PRESS CONFERENCE BY TOP UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPING OFFICERS IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, AFGHANISTAN
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
13 August 2008
The misbehaviour of just one peacekeeper could tarnish the image of all 17,000 troops deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under very difficult conditions, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Mission, said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Accompanied by Brigadier General Mark Skidmore, Senior Military Adviser of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Lieutenant General Gaye immediately took several questions about the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse that had plagued the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), one of the largest in the world.
Asked his reaction to the recent outcome of an investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which had revealed “prima facie” evidence that members of an Indian contingent previously assigned to MONUC might have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse, the Force Commander said there had certainly been a reaction, not only at the Mission level, but from the Secretary-General himself, who had released a statement yesterday on that issue.
He went on to say that the investigation tarnished the image of the United Nations, that of the force image and that of MONUC. “We are doing our very best to implement the zero tolerance policy.” But while it was now very clear to all peacekeepers that sexual exploitation and abuse were forbidden by the Organization, it was unfortunate that some were still misbehaving. However, measures to curb misbehaviour included curfews and prohibitions against leaving the barracks after 6 p.m., or having any form of entertainment outside the barracks.
Asked whether countries whose peacekeepers repeatedly tarnished the Organization’s image should be banned from United Nations peacekeeping operations, he said it would be unfair to ban some countries because of one or two cases. The difference between the MONUC situation and that of troops deployed by their own countries was that the actions of the latter were balanced by their achievements in the field. People were less tough on soldiers when they were dying for their countries. Most such cases were based on allegations that made newspaper front pages, but three months later, after investigations revealed that the allegations were false, the story was buried on the fourth page.
Lieutenant General Gaye and Brigadier General Skidmore, as well as a number of other United Nations Force Commanders and senior officers were in New York for talks at Headquarters, and several of them were expected to hold press conferences throughout the week.
Brigadier General Skidmore said in brief opening remarks that correspondents were seeing two different ends of the peacekeeping spectrum. Lieutenant General Gaye had a large mission and tremendous responsibilities, while UNAMA was at the other end of the spectrum, presently number 15 and serving as military advisers to the United Nations in Afghanistan. The Mission’s security component was handled by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-International Security Assistance Force.
He said UNAMA was political in nature so the advisers were facilitators in communicating governance and development objectives to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and ISAF’s security aims to UNAMA. The Mission headquarters comprised 3 people, and another 11 or 12 were in the provinces, working with the heads of various offices to create integrated teams to help deliver humanitarian relief and good governance.
Pressed about his repeated use of the word “misbehaviour”, and asked whether the word “crime” was not more appropriate, Lieutenant General Gaye said he did not think so, but stressed, however, that sexual abuse and exploitation “is unacceptable”. The situation was certainly different when it involved young children.
Asked about a report last month concerning alleged misconduct and disloyalty by an Indian colonel, he said the issue was under investigation by OIOS, but he could confirm that there was a tape recording of which he had a transcript. A letter had been sent to alert the Government of India to the incident, which was not in line with the Security Council resolution to which MONUC must adhere. The peacekeeper had made a statement that was “not the line” of his contingent, the force or the Mission, and the Indian Government was expected to take appropriate action following the investigation.
Concerning border relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Brigadier General Skidmore said something would have to be done to normalize relations between the two countries, but that would be “a long road”. The security situation in any theatre of operations was an ebb and flow, and right now there was a resurgence of anti-Government activity. How it unfolded throughout the rest of the year remained to be seen.
Asked about rules of engagement, Lieutenant General Gaye defined the different circumstances under which “hot pursuit” and gunships might be employed, pointing out that MONUC’s rules of engagement had been reinforced in 2006 and were broad enough for the Force Commander to decide upon the use of force.
As for dissemination of the Secretary-General’s Code of Conduct, he said it had been incorporated into a monthly directive signed by the Force Commander. Every contingent had a “sexual exploitation and abuse” focal point, who underwent training every six months owing to troop rotation. Moreover, all contingents received pre-deployment training on the Code of Conduct before their induction into MONUC. Any MONUC soldier asked about the rules regarding sexual exploitation and abuse would be able to recite them clearly.
In response to a separate question, Brigadier General Skidmore said he was not aware of any discussion concerning a withdrawal plan for Afghanistan. ISAF and UNAMA were there under a United Nations mandate, fulfilling a mission to support the democratically elected Government of Afghanistan. The Special Representative’s focus was to complete voter registration, leading to presidential elections next year. There were challenges in doing that, given the difficult security situation, but all partners were working towards that goal.
He said in reply to another question that the killing of civilians was a matter of tremendous concern to ISAF and UNAMA, adding that ISAF was now working very closely with the Mission’s human rights staff to investigate civilian deaths.
Lieutenant General Gaye said in response to a further question that, according to sources, between 6,000 and 8,000 armed combatants remained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There would be no peaceful solution without military pressure, which required an important build-up from the Congolese side, which was still operating on a cash basis. It would take time to build an efficient army, but that was the only way to convince the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) that it was time they returned home.
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For information media • not an official record
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