PRESS CONFERENCE ON INTERNATIONAL DAY OF UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPERS
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
29 May 2007
The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers was an opportunity to focus on the 107 personnel who had lost their lives over the last year and on the millions of individual people to whom the Organization’s help made a difference, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at Headquarters this afternoon.
Speaking at a press conference to mark the occasion, Mr. Guéhenno said it was a time to go beyond the statistics –- 18 missions with 100,000 personnel deployed around the world -- and reflect on a year’s hard work. “When I think about a slum in Haiti, when I think about people in Monrovia with a little bit of hope now, that’s what matters.”
He said peacekeeping was getting more dangerous as mandates became increasingly challenging, especially in situations where the peace was very fragile. “Those peacekeepers who make the ultimate sacrifice remind us that peacekeeping matters to the world and that it needs to be supported. What gives us the courage and the confidence that it needs to be done is the hope that so many people continue to put in us.”
A correspondent asked for an update on progress towards deploying the heavy support package to the African Union Mission in the Sudan (AMIS) in terms of firming up commitments by troop-contributing countries and the most likely timetable for the beginning and completion of deployment.
Mr. Guéhenno said the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was completing the identification of the “first wave” of deployments. They would take place first in El Fasher and Nyala, two places for which engineering, transport and communications units would be needed. The second wave would beef up the peacekeeping presence at El-Jeneina. Significant missing capacities like tactical helicopters might have to be found outside Africa, but there would be a “nice balance” between African and non-African contributors.
Asked about the timing of the first and second waves, he said one worrying factor was the upcoming rainy season in late June. Logisticians would do their best to start deployment before that time, and much would depend on troop contributors. The Department was pressing them to be ready to start deploying in July or August. Consultations were being held with the African Union regarding the required communications capacities, and that announcement would be made in coordination with the regional organization.
He told another correspondent that the United States and the United Kingdom would not be contributing troops. The traditional contributors from Asia would provide the troops, which would emphasize the universality of peacekeeping, as the peacekeepers would be from countries with no particular interest in the Sudan. The Department would make sure the forces were balanced politically and geographically. In that way, the Government and the rebel movements would trust that they were there to protect civilians, with no other agenda.
Asked why the Western countries were not contributing, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, given their “dogged” campaign for the alleviation of the plight of Darfur civilians, he said it was probably better to have peacekeepers from countries that had not taken a strong stand on Darfur one way or another, but that question should be put to those two countries.
Had the Department incorporated the contribution of China? another journalist asked. Would the Department expand existing camps, rather than creating new ones to accommodate incoming peacekeepers?
The Under-Secretary-General said there was already a Chinese engineering unit in south Sudan and it could be considered for Darfur. As for the camps, the intention was to work with contractors already working for AMIS. That was more practical than starting from scratch, which would delay any deployment considerably.
He told the same correspondent he would neither confirm nor deny that the Department had accepted the Chinese contribution, reiterating that an announcement would be made in coordination with the African Union.
Another questioner asked whether Member States had been helpful in introducing the model Memorandum of Understanding on the standards by which troops were expected to conduct themselves.
The Under-Secretary-General said discussions on the Memorandum of Understanding were critically important. Because the ultimate responsibility for the discipline of uniformed personnel lay with Member States, the United Nations needed a solid partnership with them. There must be total clarity regarding acceptable or criminal conduct.
Stressing the need for processes that did not create delays, he said one of the difficulties that investigations by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) faced was ensuring that its standards were acceptable to Member States. Such practical issues could weaken the Department’s hand in terms of discipline, zero tolerance and the clear message that troop contributors and the Secretariat wished to enforce the right policies. It was essential that a revised Memorandum of Understanding have that “in black and white” to enforce the right standards.
Regarding opposition to those standards by some Member States, he said they could not require the United Nations to have perfect discipline and then resist any encroachment on national disciplinary procedures. There must be some kind of compromise.
A correspondent asked if he feared a situation similar to that of the International Criminal Court, with major Powers refusing to place their troops under its jurisdiction. He stressed the importance of effective disciplinary processes. Everybody understood how misconduct had badly damaged the good name of the United Nations. For the sake of truly putting an end to that, it was worth making some compromise in a Memorandum of Understanding.
Regarding Chad’s reluctance to host United Nations peacekeepers, he said a Department advance team was engaging the Chadian authorities and there was hope for a practical understanding on what was needed. The threats to Chad’s civilian population were different from those in Darfur, and any response must be adapted to those differences.
On the need for humanitarian corridors in Darfur, he cited the weekend attack on a convoy and the killing of an Egyptian officer deployed in El Fasher. The rebel movements and the Government must send the right signals by their actions on the ground, if the political process was to have any meaning.
Asked why the Department’s investigation of misconduct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was taking so long, Mr. Guéhenno said the investigation was “tricky”, owing to troop rotations and the possibility that the authors of such allegations had their “finger in the pot”. Those allegations must be ascertained.
Emphasizing that impunity was not a good foundation for peace, he said there may be a time for flexibility and for bringing people to justice, but that was for the Congolese authorities to judge, while the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) pressed continuously for non-impunity. Though the situation was far from perfect, one success for the Mission had been the transfer of Thomas Lubanga to the International Criminal Court, which had sent a powerful message to militia leaders in the Ituri District.
Asked whether the Secretary-General would personally visit all peacekeeping missions, to reinforce his commitment, Mr. Guéhenno noted that the Secretary-General had sent a strong signal on his first visit to Africa by visiting MONUC personnel in Kinshasa and Kisangani. He had since visited peacekeepers in Lebanon, which had sent a powerful signal of his political engagement.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|