|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs
United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland cautioned today that progress towards ending the bloody conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Uganda could falter unless more Member States helped bear the burden of funding vital post-conflict humanitarian work.
Mr. Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, was speaking at a Headquarters press conference following his briefing to the Security Council on his recent tour of those two countries and southern Sudan. “I think we have the best chance ever to end two of the worst wars of our generation”, he said, describing eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Uganda as “the killing fields of our times”. The Congolese conflict alone was responsible for the deaths of 4 million people since 1998 -– the equivalent of six Rwanda genocides, he added.
However, the world was “not excited” about the prospect of an enduring peace in the region, and there were worrying indications that it was not willing to “run this marathon until the end”, he said. Some non-governmental organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been warning that their donor funding could dry up by the end of 2006. “It’s not very intelligent that we spend $1.5 billion on a peacekeeping mission and save a few hundred thousand on humanitarian relief, especially for reintegration of militias”, he said, adding that peacekeeping was a very important part of resolving a conflict but not the full solution.
He pointed out that militia fighters, once disarmed, could revert to violent behaviour unless they got the support they needed to embark on new civilian lives. It cost $110 to reintegrate each fighter, but that was not happening for the majority at the moment. It would be a good investment to let it happen, but the alternative would be millions of dollars in continued humanitarian assistance for their future victims.
Turning to the northern Uganda situation, he said that, as peace negotiations continued between the Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a peace process was under way that initially nobody had believed, yet there had been very few ceasefire violations after 18 years of conflict. More than 400 LRA fighters had now gathered at two designated assembly points. “It is better to help them to stay there so they can eat canned food, do whatever they want, watch videos, instead of returning to northern Uganda to spread pillaging and havoc and raping and so on.”
Regrettably, more nations were not coming forward to do their part in funding post-conflict humanitarian work, he said. Whenever money was needed, the same dozen “usual suspects” came forward. There were more and more countries in Asia, Eastern and Central Europe, even Latin America, and certainly in the Middle East that could provide money. “Where are they when we need them for these kinds of operations, long-term?” he asked.
Describing his talks with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as “frank”, he said he had used the opportunity to condemn a lack of progress in halting the sexual abuse and rape of women, many of whom he had met in remote villages. They had been victims of rape -– gang-rape in some instances -– at the hands of armed groups.
Asked whether International Criminal Court indictments against five senior LRA leaders might be ignored for the sake of the northern Uganda peace process, he responded by recalling how the indictments had been the number one talking point around the log fire in one village where he had spent a night. He had told the people he met there that the indictments would not halt progress towards an enduring peace and that justice would be served in the end.
“ Africa is the model in the world in terms of reconciliation; Europeans are very bad in reconciliation; Middle Easterners are worse at reconciliation… What Africa is not so good at is holding people accountable for past crimes”, he said. Certainly the time of impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes was over; the indictments would stand, but the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor agreed that the war must end first.
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For information media • not an official record