International Criminal Court Prosecutor sends Darfur evidence to Trial Chamber

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is based in the Hague, announced earlier today that, after a 20-month investigation, he has sent evidence to judges in a Pre-Trial Chamber, asking for the issuance of summonses against two named individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for some of the most serious crimes committed in Darfur since 1 July 2002 (the date the ICC started to work).

The judges must now review the evidence submitted and decide how to proceed.

The Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, wrote in his application to the Pre-Trial Court there are reasonable grounds to believe that “Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Minister of State for the Interior of the Government of the Sudan, and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (better-known in West Darfur as Ali Kushayb), a Militia/Janjaweed1 leader, bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes, including persecution, torture, murder and rape committed in Darfur in 2003 and 2004“.

The application says that the term ‘Militia/Janjaweed’ refers to “those forces that were mobilised, armed and funded by the Government of the Sudan to fight in the counterinsurgency in Darfur”.

The investigation involved the collection of statements and evidence during 70 missions conducted in 17 countries — including five trips to Sudan.

The application explains that “The crimes alleged in the Application were perpetrated in the context of a noninternational armed conflict in the Darfur region between the Government of the Sudan and rebel armed forces, including the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), from about August 2002. Both rebel groups mainly recruit from the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit tribes. The conflict involved rebel attacks on Sudanese Government installations in Darfur and the counterinsurgency campaign by the Sudanese Government against the rebels. The turning point in the counterinsurgency strategy occurred after the attack against the Al Fashir airport in April 2003 with unprecedented losses for the Government. Shortly after, the recruitment of Militia/Janjaweed greatly increased, ultimately into the tens of thousands. A characteristic of the armed conflict in Darfur is that the majority of civilian deaths in the region have been caused during attacks on towns and villages in Darfur carried out by the Militia/Janjaweed either singly or together with Sudanese Armed Forces. The vast majority of attacks carried out by the Sudanese Armed Forces and/or Militia/Janjaweed in Darfur were directed at areas inhabited by mainly Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes. The Sudanese Armed Forces and Militia/Janjaweed did not target any rebel presence within these particular villages. Rather, they attacked these villages based on the rationale that the tens of thousands of civilian residents in and near these villages were supporters of the rebel forces. This strategy became the justification for the mass murder, summary execution, and mass rape of civilians who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict. Application of the strategy also called for, and achieved, the forced displacement of entire villages and communities.”

The ICC has a duty to protect witnesses.

Reuters is reporting that Human Rights Watch would like to see bigger fish snared in the Prosecutor’s net: ” ‘The figures identified are important ones. It is an important first step that could contribute to ending impunity for crimes in Darfur. But we want to see more’, said Geraldine Mattioli of Human Rights Watch. ‘The prosecutor should go high up in the echelons of power and in the military’.”

In the same story, Reuters writes that *ICC prosecutors said security committees in Darfur made up of representatives of the Sudanese army, police and intelligence agencies reported to Haroun, especially on matters relating to the staffing, funding and arming of the Janjaweed. ‘Haroun knowingly contributed to the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, torture, inhumane acts, pillaging and the forcible transfer of civilian populations’, prosecutors said in the filing. The prosecutors said Ali Kushayb, a colonel in the Wadi Salih locality of west Darfur, ordered the Janjaweed to victimize civilians and commit mass rape, killings, torture, pillaging and looting. They said Khartoum had a legal responsibility to cooperate to make sure the two suspects appear at the court. ‘It will be primarily the responsibility of the territorial state, the Sudan, upon the chamber’s decision, either to take steps to arrest the persons … or to serve the summons’, they said. Haroun’s office said he was in Jordan this week for medical treatment but it was unclear if he was still in that country on Tuesday. Sudan’s justice minister said Ali Kushayb had been in Sudanese custody since November on suspicion of violating Sudanese laws and was under investigation for actions in Darfur. Sudanese media reported on Monday Khartoum would put several people on trial , including military personnel and paramilitary troops, for suspected involvement in attacks in Darfur. The ICC is only supposed to prosecute when national courts are unwilling or unable to act, but rights groups say Khartoum’s own investigations in Darfur have been largely for show. The prosecution said they had taken into account investigations launched by Sudanese authorities into Darfur, including into Ali Kushayb, but said their case was still admissible because it encompassed more extensive allegations.”

Agence France Presse is reporting from Khartoum that ” ‘The Sudanese judiciary has the capacity and the will to prosecute those who have committed crimes in Darfur’, Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi said when asked to react to the ICC’s naming of the war crimes suspects. Mardi already on Monday rejected the ICC’s authority, saying ‘this court has no jurisdiction when it comes to trying Sudanese’. On Tuesday, Mardi said Kosheib was detained late last year but stressed that Haroun — a former minister in charge of Darfur — had been interrogated by the authorities and cleared of any suspicions over alleged crimes…’Ahmed Haroun was interrogated by the judiciary, but there was no evidence against him, and so no charges were pressed,’ Mardi said. Haroun is a senior figure in the Sudanese regime — which stands accused of genocide by the United States — and is considered close to President Omar al-Bashir…’Ali Kosheib has been detained since November 28, 2006, he was interrogated and charges were pressed against him for crimes against human rights’, the minister said, adding that the suspect was still in custody. Mardi nevertheless rejected Moreno-Campo’s allegations that Kosheib was a key Janjaweed leader. ‘He belongs to a regular force, the Popular Defence Forces, whose creation is backed by legislation’, the minister said at a press conference convened in Khartoum minutes after the ICC prosecutor’s announcement.”;

And, AP is reporting: “We are not concerned with, nor do we accept, what the International Criminal Court prosecutor has opted for,” Sudanese Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi told The Associated Press…After reviewing the prosecutor’s evidence, judges can issue arrest warrants or summonses to the suspects to appear in The Hague. If they are charged, tried and convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment at the court, which does not have the death penalty. However, the court has no police force and relies on other countries to carry out arrests. Sudan, however, has not signed the Rome Statute creating the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction.”

Since Sudan has not signed the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court can decide it does not have jurisdiction. The U.S. is another state that has not recognized the ICC. So, is this move by the Prosecutor today really aimed at increasing the pressure of international public opinion on the government of Sudan? The Prosecutor addressed the UN Security Council last December, stating that he was preparing this move.

Sudan – International Criminal Court investigation details to be made public today – More questions about Genocide?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) — also based in the Hague — is preparing to reveal a list of names of persons of persons investigated for grave crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region. The Chief Prosecutor is to give a news conference in a few hours’ time.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has published an analytical article on its website:
ICC Set to Open New Darfur Chapter: Prosecutors about to present evidence relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity in western Sudan“.

The article, written by Katy Glassborow and Jan Coebergh in The Hague, and Stacy Sullivan in Washington reports that: “Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on February 27 will present evidence to pre-trial judges implicating named individuals in the Darfur crisis, which he hopes will prompt judges to release warrants of arrest.
In a statement released last week, Moreno-Ocampo said the evidence relates to war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan. The key question is whether evidence will lead to tough genocide charges against high-ranking officials from the Government of Sudan (GoS), or the janjaweed militia, or will involve lesser charges against rebel leaders. So far, human rights groups have felt disappointed that those charged by the ICC in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have not been held accountable for the gravest crimes possible…The February 27th evidence will be a substantial step for Moreno-Ocampo and for the fledgling ICC, established in 2002, which has yet to host a full trial at its courtrooms in the The Hague, the diplomatic heart of The Netherlands [and also the seat of the International Court of Justice, established by the UN Charter, and the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which was set up by the UN Security Council]…At the Aspen Institute’s International Justice conference in Washington on February 23, lead ICC prosecutor on Darfur, Andrew Cayley, said, “This investigation was more challenging than any of the 15 cases I worked on at the ICTY”…Darfur was referred to the ICC by the Security Council without the approval of the Sudanese, causing displeasure in Khartoum…As Khartoum continues to downplay the gravity of the Darfur situation in terms of lives lost, and maintains its ability to prosecute war crimes suspects, the ICC faces a stalemate. Legally, prosecutors can only divest a county of its right to conduct trials locally, by proving that the country in question is ‘unwilling or unable’ – as phrased in its founding statute – to conduct trials adequately. Prosecutors have been forced to sit and wait, monitoring who is being tried at the SCCED [Sudan’s Court] and on what charges, before they can say that Khartoum is unwilling and unable to deal with this situation itself. Prosecutors have not been in a position to do so – until now. In Washington, Cayley confirmed that the names the prosecutor will announce on February 27 are not any of those accused by the SCCED. Aware that if prosecutors name individuals being tried by the SCCED they would publicly deem the Sudanese trials as inadequate, Cayley added that he didn’t believe ‘there is any overlap’ between those the ICC wants to indict are those the SCCED is investigating.”

