Press Conference by Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping, Field Support

25 March 2010

Press Conference by Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping, Field Support

25 March 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping, Field Support

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, and Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, briefed correspondents at Headquarters today on the United Nations effort in Haiti, ongoing reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, and the recent support expressed by Member States for their new strategy aimed at keeping pace with the evolutionary changes shaping most all aspects of their mandate.

In opening remarks that began with an update on the situation in Haiti, Mr. Le Roy said that, at a conference hosted by Brazil and Haiti just two days ago, more than 50 delegations had praised the Organization’s work before and after the earthquake, in helping that country to get back on its feet.  Of course, deficiencies and huge challenges remained, not least, insufficient camps and lack of security therein.

Reporting on the conclusion of the work last Friday of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping, or C-34, he said he had put in front of them new recommendations as part of the so-called “Hew Horizon” process and he was pleased to note that the Committee had adopted the report by consensus, lending full support for the Department’s proposals.  New changes involved protection of civilians, continued robust peacekeeping operations, development of capabilities in relation to troop- and police-contributing countries, with particular emphasis on the key triangle that formed between them and Member States, and the Security Council and Secretariat. “I was glad to see that we are on the same page,” he said.

Ms. Malcorra said the first quarter of 2010 had been “heavily tainted” with the Haiti situation, but the Department had also remained very focused on trying to address issues stemming from the other Missions, which were many, and in addressing some of the more strategic perspectives required for overall improvement.  “We are doing good, but there is still a lot of room for improvement,” she acknowledged.  Some issues required systemic changes and a major overhaul, which would hopefully be adopted together with budgets, in June.  Efforts were being made to work “in a new way” in the field to support deployment and redeployment, eastern Chad exemplifying the latter case.  The general aim was to improve the safety and security of staff, including the establishment of regional service centres outside mission service areas.  While tackling the day-to-day operations and the Haiti tragedy, the Department was continuing to address the more structural changes to enhance the overall operation.

Responding to a question about monitoring the Blue Line, Mr. Le Roy said there had been a technical review of equipment and of the force in connection with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and there would be some adjustment to ensure that the equipment was right to fulfil the mandate required of it under Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  There was a new head of mission, and UNIFIL was continuing to patrol all areas to ensure its mandate and prevent any weapons smuggling.  It was true that UNIFIL had requested authorization to open an office in Tel Aviv to increase the flow of information.  There was already cooperation with both sides, he added.

Asked what options for reconfiguration of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) were on the table, and how concerned he was about that scenario, especially as it coincided with the situation in Chad and what appeared to be interest among African leaders to expel the United Nations, he said the situation had changed “drastically” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In Chad and the Sudan, the situations had changed, but for completely different reasons, and negotiations were ongoing in both cases.  He had visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a few weeks ago, on which he would issue a report very soon ‑‑ a report of the Secretary-General ‑‑ containing various options.

But, the proposal to the Security Council, and endorsed by President Joseph Kabila, was that the troops in the west of the country, which had been at peace for many years, would withdraw soon; he would propose to the Council that up to 2,000 troops would leave.  But, it was still very important to keep the forces in the east, where there was still a lot to be done.  Any drawdown in that portion of the country should be linked to fully operational police and judicial activities, and full governance and rule of law in place to ensure that, the day MONUC left, the situation was stable.  A plan released by the Congolese was very interesting, in that it expressed the need for partners to help train and equip their forces.  Once that was done, he could “very much envisage MONUC’s drawdown”.

He added that his report would be ready soon, following which there would be a debate in the Council on 13 April.  The Council would leave for a visit to Kinshasa and Goma, one week later, from 17 to 20 April.

To a number of questions about Darfur, he said the mandate there was to go everywhere; it had been doing so and would continue to do so.  The incident to which the correspondent had referred (wherein an African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol reportedly had been ambushed and forced to hand over its equipment) was “very grave”.  It had involved 63 peacekeepers, and he sought a full investigation.  But, the operation had a full mandate to protect civilians there, and “when you are attacked, you have the right to use your weapons”.  That might have been the case, but if the mission was badly planned, then it would be sanctioned by the Security Council.  There was a preliminary report, but he would not take any action based only on that report.  He reiterated that he sought a full investigation of the matter.

