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As UN's Inaction on Congo Rapes Triggers Belated Trips, Why No Flares or Sat Phones?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 24 -- The UN's belated response to the mass gang rape of at least 154 women in Eastern Congo became more surreal on Tuesday. Following up on questions it posed the previous day, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky to respond to an NGO's statement that the UN knew of the location of the FDLR rebels on July 31, before the four days of mass rape began. Video here, from Minute 8:50.

  Nesirky responded by reading out a timeline, that the UN Mission MONUSCO's North Kivu office only learned of the rapes on August 12. But the rapes took place less than 20 miles from the peacekeepers' base, and the international medical NGO was able to access the village from August 4 on.

  Nesirky said repeatedly that the UN peacekeepers conduct “routine patrols.” But how could these patrols leave them unaware of these mass rapes 20 miles away, from August 4 to August 12? Nesirky on Monday called the area “densely wooded.” On Tuesday he called it “vast.”

The UN's supposedly lack of knowledge -- other accounts say that the peacekeepers were aware but did nothing until the rebels left -- is attributed to the rebels blocking their victims access to the road.

Inner City Press asked what the UN does to ensure that the civilians it is charged with protection can in fact reach the peacekeepers -- flares? Satellite phones? Video here, from Minute 12:15.

Nesirky said, “the suggestions you've made [are] the kind of things people will look at.” But why only now, after the 154 rapes?

UN in Congo: equipment but protection of civilians, flares or sat phones, not shown

  Now, 12 days after the UN says it became aware of the mass rapes, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is sending the Number Two Peacekeeper Atul Khare to the Congo, and charging his expert on Sexual Violence and Conflict Margot Wallstrom with belatedly coordinating the UN's response.

But while the UN should clearly investigate its own peacekeepers' inaction, Nesirky on Tuesday insisted that “it's for the government of the DRC to investigate.”

The UN apparently does not accept the results of DRC Government investigations: the government has charged two members of the Pareco militia with killing three Indian peacekeepers in the Congo, but when Inner City Press asked Nesirky for the UN's comments, he declined. Video here, from Minute 30:59.

Nesirky dodged several questions by saying that on Wednesday by audio or video link up a UN official will brief the Press about the incident. The allegations that

(1) the UN knew as early as July 31,

(2) could have intervened at latest on August 4, as the unarmed NGO did, and

(3) delayed at least from August 12 onward in going public with the facts of the mass rape, all have to be answered. Watch this site.

* * *

In Congo, 154 Rapes 30 KM from UN Peacekeepers Leaves UN Silent, P-5 In Disarray

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 23 -- Thirty kilometers from a UN peacekeeping base in Eastern Congo, at least 154 women were gang raped over the course of days without the UN doing anything about it. The UN Mission, MONUSCO, costs $1 billion a year, and is charged with protecting civilians.

  At the UN's noon briefing on August 23, spokesman Martin Nesirky read out a number of press releases and then asked if there were any questions. Inner City Press asked about the gang rapes, attributed by the UN to the FDLR rebels, and asked why the UN had done nothing. Video here, from Minute 3:12.

  Spokesman Nesirky replied that thirty kilometers might sound close by, but this is a “densely wooded area” and that the FDLR has “blocked the road.”

  Nesirky answered these and other follow up question be reading from a prepared statement he pulled out of a binder in front of him, saying “it says here.” Video here, at Minute 12.

   Inner City Press asked Nesirky why, if he had this statement, he had not read it out at the beginning of the briefing, but rather waited to see if a question would be asked. Video here, from Minute 21:38. This is important, in light of statements Nesirky has made about his asserted right to block questions, that there are no rules, that it is “his briefing.”

  Nesirky nevertheless told Inner City Press that he didn't read out the Congo statement because he knew questions would be asked, “if not by you then by someone else.” The statement is true of many of the statements that Nesirky does read out at the beginning of “his” briefings.

 Could it be that the UN knows that the gang rape of 154 women 30 kilometers from its facilities makes the UN look bad?  What will be done to improve MONUSCO's and the UN's performance on protection of civilians?

  And where, one wondered, is the UN's new -- for months -- Special Representative to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on sexual violence and conflict, Margot Wallstrom? This is a test case.

UN's Ban arrives in Eastern Congo, inaction on 154 rapes not shown

  In front of the Security Council, Inner City Press asked this month's Council president Vitaly Churkin of Russia if the Council would take up the issue of the gang rape of 154 women in a country with a $1 billion UN peacekeeping mission. Video here, from Minute 3:49.

Ambassador Churkin said it was very disturbing but “we have not yet consulted on whether we need to do something about it.” Inner City Press asked the spokespeople of two of the Western Permanent Five members of the Council if they intended to ask for a meeting or at least Press Statement -- that intention does not appear to be there. 
  By contrast, when French UN peacekeepers in South Lebanon had eggs thrown at them, the Council had an emergency meeting and issued a press statement. Watch this site.

Footnotes: Inner City Press also asked Nesirky if the UN was ready, belatedly, to say which rebel group was responsible for the killing of Indian peacekeepers last week. Video here, from Minute 18:33. (Note that the audio of the August 23 UN noon briefing was mixed with ambient sound, seemingly from the stakeout area in front of the Security Council.)

No, Nesirky said, adding that since the incident involved UN peacekeepers, there is a different procedure than for the gang rape of 154 women, which the UN has attributed to the FDLR. In fact, the Congolese government has already made arrests in the case of the killing of the UN peacekeepers by rebels who did not have guns. So why won't the UN speak about who did it?

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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