Some useful background can also be found on the activist blog “Sudan: The Passion of the Present“. One posting on that blog contains a compilation that starts with an excerpt from an article by Reuters’ Aziz El-Kaissouni: “Sudan said [that] the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over its nationals, and [that] the government would not allow any of its citizens, including rebels, to be tried outside Sudan, local media said on Monday. Sudanese media also reported that Khartoum would put a number of people on trial next week, including military personnel and paramilitary troops, for alleged involvement in attacks in Darfur in Sudan’s west. But the scope of the planned trial was not immediately clear. The comments came a day before the ICC’s chief prosecutor’s office was due to name the first war crimes suspects for Darfur, where experts say about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million [have been] driven from their homes since conflict flared in 2003. Khartoum says [that] only about 9,000 people have died…The ICC’s chief prosecutor said in December [that] his investigators had found evidence of rape, torture, murder and sexual violence in Darfur. Tuesday’s list is keenly awaited to see if it includes government figures as well as rebels. United Nations and African Union observers blame pro-government militia, known as Janjaweed, for the worst atrocities. But the ICC is under pressure to charge figures from all sides of the conflict.”

Then this compilation moves on to:
“SUDANESE TRIAL — Sudanese newspapers said [that] Sudan’s trial to start next week would include a number of suspects accused of violence in west Darfur in 2003. The suspects, whose names were not given, were being charged with murder, kidnapping and arson.
Several Sudanese newspapers said [that] the trial was not linked to the imminent announcement by the ICC. A Justice Ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir also reiterated on Monday his rejection of a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for the deployment of some 22,500 U.N. peacekeepers and police to take over from African Union forces in Darfur. Bashir, speaking in Addis Ababa, said [that] the plan would put Sudan ‘under international trusteeship of the United Nations’…Some analysts say [that] Khartoum has resisted pressure to authorise a deployment U.N. peacekeepers to support a 7,000-strong African Union mission in Darfur because it fears U.N. soldiers might be used to arrest ICC suspects. The ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, started work in 2002. The court is now supported by 104 nations, although still not by Russia, China and the United States, which fiercely opposed the creation of the ICC, fearing [that] it would be used for politically motivated prosecutions of its citizens. In March 2005, the U.N. Security Council asked the ICC to launch an investigation into the violence in Darfur, which the United States has called genocide, a charge [that] Khartoum denies. The Darfur case was seen as a turning point for the court, as Washington refrained from blocking the Security Council referral.”

SG BAN says he has asked for 11,000 peacekeepers in Chad and Central African Republic along border with Sudan’s Darfur region

UN SG BAN told journalists in Vienna that “This week I have submitted my report and recommendations to the Security Council requesting an 11,000-strong peacekeeping operation to be deployed along regions in Chad and the Central African Republic that are bordering with Sudan. There are many refugees and the situation is very much fragile there. We are working very hard to deploy this peacekeeping operation in Darfur.”

SG BAN uses the word “strongly” a lot.

He told journalists: “I have requested very strongly that President Bashir agree to my [24 January] letter [on the heavy support package which will enable the early deployment] of a hybrid African Union and UN peacekeeping operations there. There are two tracks that are still going on, even though we have not yet finally agreed. One is the political process; a political dialogue process is going on at the highest level, including myself. And secondly, peacekeeping operation level is now being discussed. The United Nations will soon engage in detailed negotiations with African Union representatives and I’m also going to meet with the African Union Commissioner … And I have been constantly involved in this process. We have also been trying to resolve this issue of humanitarian assistance problems. There are still many people who are suffering because of the inaccessibility of the humanitarian community. I have strongly urged the Sudanese Government to allow this humanitarian assistance to be resumed. “

SG BAN is disappointed with Sudan on visas — while compromise on peacekeepers may be on horizon

UN SG BAN took questions from journalists on Thursday after he left the regular monthly lunch with members of the UN Security Council.

He said he was disappointed that visas were not made available to all the members of the fact-finding mission sent by the UN Human Rights Council: “First of all, on the visa problem on the human rights fact-finding mission – it was very much disappointing for me. This is the issue I discussed with President [Omar al-] Bashir during my meeting with him in Addis Ababa. He said he would issue visas to the fact-finding mission. He said he would have no problem. I am very much disappointed by the decision of the Sudanese Government. I urge again that the Sudanese Government fully cooperates with the unanimous decision of the Human Rights Council. If he believes that there is no problem, then he should be able to receive the human rights fact-finding mission. On the Darfur crisis, we have discussed among the members of the Security Council. And I’m still awaiting the report from my Special Envoy, Mr. Jan Eliasson, who is now in Darfur together with Mr. Salim A. Salim who is the AU [African Union] Special Envoy. So again, this continuing deteriorating situation in Darfur is just unacceptable, and I’m still awaiting an official reply from President Bashir to my letter of 24 January, which outlines our detailed positions on force generation, command and control and funding. With an affirmative answer, we can pave the way immediately to the introduction of an AU/UN hybrid mission. Now, on the basis of the report which I will receive from Mr. Jan Eliasson, I will take a future course of action on this matter.”

Meanwhile, news reports quote Eliasson as saying there seems to be some slight progress. Reuters reported on Friday that: “One of the biggest Darfur rebel factions said [somehow, this report didn’t say which rebel faction this was] on Thursday it would respect a ceasefire and was ready to resume peace talks with the government to try to halt violence in the region that has killed some 200,000 people … The Darfur rebels have in the past said they want the 2006 agreement to be scrapped but the government has refused to allow any changes or additions to the accord. Eliasson told a news conference that those extreme positions seemed to have softened during their talks, and ‘that leaves diplomatic space’ … The joint team has not yet met the other large rebel faction, the National Redemption Front, whose political leadership is divided. Eliasson said the NRF had wanted to meet in Chad, but logistics prevented his team from traveling there. Divisions among Darfur’s rebel factions have been a factor in delaying peace talks with Khartoum, and an oft-delayed conference to try to unite their positions is now due to start on February 19.”;

Reuters also reported from Cannes on the French Riviera Thursday that “The leaders of Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic met on Thursday and declared they would not back rebels attacking each other’s territory — repeating a pledge that has failed to stop fighting in the past … ‘There is a commitment in this agreement that each country will respect the sovereignty of the other countries and no country will support any rebellion within its territory’, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Lam Akol told reporters. The deal, reached on the sidelines of a French-African summit in the seaside resort of Cannes, was signed late on Thursday. Its main provision repeated a previous pledge. ‘We reiterate our commitment to respect sovereignties and to not support armed movements’, the agreement said, adding that that was part of a deal struck in Tripoli last February. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Chad’s President Idriss Deby and Central African Republic President Francois Bozize attended the talks, as did Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and African Union chairman John Kufuor. They and the other heads of state at the meeting, the presidents of France, Gabon and Congo, signed the statement. Kufuor said the three neighboring states might be ready to accept a new proposal that a joint African Union and U.N. force police the borders between them.”;

On the frustrated mission of the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International has issued a statement saying that: “Although it is deeply regrettable that the Mission will not be able to travel to Darfur, the organisation believes that the Mission can still make an important contribution by suggesting practical measures to protect the civilian population in Darfur and to bring to justice those responsible for the gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law committed in Darfur. Amnesty International urges the Human Rights Council to address urgently at its fourth session the human rights situation in Darfur on the basis of Mission’s report and the other information already available to it and to identify measures that the government of Sudan and the international community must take without further delay to protect the civilian population in Darfur. Amnesty International is also dismayed that the refusal by Sudan to cooperate with the High-Level Mission marks the third time since the creation of the Human Rights Council less than a year ago that a government has refused to extend the necessary cooperation to fully implement the decisions of the Council. Israel refused to cooperate with both the fact-finding mission established by the Council at its first special session and with the high-level fact-finding mission established at the third special session. Amnesty International is deeply concerned that this negative trend seriously hampers the ability of the Council to take effective action to promote and protect human rights in accordance with its mandate. The organization strongly encourages the Council to find effective means to address non-cooperation by governments with the Council and its mechanisms.”

