Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, 8 February 2012
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
Briefing correspondents at Headquarters on the situations in South Sudan and other African countries, Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that tackling the myriad challenges on the continent required the United Nations to continue strengthening its partnership with the African Union and other regional actors.
Reinforcing such cooperation would be among the issues on the table when the Special Committee on Peacekeeping — known informally as the “C-34” — began its 2012 session on 21 February. Flagging that two week gathering as “very important,” Mr. Ladsous said it would provide an opportunity for Member States to discuss operational, substantive and conceptual peacekeeping issues.
Delegations would also discuss ways to nurture the partnership between major United Nations organs, troop- and police-contributing countries and major donors. To that end, he also noted recent efforts carried out by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations through its partnerships with the respective Steering Committees of the African Union and European Union.
Turning to current peacekeeping challenges, he flagged the situation in Sudan and South Sudan as “very difficult and very serious”. Nearly a third of the Organization’s peacekeeping capacity was distributed across three missions in the “newly divorced” but still antagonistic countries, and in Darfur. “The North-South situation is very much a concern,” he continued, explaining that, while the two countries had indeed successfully divorced late last year, they had left aside practicalities of what that meant.
“The two sides still have to live together,” he said, which required tackling the tough, open issues, including borders, Abyei, revenue sharing, and the current mutual accusations levelled by each side against the other of support for the activities of armed groups. He reiterated the Secretary-General’s recent assertion that “there is no trust and no confidence between North and South.”
With the flare-up of inter-tribal fighting in South Sudan at the beginning of the year, and the abiding concern that both countries still faced daunting challenges on their respective domestic fronts, the United Nations would continue to monitor the situation closely. Though perhaps the two sides would remain “not so much in love with each other”, he said, they must be able to “do what they need to do”, and the United Nations would continue to assist with stabilization and State-building efforts. Responding to a question on the recent violence in Pibor, South Sudan, he stressed that the United Nations was in the midst of carrying out an in-depth investigation. He refuted reports of 3,000 deaths and, while stressing than “even one death is still too many”, the Organization believed the number to be somewhere in the hundreds.
As for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he had visited at the end of January, Mr. Ladsous said that the second largest United Nations peacekeeping mission was located in that country and operating in challenging circumstances. Following the first phase of Congolese elections last November, “which were far from perfect”, that mission — known as MONUSCO — was charged with working with Congolese officials to ensure that the next poll, filling Parliamentary seats, met the aspirations of the people and the United Nations for creating functioning, inclusive and responsible political institutions.
He went on to say that he remained concerned by the situation in the Kivus, where State presence was extremely limited. Indeed, during his visit to Goma and other areas in the vast country’s eastern region, it was clear that Congolese military forces and police were not nearly as widely dispersed as they should be. As such, MONUSCO was providing essential security, including civilian protection. He added that, during a briefing yesterday to the Security Council, MONUSCO Chief Roger Meece, had reiterated the Mission’s focus on civilian protection and the Peacekeeping Department’s ongoing concern with the presence of rebel groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. (See Press Release SC/10538.)
On Somalia, he said that now that Al-Shabaab had been pushed out of Mogadishu there was an opportunity to create “an entirely new security situation” there. The United Nations and the wider international community must help guide the political process, especially in light of the 23 February London Conference on Somalia and the proactive role being taken by the African Union through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In response to a question, he added that the ongoing effort to eradicate piracy and disrupt criminal networks were critical ways to drastically reduce Al-Shabaab’s influence.
Turning to other important issues, he said the peacekeeping Department’s overall endeavour to stamp out sexual abuse and exploitation remained a top priority. Indeed, renewed incidents had come to light “and it is simply not acceptable”. While the Department stood by its “zero tolerance” policy, that standard should be accompanied by “100 per cent attention”. Therefore, the Department was developing a policy that went “much, much further” to deal with individuals — both military and civilian — that perpetrated such acts. “We are working very hard to take even more effective action to address such acts or events when they happen,” he said, adding that they “spoiled the image of peacekeeping”.
Responding to a series of question on that matter, he said the Peacekeeping Department was had acted very swiftly to complete investigation of allegations of sexual abuse in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). “We need to be able to act because this is totally, totally unacceptable,” he said. The Haiti case was being addressed by the Haitian and Uruguayan Governments to agree on a way forward.
Uruguay had gone through the first stage of the procedure, which included dealing with military justice. The next phase involved civil justice, and the United Nations was assisting so the case could be brought to trial and the victim could receive justice. The United Nations could not act in the place of either Government and “we hope that they can act quickly because this has been going on for too long”.
When a reporter asked if his Department was under pressure to reduce costs, he said, in that regard, the coming year looked to be one of “stabilization and possibly some reduction”. He said that, while the organization’s most recent peacekeeping budget had been around $8 billion, he expected the next assessment to “be somewhere around $7 billion”. That reduction would be possible largely through the downsizing of a number of missions. For example, he said that MINUSTAH was presently retuning to pre-earthquake surge levels; the size of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) could be reduced following the recent holding of elections in that country; and there was a general belief that the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) would close down at the end of 2012.
Finally, he underscored that, along with tackling sexual exploitation, the Peacekeeping Department was “working ceaselessly and tirelessly” to ensure the security and safety of United Nations personnel working in difficult circumstances. “We owe it to them to provide the maximum protection wherever they are,” he said.
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