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At UNSG Guterres Presser, ICP Asked of Sex Abuse by RoC Peacekeepers, Today They Pull Out

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 – When UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held a press conference on June 20, it was his first in UN headquarters since he assumed office 168 days ago. He took nearly 20 questions, including two from Inner City Press, on the UN having brought cholera to Haiti, and sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the UN Mission in Central African Republic. On this, he deferred, as did his deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq when Inner City Press asked again on June 21. Then this: "The UN Secretariat has concluded a review of the deployment of uniformed personnel from the Republic of Congo in the UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA.  The UN recognises the importance of the sub-region in the resolution of the crisis in the Central African Republic and expresses its appreciation for the constructive role played by the Republic of Congo, and President Sassou-Nguesso as international mediator during the Transition and after the election of President Touadera, and looks forward to their continued political engagement to bring stability to the Central African Republic. The review of the deployment of uniformed military personnel from the Republic of Congo found that the nature and extent of existing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, in their totality, point to systemic problems in command and control. These problems have also been compounded by issues related to the preparedness, overall discipline, maintenance of contingent owned equipment, and logistical capacity of these troops.  The outcome of the review has been shared with the authorities of the Republic of Congo, who have decided to withdraw their military personnel deployed in MINUSCA.
The Government of the Republic of Congo has reiterated its commitment to United Nations peacekeeping and stability in the Central African Republic. The Secretariat is working with the Republic of Congo and MINUSCA on the modalities for a speedy withdrawal that will have the least impact on the mission's operational requirements and ability to implement its mandate. The United Nations stands ready to assist the Republic of Congo authorities by identifying factors in the areas of leadership and command, performance, conduct and readiness, to enable them to address these gaps and for Republic of Congo military contingents to be eventually considered for future deployment to United Nations peacekeeping operations. Failures identified with the military contingent are not reflected by the performance of the police contingent from the Republic of Congo, also deployed with MINUSCA. Therefore, the police contingent will be retained. Nonetheless, the Republic of Congo authorities have been requested to urgently inform the United Nations of accountability measures they have taken regarding the one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse involving a Republic of Congo police personnel. "

   On Haiti, Guterres announced that he was just today - minutes later the announcement went out - naming as his dollar-a-year special envoy on Haiti Josette Sheeran, formerly the director of the UN World Food Program and now the head of the Asia Society. Video here. Transcript here and below. He seemed to say the UN was never going to compensate individuals or families impacted by the cholera the UN brought.

We'll have more on this: Inner City Press will be accompanying and covering, in as much detail as possible, the UN Security Council's visit to Haiti from June 22 to 24 (a protest at the UN's “logbase” is planned.)

Footnote: on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, to which Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric does NOT "lend" the briefing room and which has never and will never ask for a journalist to be thrown out or restricted, Inner City Press urged Guterres to more routinely take questions, for example on his way in and out of the Security Council. We'll see.

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, thanks for the briefing. Glad to have it. Stakeouts would also be useful when you speak to the Council.  But I wanted to ask you about cholera in Haiti. As you may know, while you were away, your deputy gave... gave the speech, and many people in Haiti interpreted it as a... as a pulling back from the idea of compensating victims of the cholera that was brought. Maybe they misunderstand it, but they put out a press release. There's a protest planned there on Thursday during the Council's visit.  So I wanted to ask you, I know that Member States haven't come forward with what they might have, but are you going to put more time in? Do you think that the idea of actually compensating the people whose family members were killed by cholera is still alive?  And, also, I'd understood that there was going to be an announcement about the Congo Brazzaville contingent being repatriated... being repatriated from Central African Republic. Is it going to happen? And, if so, what's the standard?  Because the Burundians were found to have 25 soldiers accused by OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) of sexual abuse. Is there some... is there a number or what determines when people are repatriated? Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

Secretary-General:  First of all, in relation to Haiti, the policy that was announced by my predecessor had two dimensions. One is fighting cholera, and the other is the possibility to support, namely, to support communities impacted. It was devised, not as individual support, but community support for the communities impacted.  As you mentioned, there has been little voluntary funding for these projects. So we have presented a proposal for the amounts that were not spent in the previous mission in Haiti and that should be given back to countries, for countries to be ready to accept not to receive those amounts back in order to be able to fund the cholera programme.  And, at the same time, we have just appointed Ms. Josette Sheeran as my Special Envoy for Haiti, centred, of course, in the fundraising for cholera. She was, as you know, the World Food Programme leader a few years ago. She is now President of the Asia Society, and she accepted, with a salary of $1 per year, she accepted to be fully engaged in fundraising for a programme that, indeed, until now, has received very little support but that is very important from the point of view of the people and from the point of view of the credibility of the UN.  In relation to what you mentioned, there is a procedure that is now being adopted systematically. That procedure involves an evaluation. That evaluation was concluded in relation to the Republic of Congo. There is a necessary contact with the authorities of the country before a public announcement of the measure. So I will ask for a little bit of patience, because you'll soon have the public announcement of what we have decided to do. But it will be, I mean, impolite and unacceptable in the context of our bilateral relations before a number of contacts that need to be established with the country to announce it.  This procedure will now be applied across the board, and it's an evaluation that is done by a group of experts on the situation. It depends on the capacity of countries to... even if something happened to correct what has happened or if we feel that there are more systemic failures that cannot be addressed and that require the withdrawal of the force we are discussing.


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