5 January 2007
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The reputation of United Nations peacekeeping was one of its most powerful assets, which was why the Organization had responded so strongly to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by its peacekeepers, and addressed it structurally and systemically, the Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Jane Holl Lute, said today.

Briefing correspondents in the wake of media reports and questions this week concerning investigations of peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), Ms. Lute said there were currently 13 investigations ongoing.  Four Bangladeshis were part of those enquiries, which were being handled by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  The Oversight Office closed out its processes based on its own criteria, so she was not in a position to say when those cases would close or the precise internal procedures being used.  As for whether the allegations were true or not, she said “they could be true”.

As for the disposition of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers who had been repatriated, she said that one had been dismissed from service, two had been lowered in rank, and two officers had been severely reprimanded.

She said that, between January 2004 and the end of November 2006, investigations had been completed against 319 peacekeeping personnel in all missions, resulting in summary dismissals of 18 civilians and the repatriation of 17 police and 144 military personnel.

The behaviour of a few in peacekeeping had tarnished the entire reputation of peacekeeping, she said, adding “we will not allow that to continue to occur”.

With some 200,000 people each year from well over 100 nationalities, sometimes from 10,000 kilometres away, deployed into societies wracked by conflict and war, sometimes for generations, bad behaviour would occur, she said.  Given the numbers and diversity of the population, the potential would exist in that kind of environment, just as crime persisted in New York City despite the best efforts of one of the best police departments in the world to deal with it.

What was different now was the way the United Nations was approaching the situation, and its determination to stay with the problem, see it through and constantly improve its ability to manage it, she stressed.  The Organization was sending a collective message as a community of international servants, peacekeepers and aid workers that such bad behaviour would not be tolerated.

Personally, she said, she was outraged every time there was an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse -- outraged, as a peacekeeper, as a professional and as a colleague of the tens of thousands of men and women who served honourably in peacekeeping, that some might be engaging in that behaviour.  She was also angry as a woman and a mother, and saddened that the world had not come as far as she would have liked in terms of the treatment of women and vulnerable populations.

She said she was determined to continue to do everything possible to strengthen the United Nations comprehensive programme of prevention, enforcement and remediation that had been put in place to deal with the problem.  The challenge was big.  In any national military setting, troops were trained over and over again.  The United Nations had that challenge equally and perhaps greater than any other organization, and she was determined to remain vigilant.

She did not know how long the Government of the Sudan had known about the cases concerning the ongoing investigations of peacekeepers from UNMIS or whether the issue had come up at all in negotiations concerning the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur, she said, but she had seen those references in the media recently.

The United Nations was in the process of trying to determine which of the allegations referred to in the Daily Telegraph article might be new and which reflected ongoing investigations.  She said her office had been in touch with the Daily Telegraph to secure any information that reporters might have to follow up.

Asked why journalists were readily able to locate or identify potential instances of sexual exploitation and abuse, while the United Nations seemed unable to do so, she said the United Nations was not unable to do so.  In fact, in a number of instances, the Organization had made known to the press information about cases that had arisen.  It relied on the help of local communities and authorities.  UNMIS had had extensive dialogue and had created a committee, together with the authorities in Southern Sudan, to establish a high-fidelity mechanism for raising issues like that, to promote an ongoing exchange between the host population and the Mission.

She said repetitive training on standards was under way, with a special emphasis on leaders and managers.  Efforts were being made to put in place complaint mechanisms.  Her office worked jointly with OIOS, which had a team in the Sudan as well as in places where other large missions were deployed, to follow up investigations of serious offences of sexual exploitation and abuse.

A night club, about which several questions had been asked, had been “off limits” for more than six months, and was patrolled periodically, she said.  She would act on any new information requiring curfews or restrictions, as required.

Asked whether child prostitution had increased since UNMIS arrival, she said she had no concrete evidence to that effect, but she knew the relationship between prostitution and the exploitation of vulnerable populations, and she intended to do what she could to reduce that vulnerability.  A global conference of non-governmental organizations, sponsored in part by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and other partners, was planned to raise global awareness and to commit to 10 principles regarding the articulation and upholding of standards by all deployed personnel.  Also this year, together with the Staff Union and troop contributors, she would launch anti-prostitution campaigns to target that troubling pathway for sexual exploitation and abuse in the missions.

Background screening was not requested for individual soldiers, but it was for senior-level posts, and affirmation in writing was required to confirm that there was nothing in the person’s background to render them unsuitable for the position, she replied to another question.  In the status of forces agreements with the host countries, there was a proviso that Member States were to take action to ensure the good order and discipline of the soldiers that they provided.

The degree of punishment was up to the disposition of the Member State concerned, she said.  The action that the United Nations took was relatively limited, as it depended on the sovereign authority of the Member States consistent with the country’s own military codes of justice and national laws.  However, over the years, Member States had been supportive of United Nations efforts to implement the comprehensive programme against sexual exploitation and abuse.

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