from June until September. From November until the middle of December, a joint DPKO-Office of Human Resources Management team had helped with the investigation for six weeks.

He said a special investigative team was currently in the Congo, headed by the Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, Angela Kane. There was no question that it would be an important element in finding a solution to the problem. The team would be there for about two months. The Mission had gotten very strong support from the Secretariat. The Mission was now able to create the first-ever eight-person unit, to be called the “Personnel Conduct” or “Code of Conduct” Unit. Four peacekeeping missions would have such units.

The MONUC had tried to be transparent from the outset, he said. The Mission had tried not to reveal individuals or nationalities in order not to damage the investigation. He had sent his own Personnel Conduct Officer immediately to Bunia when the first cases had surfaced. An information campaign had been carried out, and the code of conduct reissued. He also held monthly town hall meetings. While he could not be personally on the ground to greet every soldier that arrived, soldiers were required to watch, upon their arrival, a video he had made.

Stressing the importance of getting to the contingents early on, he said Personnel Conduct Officers would be sent to capitals in the pre-deployment phase so that they understood the code of conduct. The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, had carried out a good analysis of the situation. A network of focal points had been established throughout the United Nations system that met regularly, and a sexual exploitation and abuse task force in DPKO had been created at the request of Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno.

One of the weaknesses of the Mission had been following up on cases, he explained. Because military officers fell under different rules than civilians, the Department was trying to come up with ways to ensure effective follow-up. The Mission was also actively exploring its responsibilities regarding the victims of sexual abuse. The DPKO was now carrying out a pilot training programme, which would be available in the coming months. While many measures had been taken to address the problem, such as curfews and off-limit areas, much remained to be done.

Also responding to questions, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Affairs Jean-Marie Guéhenno said the allegations had raised the fundamental issue of how to address the issue of sexual abuse with troop contributors. There were two ways to do so. One was an adversarial approach, in which the blame was pushed onto the troop contributors. The other was to ensure the troop contributor’s full support so that the issue could be dealt with effectively. The only way, he believed, was to get the full buy-in of the troop contributors. Prince Zeid had gone to the Democratic Republic at the Secretary-General’s request to examine the issue. His views had been pessimistic. The DPKO was engaging with troop contributors to agree on a “tough” position on how to address all the issues regarding sexual exploitation and abuse, including how to make the military justice systems effective.

Unfortunately, crimes were committed in many armies of the world, Mr. Guéhenno observed. The indictment came when there was no follow-up to the crime. He believed that DPKO had to move towards a transparent system in which follow-up measures would be put on the table with Member States, so that troop contributors would not be “named and shamed”.

When a force with power and money was inserted into a broken country in extreme misery, the risk of that imbalance creating an exploitive relationship was high, which was why extra measures were needed. While sex crimes were always difficult to investigate, when committed in places with functioning judiciaries and police they could be more easily pursued. That was not the case in post-conflict situations. The issue of whether sex should be banned with all members of the population, regardless of age, had to be discussed with Member States.

Why was a police force needed when it was up to military commanders to enforce discipline among their troops? a correspondent asked. Mr. Guéhenno replied that he was equally shocked and felt both a mixture of outrage and anger. The Organization’s rules were crystal clear: sex with a person under the age of 18 was against the rules. Contingent commanders needed to see as part of their command responsibility the need to enforce the strictest discipline. If that discipline was not enforced, action would then have to be taken against those commanders. Given the difficult nature of investigating sexual crimes, a specific investigative capacity for sexual crimes was also needed.

How much had the allegations damaged the United Nations credibility, and would they become the United Nations’ “Abu Ghraib”? a correspondent asked. Mr. Guéhenno said there was no question that the allegations would hurt the Organization’s credibility. When confidence was betrayed, it was unconscionable, which was why forceful action was needed. He felt not only because of the abuses, but also because the reputation of many other officers had been tainted by the actions of those who had committed abuse, demoralizing the Mission and destroying the trust of the Congolese people in the United Nations efforts. While it was good that allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse were being reported, it was also painful. The current situation, however, could not be compared to Abu Ghraib.

Regarding the exemption of United States peacekeepers from prosecution, Mr. Guéhenno said American troops were not serving under the Mission’s command. The status of United States military observers serving in the Mission was different. There were laws in the United States that provided for United States prosecution of its citizens who had committed sex crimes outside United States territory.

Asked whether the Mission continued to receive allegations of new cases, Mr. Swing said that, while there had been a decline in the number of cases, there were continuing allegations.

Responding to another question, Mr. Guéhenno said the Organization had worked hard to professionalize United Nations peacekeeping. The Secretary-General had met with some 20 of the top troop-contributing countries to discuss various measures. The vast majority of troops behaved honourably. Real engagement with the troop-contributing countries was needed.

It was unfair, he added, to single out a particular group of countries for sexual exploitation and abuse. A great deal depended on how focused a commander was in maintaining discipline in the contingent under his command. The issue was units, not countries.

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