Shortly after that, the U.S. State Department spokesman called upon Sudan to issue the visas for all members of the UN Human Rights Council team – despite the fact that the U.S. has been cool to the Human Rights Council: “The United States is deeply disappointed that the Government of Sudan has publicly annnounced it will not grant visas for the UN Human Rights
Council’s Assessment Mission to carry out an impartial review of the situation on the ground in Darfur. The United States calls on the Government of Sudan to grant the entire team entry into Sudan to carry out the mandate approved by the Human Rights Council. We support UN Secretary-General Ban’s call for the Government of Sudan to grant the assessment mission visas and urge it to live-up to its commitments to resolve the crisis in Darfur. This mission was created by the Human Rights Council at its December 2006 Special Session on Darfur – called for by 63 countries from around the world because of strong concerns about ongoing human rights atrocities in Darfur. The members of the mission represent all regions of the world, chosen by the President of the Human Rights Council on the basis of Council-member recommendations.” 2007/115 – Sean McCormack, Spokesman, Washington, DC – Released on February 16, 2007

Losing patience with Sudan over Darfur

The UN Security Council members — especially the U.S. — are “losing patience” with Sudan over the delays on deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur.

At the same time, a “team” despatched on a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva left for an eleven-day visit to the region on Saturday — still without visas for Sudan.
“Team” members told journalists in Geneva on Friday that they hoped they would get their visas on their first stop, in Addis Ababa, where the UN has its regional office for Africa, and where the African Union has its headquarters.

Last Tuesday, the AP’s industrious Edith Lederer reported from UNHQ/NY that “Security Council members expressed frustration and skepticism Tuesday at Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s failure to give a green light to a joint United Nations-African Union force to help bring peace to conflict-wracked Darfur. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met the Sudanese leader last month, told reporters after briefing the council on his trip to Africa and Europe that he is still waiting for ‘a positive and clear agreement’ from the Sudanese government to pave the way for deployment of the ‘hybrid’ force…More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million been chased from their homes in Sudan’s remote western region since 2003, when rebels stemming from ethnic African tribes rose up against the central government. Khartoum is accused of having responded with indiscriminate killings by unleashing the janjaweed militias of Arab nomads blamed for the worst atrocities in Darfur, in a conflict that the White House and others have labeled genocide. The government denies these charges. Sudanese officials agreed in November on a three-phase U.N. package to help end the escalating violence in Darfur that culminates with the deployment of a 22,000-strong AU-UN force. But al-Bashir said last month that U.N. troops were not required in Darfur because the 7,000-strong African Union force on the ground could maintain order.”

The AP story had some interesting quotes from a British diplomat at the UN: “Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Karen Pierce said ‘there was a lot of skepticism in the council that Bashir was really trying hard to make this work, and the secretary-general said he’d had a number of difficult conversations with Bashir where Bashir had been defensive’. The Sudanese government and one of the major rebel groups signed a peace agreement in May. But the pact has provoked months of fighting between rival rebel factions that refused to sign. As part of the effort to re-energize the peace process, the U.N. said Ban’s special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, and the AU’s special envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, are heading to Khartoum and Darfur from Feb. 12-17. Pierce said the timetable appears to be that Eliasson and Salim will go to New York after their mission to report to the secretary-general. Ban will then see AU chief executive Alpha Oumar Konare. After that, the U.N. and AU will draw up a draft proposal that would go to al-Bashir, she said. ‘What wasn’t clear was whether that means you can still get a U.N. force or elements of a U.N. force in by June’ when the mandate for the AU force in Darfur ends, Pierce said.” The AP report was published in the Miami Herald here.

On the same day, the U.S. State Department spoke about the situation in their daily press briefing for journalists. It was, interesting, too —especially the spokesman’s remarks that there are not enough peacekeepers committed, yet, for the UN operation:

“QUESTION: Can you give us a bit more about the Plan B — Sudan, Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to get into any details. We’ve had extensive discussions within the Administration about what steps we might take if President Bashir does not follow through on his commitment to allow in all three phases of the AU/UN peacekeeping — or the AU/UN hybrid force into Darfur. Where we stand right now is that President Bashir has made a commitment in principle to allow in all three phases. The UN and AU have only gotten to the point now of really deploying the elements of phase one. I think there are about slightly more than 40 individuals who have actually been deployed into the region. They are now trying to organize phase two, which would be about 1,000 people. This would be an enabling force of headquarters elements, engineers and so forth. So they’re looking for donor countries to make the commitment to contribute forces to that phase two as well as phase three, which is the main — which would constitute the main body of the force in Darfur. So we are now at the point where the AU and the UN need to work out some of the modalities in terms of command structure and that command relationship. But more importantly, the donor — the member-states of the UN need to now make the commitments of troops to that AU/UN force so that we can see if President Bashir will act on his commitments that he has made. Should he not do so then, we have a number of different options that are available to us both as an individual country as well as an international system. And I’m not going to get into any description of what those may be at this point, but we have a number of different levers at our disposal.

QUESTION: To the extent that phase one is still pending, we are almost six weeks deep into 2007 — the number we were told the other day was at 85 were there. You say 40, alright it’s one or the other or in between. And there’s supposed to be 180 going in there. Is Bashir responsible for any of the slow movement on implementation of phase one or is this simply logistical problems that the UN faces because it’s such a remote area?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I can’t ascribe percentages for you, George. But I think this has more to do with the UN and the AU getting in place the logistics and the infrastructure that would support not only phase one and phase two, but down the road, phase three. And so that’s one bottleneck. Another bottleneck is actually having member-states pony up forces for this effort. We have heard from several countries expressions of interest that they will contribute to this force. I’m not going to get into — not going to start naming names at this point. But what we need is a few member-states to step forward, make the firm commitment that they are going to contribute substantial forces to the AU/UN force. That’s what’s needed. We haven’t seen that yet. And it is important that the international system act in this regard. We’ll be doing our part in encouraging UN member-states to make those contributions. We have demarches that have gone out to a number of capitols around the world and working — as well as working with ambassadors here in Washington. So we’re actively engaged in the effort to try to constitute this AU/UN force.

QUESTION: You said that you have a number of individual options at your disposal. Are financial options studied?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I’m not going to — I know there is an article in the newspaper today in talking about various options that were — had been approved, should we move into plan B. I’m not going to get into that. But suffice it to say, we’re taking a look at all the options that are available to us and we are going to base our decision of whether or not we move into a plan B phase on the facts on the ground. Ultimately you have to see if President Bashir acts on the principle commitment that he made. Should he not, then we’ll take a look at all those options that are available to us and choose the ones that we think might be most effective in getting to the ultimate goal and that is getting a force into Darfur so that you can provide some security, help provide security not only for the people, but the humanitarian relief organizations there so that they — those people can get what they need in order to sustain themselves and ultimately help push forward the political process, implement the Darfur Peace Agreement.

