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Press Conference by United Nations Peacekeeping Force Commanders

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Fresh from addressing the Security Council, the commanders of four United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East addressed a Headquarters press conference today on their efforts to protect civilians in Darfur, address charges of human trafficking among senior peacekeepers in Liberia and, more generally, implement measures to ensure that troops everywhere were held to the highest standards of conduct.

Attending the press conference were the following Force Commanders: Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba, African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID); Lieutenant General Chander Prakash, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); and Major General Muhammad Khalid, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Asked who had perpetrated the 26 July attack on a French peacekeeping convoy in Saida, Lebanon, General Asarta said he did not wish to speculate on the matter, adding that the region was very sensitive and the investigation was ongoing. The fact was that the envoy had been attacked by remote control and six people had been wounded, three of whom had been repatriated to France. He said he did not know who had committed the attack, adding that it could have been Al-Qaida, Palestinians, Syrians, Israelis or even just one individual. “Look at what happened in Oslo,” he said.

To a query about whether he wished to see any changes to the UNIFIL mandate,he said he did not envisage any changes.

Asked about charges that senior peacekeepers under his command had been involved in trafficking, and more generally, whether any changes had been made to prevent troops from engaging in such behaviour, General Prakash said that when a peacekeeper was found guilty, he or she was repatriated. There had been a 75 per cent reduction in allegations against MONUSCO peacekeepers and measures had been devised to reduce that number down further.

He went on to explain that a code of conduct had been issued and peacekeepers had undergone training. Strict standard operating procedures were in place and every incident was viewed “very, very seriously”. At the same time, he cautioned against the idea of lifting immunity for soldiers who had committed crimes, saying that doing so could open the door to other problems, such as “motivated” or false allegations.

General Khalid added that in the last eight months of his tenure, there had been three allegations of misconduct in UNMIL. “I want zero,” he said.

Asked about the requirements for receiving authorization to protect civilians from the Government of Sudan, General Nyamvumba said restrictions did not inhibit many of UNAMID’s operational activities, adding that the mission was not required to seek permission other than that outlined in the status-of-forces agreement. Nonetheless, the situation in Sudan was volatile and there were times when it was not advisable to place peacekeepers in harm’s way. “We come in when civilians are endangered,” he said, recalling that, when fighting had broken out in one particular area in 2010, some 30,000 internally displaced persons had been given protection, as well as medicine, food and other rations.

Regarding the impact on UNAMID of the creation of the Republic of South Sudan, General Nyamvumba said it was too early to make an observation on that matter. “What we all know is that there are still unresolved issues”, including border demarcation, he said.

Asked whether the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had “turned a corner” regarding allegations of sexual abuse by its troops, General Prakash said he could not guarantee that there would not be other allegations in the future, but the Department and MONUSCO had put all measures in place to ensure that such incidents did not occur.

Questioned about Congolese forces allegedly using rape as a weapon of war, he said peacekeepers were the first to investigate reports of rape or any other human rights violations. MONUSCO supported only commanders and units of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), which had a clear human rights record. If charges arose, “we immediately stop that support”, he said, underlining that United Nations peacekeepers were not even remotely associated with actions that resulted in human rights violations.

As for charges that UNMIL peacekeepers had frequented bars from which women had been trafficked, and that the United Nations, working with Liberian police, had conducted raids, General Khalid said that a survey of all bars and clubs had been carried out, and establishments that were dubious or infamous for sexual abuse had been declared “off limits”.

For information media • not an official record