As for an article in the Wall Street Journal alleging ongoing misconduct among United Nations peacekeepers, he said that was an extremely important issue, “a big headache and heartache for us”.  One case was too many, for which immediate action was required.  But, it was always front page news.  At the same time, it was “absolutely unacceptable”, but it should not jeopardize all peacekeepers, who were doing a great job.  The guilty ones were “black sheep”, and there were black sheep in any army in the world.  Nor did he want troop-contributing countries that had taken action to be blamed, because the huge majority of their troops was behaving in very brave and disciplined manner.  Alan Doss, the head of MONUC, would brief the Council on 13 April.  His contract ran out after May, but he was still “very much the head of the Mission”.

Replying to another question, Ms. Malcorra said the Department was working closely with Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  If the correspondent read the full document to which he referred, there were pockets of trouble; peacekeeping operated in the highest-risk areas of the world, so it was right that OIOS would have peacekeeping as a top objective in their reviews.  But, a look at the reports showed that most systemic issues were being handled.

Referring back to the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation, and the Wall Street Journal article, she said addressing the issue was a process of changing a deeply-rooted culture throughout the world.  That must be done on the basis of an absolute established policy of zero tolerance, but it also had to be recognized that 250,000 troops a year were being pulled together from totally different places in the world with different backgrounds.  Pre-deployment training had been established, which set zero tolerance at the forefront.  Induction admissions were being conducted to ensure that troops and police and civilians were fully aware of the need to comply with that policy, and clear instructions were issued to ensure that peacekeepers were not exposed to unnecessary temptation.  Those measures included curfews and restriction of movement.  But it still happened, and it was being handled on a case-by-case basis.  Her view was long-term, and in that context, she was starting to see improvement.

Mr. Le Roy stressed the full engagement with troop- and police-contributing countries, adding that they were fully compliant.  He agreed that it was a learning process, but he was satisfied with the level of engagement in that regard.  The “violators” were a small number, out of 250,000 men and women deployed each year, eager to be on the ground ‑‑ to become peacekeepers and make a difference.  He emphasized that the black sheep ‑‑ though they were too many if they were more than zero ‑‑ should not taint the overall good attitude of the peacekeepers on the ground.

Fifty-five cases were too many and must be condemned, he added.  At the same time, there were 124,000 peacekeepers on the ground today, and with rotation, there were 200,000.  All armies and organizations of the world had their black sheep.

Ms. Malcorra explained the situation not only involved police and military, but also civilian colleagues.  In terms of culture, she said an effort was being made to reach out to the local population, because sometimes cultural aspects of local populations “accept that as a normal thing”.  Campaigns were under way to reach out to women’s groups and to children, to empower them to understand that this was “just plain wrong” and to “have them tell us what is happening so we can take action”.

Asked about the effort to get Haitians, especially homeless, into camps before the heavy rains, he pointed to the size of the problem, highlighting that there were 500,000 displaced persons in need of food, shelter and sanitation.  The right sites for the camps needed to be identified and others needed to be relocated away from potential flooding.  A decree had been signed by the President on 19 March identifying the precise sites for the camps.  It was long awaited, but “we have it now and work has already started”; the United Nations and other engineers were preparing the ground.  At the same time, not everyone would fit in the camps, and not before the heavy rain season.

Elaborating on the dimension of the humanitarian crisis in Port-au-Prince, Ms. Malcorra said the dimension was equivalent to the one in Darfur, with the main difference being that Darfur was a very extended swatch of land where it had been possible to set up very defined camps.  That had not been the case so far in Port-au-Prince, because it was an urban humanitarian crisis, which was very different from the ones the international community had faced in the past five years.  It was “absolutely different” from the one the United Nations had faced in the tsunami, and very different from the one in rural Pakistan, where the Government had coordinated the relief effort.  It was also very different from the one in Myanmar, where flooding had been in rural areas.  There were more political issues there, but management had been in a very dispersed area.  Haiti was an urban issue and getting land was at the core of the challenge in establishing the camps.

She added that the question of land tenure in Haiti was also complicated and presented a strong incentive for people not to stay where they were. Nevertheless, those at highest risk had to be moved first, and now that land was made available, that process would start.  But the complexity of the endeavour and the huge humanitarian capacity required to succeed should not be underestimated, combined with structural and deployment limitations.

Addressing the security in the camps, Mr. Le Roy said that, through the Haitian police, “we now have a permanent presence” in all 900 major camps.  Patrolling was ongoing day and night, and lights had been set up.  Work was also under way with local communities within the camps to prevent misconduct.  And members of the Haitian and United Nations police team, including women, were speaking to vulnerable women in the camps.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.