QUESTION: Andrew Natsios was in China recently. Did you get the impression that China was ready to help you on that and even on this plan B?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well they said that they have — they have said that well, with respect to plan B, I think that that’s something that we’re taking a look at. We would obviously consult with others on various elements of it. In terms of the Chinese commitment we have heard positive signals from the Chinese Government as far back as the Secretary’s discussion with Foreign Minister Li at the UN General Assembly in the fall of last year. And there have been subsequent discussions the Secretary has had, Andrew Natsios has had. So there’s a receptivity I think on the part of the Chinese to working with the international system to try to get at the humanitarian issues there to help the international community get this force deployed. I’m not saying making any contributions. I don’t think anybody’s talked about that. But help create the environment where this force can be deployed. Now, I understand President Hu recently visited Sudan. I understand that he also had a discussion with President Bashir on the topic of Darfur. I don’t have the details of that conversation. The public signals were mixed in this regard. On one hand, on the positive side, you have the Chinese Government talking in more forthright terms about the exchange between President Hu and President Bashir on the issue of Darfur and the Chinese being fairly forward-leaning on the need to have the force enter Darfur, be allowed to enter Darfur. On the other hand, you also had the announcement of a number of other economic agreements and the construction of a presidential palace, so I think that that, at best, sends some mixed signals in public. I can’t speak to what went on in private.

QUESTION: Yeah, one is words and one is actions. It looks like the actions may be speaking louder than those words he said about Darfur.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I said, George, I don’t know. I don’t have the details of the exchange in private. But we’re going to continue working with the Chinese to see what they can do to apply any appropriate pressure to get that force in there.

QUESTION: You’re suggesting skepticism about Bashir’s willingness to go ahead with this. Can you use that word yourself?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, George, I’m not going to use that word. He has sent a letter. We’ve taken at his — that — his word at face value that he is committed to all phase — implementing all three phases of the Addis agreement. Because of where we are with the — in the force generation for the AU/UN force, he has not had a real opportunity to act on the more significant aspects of that package, phases two and three. So it’s at this point, I think, premature to answer the question of whether or not he will follow through on that commitment, that principled commitment. We’ll see. In order to determine that, you need to have the forces generated to go in there, and we don’t have those yet. And that’s why it is so important that the member-states of the UN step up and answer the call for these forces.

QUESTION: Once the force is assembled, will Bashir be given some kind of set deadline that he’s going to accept them or not?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because of the timelines involved in generating the forces and the infrastructure, this doesn’t happen — this won’t happen next week. You’re not going to end up with the 15,000-plus forces and the third phase ready to go next week. So there will be some time. Necessarily there will have to be some back and forth between the AU/UN and Sudan. I can’t tell you what timeline they’re operating on. I know that the UN peacekeeping operation has a standard playbook, if you will, in terms of timelines. We think that they should look at every possible way to shorten those timelines. So we’ll see. The basic answer is we don’t know yet because we’re not there. We still have these required steps that we need to go through generating the force.”

The next day, 8 February, the Washington Post published the article mentioned in the State Department briefing. The article was written from Washington by Glenn Kessler. It was entitled “Bush Approves Plan To Pressure Sudan — Treasury Would Block Transactions“: “President Bush has approved a plan for the Treasury Department to aggressively block U.S. commercial bank transactions connected to the government of Sudan, including those involving oil revenues, if Khartoum continues to balk at efforts to bring peace to Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, government officials said yesterday.
The Treasury plan is part of a secret three-tiered package of coercive steps — labeled ‘Plan B’ — that the administration has repeatedly threatened to unleash if Sudan continues to sponsor a campaign of terror that has left as many as 450,000 dead and 2.5 million homeless. But the administration has held back on any announcement of Plan B, even after setting a Jan. 1 deadline, in hopes of still winning Khartoum’s cooperation … The U.S. plan would put pressure on Darfur rebel leaders who have refused to participate in peace talks or who have targeted humanitarian groups operating in the region, officials said. The information on Plan B was provided by officials in four government agencies on the condition of anonymity because the administration had not planned on releasing details yet. Some aspects of Plan B have already been stealthily launched, such as stationing four U.S. Army colonels last month as observers on the Sudan-Chad border in full view of Sudanese intelligence. The unannounced move was intended as a signal to Khartoum, which the administration accuses of launching a ‘quiet war’ against Chad’s government to widen the Darfur conflict … Andrew Natsios, Bush’s special envoy to Sudan, tomorrow will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration has set three triggers that would result in the enhanced sanctions: one, renewed attacks on displacement camps or driving nongovernmental organizations from Darfur; two, stonewalling peace negotiations with rebel forces; and three, refusing to implement a plan pushed by then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to expand a poorly equipped 7,000-person African Union force into a hybrid A.U.-U.N. force of 17,000 troops and 3,000 police … Buoyed by booming oil wealth and a close relationship with China, Sudan has shrugged off repeated threats of action. Bush, increasingly frustrated by the impasse, approved key aspects of the plan last month, directing Treasury to come up with a menu of options that would directly affect the government in Khartoum, officials said. Sudan’s Arab leadership has fought multiple civil wars with regional groups over the country’s oil and other resources, and U.S. officials believe Sudan’s leaders are fearful of any moves that might threaten their grip on power. Sudan’s economy is largely dollar-based, meaning many commercial transactions flow through the United States and making it especially vulnerable to Treasury actions. Indeed, U.S. intelligence, which has stepped up reporting on Sudan in recent months to prepare for a confrontation, believes Khartoum set up a government committee to explore ways of obtaining oil revenues that did not involve dollars, such as barter deals, one official said. Sudan’s government has also unsuccessfully sought new oil contracts that would provide for large upfront payments. The core of the Treasury plan rests on an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton in 1997 that blocked all Sudanese government assets, including companies connected to it, and curtailed financial dealings with Sudanese entities. Bush last year issued a second executive order that blocked the property of people connected to the conflict in Darfur. The existing orders already result in regular freezes or rejections of some Sudanese transactions, but U.S. officials believe they also give the Treasury the authority for an aggressive crackdown on a much larger group of companies connected to Sudan.
Officials hope a ripple effect of Treasury’s actions would extend to other countries and companies doing business with Sudan, forcing them to reconsider whether they want to be tainted or, more troubling, subjected to Treasury’s scrutiny. ‘Anything that is controlled by the government we can go after’, a senior administration official said. ‘But the effectiveness will be driven by the participation of our partners’, meaning other countries. Sudan produces about 500,000 barrels of oil a year, which at current market rates is worth about $10 billion. As much as 200,000 barrels are kept for internal consumption, Morrison said, with about 75 percent of the rest sold to China. Partly because some aspects of the plan are still classified, administration officials yesterday were vague about how the plan would cripple Sudan’s oil revenues. One official said Treasury will ‘have the ability to touch things that touch oil revenues’. The regional government of South Sudan, created through a peace deal two years ago, is supposed to get 50 percent of oil revenues. Officials said they think they had designed the plan so it would harm Khartoum but without impacting the government in the south.

On the afternoon of 7 February, the Associated Press reported from Khartoum that “Sudan dismissed U.N. criticism of President Omar al-Bashir’s failure to approve a joint U.N.-African Union force for conflict-torn Darfur, insisting Wednesday that only ‘minor details’ stand in the way of an agreement … Al-Bashir has rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for 22,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed African Union force in Darfur. He has sent mixed signals about a joint U.N.-AU force. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq said Sudan has agreed to a three-phase package culminating in the deployment of the joint force. He said there is full agreement on the first two phases, which call for the U.N. to provide, gear, funds and a few hundred advisers to reinforce the 7,000 AU peacekeepers. All parties have also agreed that a group of experts would then decide how many U.N. troops should deploy for the full-fledged joint mission, he said, adding that Sudan would accept whatever number is decided upon. ‘Even if they are 20,000 troops, we have no problem with that, as long as they are mainly African troops with U.N. expertise’, Sadiq said. ‘Our position is clear regarding the hybrid mission, there are no ambiguities on the force and only minor details need to be finalized’, he said. Last week, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol said Sudan was fully cooperating with the international community over Darfur … But Tuesday, Al-Bashir told trade unionists that Sudan could ‘solve its own problems without foreign intervention’, the official SUNA news agency reported. Earlier in the week, he insisted, ‘We will not allow U.N. forces into Sudan’. However, some 10,000 U.N. troops are already in southern Sudan enforcing a peace deal in a separate conflict, and observers say al-Bashir’s statements could be mainly for domestic politics.”

The Agence France Presse (AFP) news agence reported from the UN in Geneva on Friday — where the Human Rights Council’s “team” held a press conference before leaving for Africa, but Sudan’s Ambassador cancelled a counter-press conference — that “The United Nations assessment mission to the strife-torn Sudanese region of Darfur is still awaiting visas from Khartoum one day before its departure, the mission’s head has said. Jody Williams, the 1997 Nobel peace prize winner, told journalists Friday she ‘fully expects’ the visas to be granted while the UN Human Rights Council mission meets with African Union officials in Addis Ababa this weekend. ‘We are still in negotiations on the visas which we fully expect to get when we’re in Addis’, she told journalists. ‘I fully anticipate that the Sudanese government will recognise that it has agreed to this resolution and that it is in its interests to have this mission there’, Williams said. The mission plans to spend a day and a half in the Sudanese capital Khartoum before heading to Darfur, where it will carry out its assessment of the human rights situation until February 21. Williams acknowledged the scale of the task ahead and the inevitable limitations the mission would face. ‘It would be patently absurd to think that this mission could do a full range analysis of the situation on the ground and human rights as they stand at the moment, in the time available’, she said. The assessment mission was set up last December after a fractious debate between western powers, and Khartoum’s African and developing country allies in the Council. After opposing western calls for a probe, African nations led by Algeria had sought a mission exclusively composed of Council diplomats, prompting a renewed clash with US and European countries over its independence.”;

A short time after that report, AFP put out a second story, pouring scepticism over the “team’s” composition and potential: “A UN human rights mission which is due to travel to Sudan’s strife-torn region of Darfur faces the conflicting tasks of proving its credibility and convincing Khartoum to lift any barriers, diplomats said here. The assessment mission was set up by the 47-nation United Nations Human Rights Council in December after a tussle between western powers, and Khartoum’s African and developing country allies in the Council. Officials said the mission hoped to travel to Sudan on Saturday. However, a diplomat from the European Union cast doubt on the mission’s chances. ‘Today we have no assurance that the mission would be accepted by Sudanese authorities’, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity … The Council’s chairman, Mexican ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, said he had tried to placate critics on both sides of the fence by appointing a combination of activists and diplomats to carry out the probe. The mission includes the outspoken former Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-landmines campaigner Jody Williams, a former UN deputy human rights chief, Bertrand Ramcharan, and the UN rights expert on Sudan, Sima Samar, who has been critical of Khartoum’s role. Another member is Estonian parliamentarian Mart Nutt, who has taken part in Council of European human rights missions, while the diplomats are represented by Gabon’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Patrice Tonda, and his Indonesian counterpart Marakim Wibisono. However, the decision to include diplomats from developing nations has annoyed western countries, who fear they might water down the independence of the mission.
The French ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’ by their inclusion. Ripert said the choice indicated that the UN’s top human rights assembly was still mired in its geopolitical rifts. Meanwhile, diplomats said Sudanese authorities felt uncomfortable with Williams’ and Ramcharan’s presence and raised the possibility that their access might be restricted. De Alba told AFP that the crossfire over the composition of the mission suggested that he had managed to strike a decent balance, and underlined Williams’s ‘uncontested moral authority’ at the head of the group.
‘This mission is not just about investigating the facts, but it also has a duty to build bridges between all the actors involved in the conflict,’ de Alba explained. ‘It must identify concrete action and contribute suggestions that will help bring about a solution’, he added.
UN monitors in Darfur are already reporting back about violations and attacks on civilians to High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. Sebastien Gillioz, of the campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the mission could add political weight to evidence of violations.
‘The African Group has praised the peace agreement (signed by Khartoum) which so far is getting nowhere on human rights protection’, he said. However, even if the mission meets the best expectations, the UN Human Rights Council will have the final word on the impact of its findings. ‘They can come back with the best ever report, but the dynamics of the Council are such that it can be watered down’, Gillioz remarked.

Meanwhile, ReformtheUN (a part of the World Federalist Organization) sent around earlier
a useful note on the background to the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to send this “team”:
“The Council convened its Fourth Special Session on 12-13 December to address the human rights situation in Darfur. The decision to hold a Special Session on Darfur was requested by 33 member states (a special session of the Human Rights Council is required if one-third of the 47 council members, or 16 countries, request it), including Algeria, Cuba, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Mauritius, Nigeria, Peru, Uruguay and Zambia. In that Session, the Human Rights Council decided by consensus to express its concern regarding the violations of human rights and the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Members of the Council concluded their decision after hearing several presentations from NGOs reporting on the grave situation in Darfur. It was also decided to send a high-level mission to assess the human rights situation in the region. The mission is supposed to present their findings at the Council’s Fourth (regular) Session next month in Geneva. [12 March to 5 April 2007] On 26 January, more than a month after Special Session, a group of five ‘highly qualified persons’ were appointed by the Council’s President, Mexican ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, to lead the fact-finding mission. The group consists of Mart Nutt (Estonia), Bertrand Ramcharan (former Acting and Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), Patrice Tonda (Gabon) and Indonesian ambassador to the UN Marakim Wibisono, and it will be led by 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder of the Nobel Woman’s Initiative, Jody Williams. The decision in December was seen by many as a positive step for the Council, which had been criticized for its previous Special Sessions and resulting declarations on human rights violations by Israel. The Darfur discussion alleviated some impressions of politicization of and imbalance on the Council. Darfur also seems to be a priority for new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, most recently stressed in an UN press conference on 11 January.” Latest Development, Issue # 172 — Human Rights Council and NGOs Prepare for Fourth Session, Update on Darfur Mission

SG BAN at African Union Summit – Darfur and Somalia on agenda

The continuing conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region is what the new UN Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON has said is his top priority at the moment, and he is in Addis Ababa to discuss this and other matters with African leaders meeting at the African Union Summit.

In a keynote address at the Summit meeting on Monday, BAN urged African leaders to back the urgent deployment of a joint force of UN and African Union peacekeepers. BAN also said that conditions for humanitarian aid workers in Darfur were perilous.

Some of the issues on the agenda have many layers of complication.

Sudan had been in line to assume the rotating presidency of the African Union, and Sudan’s President Al-Bashir was pressing the case. On Monday, however, the African Union elected, instead, Ghana’s President John Kufuor as the new AU leader. (Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is from Ghana, and it is not impossible to imagine him involved in negotiations on Darfur or other issues on the AU agenda.)

Sudan was supposed to assume the AU presidency in 2006, but faced objections — precisely because it was considered unseemly and inappropriate, while the conflict in Darfur continued. However much of a simplification it may be, there is nevertheless a persistent belief that there are racialist components to Sudan’s internal conflicts — which is unacceptable to modern-day Africa.

In recent years, the word “genocide” – a term weighty with international law and treaty implications – has been mentioned in connection with the conflict in Darfur, but it has not been heard much recently.

Last year, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir agreed to postpone for one year his taking office as African Union head, while a Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was negotiated and finally pushed through, with African Union and international mediation (mainly U.S. and British) last May.

(Interestingly, SG BAN did not mention the DPA in remarks to journalists after his meeting with Sudan’s President Al-Bashir in Addis Ababa on Monday — he pointedly spoke only of the CPA, which is the Comprehensive Political Agreement reached between the Government and southern Sudan: “I reiterated the UN’s strong commitment to the political process in Sudan, emphasizing the centrality of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the importance of its timely and effective implementation…”)

President Al-Bashir has so far adamantly refused to accept UN Peacekeeping in Darfur, even at the cost of defying a UN Security Council resolution adopted late last year.

An interim agreement has permitted a few specialized UN Peacekeeping military and police forces and other personnel, as well as equipment, to deploy in Darfur, but they are functioning in support of the African Unit peacekeepers there.

One big question is the Addis Ababa meeting: can President Al-Bashir be persuaded to drop his opposition to the larger United Nations Peacekeeping presence in Darfur that has already been approved by the UN Security Council?

After the talks between UN SG BAN and Sudan’s President in Addis Ababa on Monday, Reuters news agency reported that “Sudanese presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa said there was consensus on the first two stages of U.N. support for a 7,500-strong African Union mission in Darfur, but there was no agreement to deploy a hybrid force. ‘We are in full agreement on the first and second stages. We began discussions on the third stage,’ Khalifa told Reuters after 1-1/2 hours of talks which made Bashir late for a meeting of African leaders to decide the chair of the pan-African body. The violence in Darfur generated strong opposition to Sudan taking over the AU chairmanship in Addis, as promised a year ago. Sudan said it eventually withdrew to avoid dividing the continent. Khalifa said: ‘We have agreed on a hybrid operation not a hybrid force‘.”

The conflict in Darfur is an internal Sudanese dispute. But, UN member states have accepted that there is a “responsibility to protect” populations being victimized within their own countries. In addition, spill-over effects from the conflict in Darfur, including cross-border incidents, have given it an international dimension which some governments (France is apparently leading in this) argue gives justification for also putting UN peacekeepers in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, and this has already come under discussion in the UN Security Council.

Alex de Waal, who has participated as an expert adviser in the Darfur peace negotiations, wrote in the London Review of Books last November that “Military intervention won’t stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It’s a simple reality that UN troops can’t stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect. Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair acting as global moral arbiters doesn’t travel well. The crisis in Darfur is political. It’s a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement”.

The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), finalised in May 2006, was signed by the Sudan government and just one of the rebel factions. De Waal wrote: “Had the leader of the main part of the Sudan Liberation Movement also signed, the current crisis would not have happened”. In addition, he pointed out that “It doesn’t specify a UN peacekeeping force – this issue was left for the UN to negotiate with Khartoum”.

De Waal also wrote that “Allowing in UN troops to police a ceasefire and implement a peace agreement that will help the Congress Party consolidate its place in Sudan is one thing. Allowing in ‘international forces’ – the Arabic term, quwat al dauliya, is the same as the one used for coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – midway through a conflict, with an open-ended mandate, is quite another.

The combination of a huge international force – it would take many more than the 20,000 estimated to be needed to enforce a ceasefire – and 8000 Minawi troops with, Khartoum suspects, direct US backing, would in effect bring about a separation of Darfur from the rest of the country…Bashir’s other main fear is that a UN force would be mandated to execute International Criminal Court arrest warrants. With indictments expected soon, Bashir is fearful that his close military colleagues are likely to be on the list”.

Jan Pronk, the former Special Representative of former UN SG Kofi Annan, who was declared persona non grata in October by the Sudanese government — and who later lamented the lack of support he received from the UN bureaucracy — wrote on his blog on 13 March 2006 that: “The political climate in Sudan towards the UN is deteriorating. In the press statements have been published citing civil society organizations calling for ‘resistance against foreign intervention’, ‘raising the flag of Jihad’, warning both the international community and Sudanese authorities not to ‘help the colonization to come to Darfur’, referring to the West as ‘the devil’, calling for martyrdom and for a readiness to sacrifice and ‘to repulse any attack’, announcing a ‘graveyard for the invaders’. In most statements reference is made to the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Clearly the majority of the people assume that there are UN forces in these two countries. This is not the case, but opinion leaders and the public do not make a distinction between the UN and the US or NATO. Those who are aware of the difference express their fear that the UN will pave the way for the US and NATO or say that the UN is an instrument in the hands of the US.”

On the same post, Jan Pronk write that “An award of $100.000 has been promised to the person who will kill me. This has been published in the newspaper Al Watan, with the name of the organization and its leader who have announced this award. It goes with the job and we cannot afford to be intimidated…”

Pronk’s mandate from the UN ended on 31 December.

Pronk write on his blog on 5 March 2006 that he had “brought two messages to my colleagues in New York and to the ambassador members of the Security Council. First: the people must be protected and we can no longer wait. Second: do not organize the protection in such a way that the peace keepers become part of the problem, rather than the solution…. my thoughts went back to Srebrenica, 1995. Will we make the same mistakes, or other, with similar consequences?”

Toward the end of last year, the UN says, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir had “responded positively to three-phase approach presented by the United Nations and the African Union as a package.”

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported a first meeting on 11 December in Khartoum of a Tripartite Mechanism, composed of representatives of UNMIS, the African Union and the Sudanese Government: “They were discussing how to implement the $21 million UN support package to AMIS, the first part of a three-phase process that is expected to eventually culminate in a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.”

However, on 10 January, there was a conflicting indication. The Times of London reported that “Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has rejected the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, saying they were not required,” and that African Union troops were sufficient, the Times (London) reported. “His comment contradicted statements by Sudanese officials, who said last month the government would accept a limited number of UN forces…”

The next day, UN SG BAN KI-MOON told journalists at UNHQ/NY he had just spoken with Jan Eliasson, the Special Representative for Darfur, who was in Sudan that morning, “and he is encouraged by his meetings with President Bashir and other Sudanese leaders…he was assured of very strong cooperation and assistance on the part of the Sudanese Government and President to have a very good cooperation among United Nations, Sudanese Government and the African Union. Therefore, I’m not quite sure about what he said about this so-called – you said ‘rejection’ – of UN forces. Because of the sensitivity of this situation, I’m not in a position to tell you much in detail…I can tell you at this time that this is on the highest priority which I am pursuing…[but] I am not in a position to disclose all what I have been discussing with African leaders.”

Sudanese and UN officials have also said that recent accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan may be another factor that could jeopardize UN deployment in Darfur.

Ban told journalists in New York: “I will also stress the UN policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel and others: zero tolerance means zero complacency and zero impunity. In the coming months, I will work with Member States to forge an ever stronger partnership to ensure that accountability is brought to bear — among the perpetrators, and among their commanders and superiors.”

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) meeting is being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the AU secretariat is located. The UN also has its African regional office in Addis Ababa.

But, Ethiopian troops (with U.S. training and backing) have recently invaded neighboring Somalia — albeit in support of a Provisional Somalia Government that is supported by the UN Security Council.

The target of the Ethiopian military strike was the Islamic Courts grouping, which was able to bring some degree of law and order where the Provisional Somalia Government had been unable to do so. (The Ethiopians say that the Islamic Courts were getting help from Ethiopia’s arch-rival, Eritrea. It was only a quick hop and a jump from there to claim that the Ethiopian military action in Somalia was a strike against international terrorism, al-Qaeda, and “Islamic fascism”.)

The situation in Somalia is also on the agenda at the African Union Summit.

Jan Pronk reveals what was previously suspected – he got burned by UN bureaucrats

The Juba Post, a Sudanese newspaper, reports that former UN Envoy Jan Pronk, a liberal Dutch politician who was declared persona non grata by Sudan due to his blogging comments, has hit back at the UN for its inaction:

“Jan Pronk, former Special representative of the Secretary General of the UN, has condemned the Sudan harassment of the UN Mission in Sudan, and the inaction of his manager in New York, revealing that they never responded to the letter expelling him.  Pronk reports that the UN, by persistently failing to react to breaches of arrangements, and by its attempts to negotiate with Khartoum, has undermined its own position: ‘The Security Council has failed to address violations of earlier agreements concerning peace in Darfur’.  Pronk also says the UN was too divided and bureaucratic to make a response to his expulsion, which was in breach of international conventions on UN personnel.  A clearly angry Pronk writes, ‘The letter sent by the Minister of Foreign affairs to the Secretary General, in which the Sudanese authorities informed the UN of their decision, has ever never been answered. It turned out that there was dispute between UN officials in New York about the tone of such an answer’.”

This summary of the Juba Post article, apparently entitled “Pronk: UN New York coward, harassment in Sudan”, was contained in a daily media monitoring report compiled by the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)

Jan Pronk’s full remarks, dated 14 January, can be found on his own blog, which is still operational:

Weblog nr 40
January 14, 2007
“31 December was my last day as Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) of the United Nations in Sudan. Since 24 October, when the Government of Sudan had declared me persona non grata, I have not been able to contribute much to policy making. I could of course no longer lead the UN Mission in Sudan itself. Moreover, the UN leadership in New York had concluded that I should also not participate in policy meetings outside Sudan. They were afraid to provoke the Government. In my view that was not a wise approach. The Government had unilaterally taken the decision to expel the highest official of the United Nations in Sudan. It thereby had violated agreements with the UN and challenged both the UN Secretary General and the Security Council. The Government had done so because I had, on behalf of the UN, criticized the Government for violations of international agreements and human rights. It seemed that the Government could do this without receiving any reaction from New York. The Security Council, always rather quick in issuing statements or press releases when Members do not yet want to adopt a Resolution, did not officially protest against the Sudanese decision. Yet the Sudanese decision had been clearly aimed at undermining the mandate given by the Security Council to the UN Mission in Sudan. The letter sent by Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Secretary General, in which the Sudanese authorities informed the UN of their decision, has even never been answered. It turned out that there was dispute between UN officials in New York about the tone of such an answer. Several drafts were considered, but finally some officials came to the conclusion that it had become too late to send an answer. They did not inform their superiors and the latter did not ask questions.”  

[This, of course, is a profoundly liberal view of the world, based on a touchingly naive belief that those at the top are reasonable and good people who, when they act badly, only do so because they are misled by very flawed officials who fawn around in the court of the “king”.  Sadly, it turns out, of course, that any leader who maintains that kind of court cannot be very much good, either.

Pronk takes this same attitude to Sudan’s President Bashir, in his last previous blog, in December:  “A high official in the South once told me: ‘Bashir wants peace. He has bullet wounds in his body’. He does not want to return to war. However, he is very careful not to antagonize the hardliners. Bashir’s advisors often do not tell him the whole truth. Much information does not reach him, or only in a biased form. However, Bashir clearly does not make an effort to get to know the whole truth. He is a skilled survivor, who very well knows where his power rests. He also knows the limits of his power and how to keep the balance. Such political skills require accepting a certain degree of disobedience, turning a blind eye to atrocities, inducing para-military forces or outlaws to defend the interests of the elite and rewarding them, taking sides in a conflict between such forces and their adversaries, or instructing some of them to attack and kill potential enemies. Contacts are laid indirectly, never in the open, always in the dark, in order to avoid eschew accountability. Some leaders, even if are of good intentions in general, deliberately do not want to know everything…”] 

Pronk continues on his most recent blog posting on 14 January: “It was a bureaucratic, apolitical approach. The Government could only come to the conclusion that they can get away with anything. The Security Council does only talk. It does not act. The UN bureaucracy is afraid to risk friendly relations with a member state. This is exemplary for the relation between the Security Council and Sudan from the very beginning. During 2003 and the first half of 2004 the cleansing in Darfur had resulted in mass killings and in the chasing away from their homes of more than a million people. However, the Security Council had refused to put this catastrophe on its agenda, despite early requests from many witnesses not to stay silent but to act. The Council only started to discuss this in July 2004, when it was already too late to revert the situation. The US began to refer to the mass murder as ‘genocide’, only after the raping and killing had reached their height. Thereafter the Government of Sudan has put aside all demands by the Security Council that the Janjaweed would be stopped and disarmed. Indeed, the Government had any reason to believe that they could continue to allow or support the cleansing and killing without being hindered by the international community.
In my view one of the mistakes of the Security Council has been that the Members in fact are only considering one specific instrument: whether or not to send a peacekeeping mission…Everything has already been reported; enough facts have been brought to the attention of the Security Council. The fact that the demands of the Council have not been implemented is no secret, but public knowledge. In such a situation the Council should react with clear measures: diplomatic, political, legal, financial or economic sanctions against those who do not comply. There are many possibilities, but the Council has always shied away from applying any sanction. Instead of creative and vigorous multilateral diplomacy the Council has continued to discuss the modalities of a peacekeeping mission. However, because it was clear from the beginning that the Permanent Members of the Security Council – US, UK, Russia, China and France – would not be able to reach consensus about imposing a Chapter 7 peacekeeping mission, such a mission could only be sent to Sudan under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, that is with the agreement of the Sudanese themselves. As is well known, the Government of Sudan has consistently refused to accept or ‘invite’ (terminology of Security Council Resolution 1706) such a mission. So, there was no response to the violations, neither in the form of sanctions nor a mission.  So, the Security Council by its inaction is eroding its own authority…There are many conflicts in the world in which the Council has not been able or willing to enforce respect. Sudan is only one of those. On more than one occasion high political officials in Sudan have told me that they had weighed the risk of non-compliance with Security Council resolutions against the risk of compliance. Non-compliance might bring them in conflict with the Council and its members: sanctions and threats against the regime. Compliance would entail a different risk: domestic opposition and efforts to change the regime from within. They had compared and weighed those risks meticulously, they told me, and they had come to a rational conclusion: the risk of compliance would be much greater than the risk of non-compliance…

“So, in the last two months of the year in many respects the position of Khartoum has become stronger than before. The situation in Darfur has further deteriorated. Never before the number of UN staff and aid workers that had to be evacuated or relocated due to an untenable insecurity situation was as high as during these months. Despite this Khartoum is spreading the message: “there is peace in Darfur, except in some pockets, but that is due to the UN …” Time and again Khartoum has been able to get away with such a message.  Harassment of the UN Mission in Sudan has intensified during the last two months. Sudanese authorities can easily resort to such harassment, because they have not been challenged by UN Headquarters in New York, nor by the Security Council or by Governments of Member States. Some weeks ago one of our officials went to see the authorities in Darfur in order to raise a number of violations of human rights. The answer was exemplary for the self-confidence of those who have chosen to disregard any form of criticism: “You better shut up. We can always expel you, as we have proven”.

SG BAN — Darfur tops list of priorities

Asked about the Sudanese President’s reported rejection of UN Peacekeeping forces for Darfur, UN SG BAN KI-MOON told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Thursday that “I just spoke with Mr. Eliasson [Jan Eliasson is the Special Represenative for Darfur, who is now in Sudan] this morning, and he is encouraged by his meetings with President Bashir and other Sudanese leaders…he was assured of very strong cooperation and assistance on the part of the Sudanese Government and President to have a very good cooperation among United Nations, Sudanese Government and the African Union. Therefore, I’m not quite sure about what he said about this so-called – you said ‘rejection’ – of UN forces. Because of the sensitivity of this situation, I’m not in a position to tell you much in detail, but I can assure you that this is again on top of my priority agendas and I’ll discuss myself on this matter with the President of Sudan…We are committed to implementing this agreement which had already been made, and this is what we have been discussing, including the contribution, diplomatic negotiation and contribution, made by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. So the recent talk with Mr. Jan Eliasson with the President [Omar al Bashir] should give us some good prospect in implementing this agreement. And I will follow up this matter…As you may understand, this involves many difficult political dimensions on this matter itself, so I need to discuss this matter with, first of all, the Sudanese Government and the African Union Commission, as well as many leaders of the African Union who are involved in these issues. Therefore, I can tell you at this time that this is on the highest priority which I am pursuing…I am not in a position to disclose all what I have been discussing with African leaders.” 

SG BAN says he will travel to the African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa at the end of January to continue these discussions in person. 

Sudanese and UN officials have said that recent accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan may jeopardize UN deployment in Darfur.  Ban was not asked about this in his press conference on Thursday, but commented nevertheless: “I will also stress the UN policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel and others: zero tolerance means zero complacency and zero impunity. In the coming months, I will work with Member States to forge an ever stronger partnership to ensure that accountability is brought to bear — among the perpetrators, and among their commanders and superiors.”

Sudan’s President says UN peacekeepers not needed in Darfur

The Times of London is reporting that “Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has rejected the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, saying they were not required.  He said African Union (AU) troops could maintain order in the war-wracked region of western Sudan.  His comment contradicted statements by Sudanese officials, who said last month the government would accept a limited number of UN forces, as well those of AU officials who had proposed that the world body take over peacekeeping in Darfur.”    Times of London

The UN spokesperson told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Wednesday that “the United Nations has seen press reports on the President’s comments”, but, she noted, in a letter to the UN last month, the Sudanese President’s had “responded positively to three-phase approach presented by the United Nations and the African Union as a package.”

The spokesperson also told journalists that Jan Eliasson, the former UN Humanitarian Action Coordinator who is still the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, is today in Khartoum to follow up on the assurances expressed by Bashir.  Eliasson is scheduled to meet tomorrow with President Omar Al Bashir and other Sudanese high-ranking officials, the spokesperson said.

Daily Telegraph takes six months to publish accusations of UN Peacekeeper abuse of children in southern Sudan

The accusations are sickening — so why did it take the London newspaper, Daily Telegraph, six months to publish them?  Were they waiting for Kofi Annan to leave?  Were they making sure their own investigative reporting was complete and correct?

The accusations were published in the article UN staff accused of raping children in Sudan, written by Kate Holt in Juba and Sarah Hughes – Last Updated: 12:27pm GMT 03/01/2007

The Daily Telegraph reports that: “The abuse allegedly began two years ago when the UN mission in southern Sudan (UNMIS) moved in to help rebuild the region after a 23-year civil war. The UN has up to 10,000 military personnel in the region, of all nationalities and the allegations involve peacekeepers, military police and civilian staff.  The first indications of sexual exploitation emerged within months of the UN force’s arrival and The Daily Telegraph has seen a draft of an internal report compiled by the UN children’s agency Unicef in July 2005 detailing the problem.  In a six-month investigation, Kate Holt gathered more than 20 victims’ accounts claiming that peacekeeping and civilian staff based in the town are regularly picking up young children in their UN vehicles and forcing them to have sex. It is thought that hundreds of children may have been abused”

What?  UNICEF has known about it for a year and a half? 

Hang on for a minute, and let’s go back to the UN itself.  

The Daily Telegraph says that “Responding to the report, Jane Holl Lute, the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said: ‘There could be truth. These environments are ones in which it is difficult to ascertain the truth…I do not believe these are new allegations. Nevertheless, we will treat them as seriously as we treat all other allegations,’ she told the Associated Press in New York.  She said she had spoken to the force commander and chief of staff in the UN mission in southern Sudan ‘and I know they are very well briefed on what UN policy is and have taken steps to implement that policy across the board in that mission…But we don’t have the facts yet in this case, and we need to ascertain the facts and follow it through to appropriate resolution and take action if necessary.  We won’t be complacent and there will be no impunity to the full extent of the UN’s authority’.”

Of course, that is a pretty big qualification — the UN actually says it has little or no authority over its peacekeeping troops, because they are not, technically, UN staff members.  Peacekeepers are provided by their own national governments and are not subject to UN disciplinary procedures, nor, by agreements (yes, worked out by the UN) with the countries in which the troops are deployed, are they subject to prosecution in the “host countries”.  The UN says all it can do is to send any miscreants home, and hope they will be punished there.  Until now, that has not really happened. 

That is, they haven’t been punished — though some, a few, have been sent home.  The UN spokesperson said on Tuesday that four UN Peacekeepers have been sent home already from southern Sudan; on Wednesday, she said that these four UN Peacekeepers were from Bangladesh, and they were sent home months ago. 

It seems to be taking the new SG’s team, which has only been in place for four days, some time to read in on this issue.  The UN spokeswoman also said on Wednesday that ” As of today, there are 13 ongoing investigations regarding allegations of serious misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, she said   A UN team ‘that has been working on these matters’ has been in Sudan since February 2006.  Asked whether the cases being investigated were the same as those reported in the Daily Telegraph, the Spokeswoman said that would need to be determined. The cases that the United Nations is studying date back to 2005. She noted that the Telegraph article had mentioned one nightclub that has for months been a ‘no go’ area for UN personnel.”

The UN, however, could threaten to send back a whole national contingent, if its members were accused of sexual abuse, couldn’t it?  Countries are dependent on the UN allowances, paid by special assessments to Member States, to governments which contribute troops and other force participants to a UN Peackeeping operation.   They might respond to a threat to cut off their allowances (daily, deployment, and more…)

UN Watch, an NGO established by a former U.S. Ambassador in Geneva in 1993 with the primary purpose of watching out for what the UN does regarding Israel, today called on BAN KI-MOON and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to establish an international inquiry into the allegations reported by the Daily Telegraph:  “UN Watch has been one of the leading non-governmental organizations urging the Human Rights Council to take action against Sudan’s atrocities in Darfur. We represented the largest NGO coalition at the recent special Council session on Darfur and played a similar leading role in other UN human rights forums. It was UN Watch’s intervention that led the UN Working Group on Minorities to hold Sudan to account in its report last year… We were shocked to read of the allegations—detailed in a 2005 internal UNICEF report and corroborated by evidence gathered by the Daily Telegraph and NGOs in the region—that, since they were deployed two years ago, UN peacekeepers in Southern Sudan have regularly been sexually abusing children who already have suffered so much in the recent civil war. In our advocacy, we have consistently argued for UN intervention to protect civilians in Darfur from the horror of mass rapes, killings and displacement. We continue to believe that an international force in the western region of Sudan will bring far more help than harm to that region’s victims.  But unless the UN takes immediate, firm and sustained action against the reported abuses by its personnel in other regions of Sudan—and indeed around the world—we fear that today’s allegations will pose a setback to this effort.  Last month, former Secretary-General Annan said there would be ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers. Yet in the case of the current allegations, this appears not to have been the case.  The Daily Telegraph reports that the UN has known about the problems in Southern Sudan for more than a year but has not taken action… Leading experts and NGOs such as Refugees International believe that sexual abuse by peacekeepers of young victims is occurring in almost every UN mission around the globe, including in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Despite allegations of widespread abuse, however, out of approximately 100,000 UN peacekeepers, the UN itself admitted to having knowledge of only two examples of sex offenders being sent to jail (BBC News, December 1, 2006). This shocking failure to take meaningful action against abusers creates a culture of impunity that can be tolerated no longer.  We welcome yesterday’s announcement by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute that the current allegations would be investigated — but a business-as-usual investigation is simply not enough…We propose the following:
• A high-level investigation led by a team of major international figures with full independent powers to collect and examine information and to prosecute sexual abuse by peacekeepers as well other UN officials.
• Additionally, the inquiry should follow the chain of responsibility and examine UN officials who were obliged to but failed to take action to prevent such crimes.
• The inquiry panel should include respected authorities on international law and women’s and children’s rights—people such as Justice Richard J. Goldstone of South Africa, former member of the Volcker Commission on the Iraq Oil for Food program, and University of Michigan law professor Catherine A. Mackinnon, an expert who has successfully litigated on behalf of Bosnian women victims of sexual abuse.
• Separate and additional to the above, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is responsible for mainstreaming human rights within the UN system, should strongly condemn these abuses, and conduct her own investigation in the region to determine how her office can assist in preventing future cases of UN peacekeeper sexual abuse.”

Are we to understand from this, by the way, that UN Watch knew about the UNICEF internal report on this situation, prepared in 2005???

This story has another dimension, however, and it is alluded to in the letter from UN Watch — the government of Sudan is being pressured to accept large UN participation in a “hybrid” force with African Union forces in Darfur, though the government is apparently still reluctant to go through with the deal. 

The Daily Telegraph reports, in this story of sexual abuse in southern Sudan, that “The UN is pushing to be allowed to launch a new peacekeeping mission there to help end the humanitarian crisis that has spiralled in recent years. The Telegraph understands that the Sudanese government, which is deeply opposed to the deployment of UN troops to Darfur, has also gathered evidence, including video footage of Bangladeshi UN workers having sex with three young girls.”

The Daily Telegraph includes some pompous, ridiculous, very unbecoming, and utterly reprehensible comments made by a UN official to their reporter “on the ground” — admittedly, made six months back, in May: “The British regional co-ordinator for UNMIS, James Ellery, has refuted the claims, arguing that there is no substantiating evidence.  ‘I will refute all claims made on this issue,’ he said in an interview last May. ‘We investigated all allegations made and no evidence was forthcoming. None of these claims can be substantiated. This is the most backward country in Africa and there are lots of misunderstandings as to the UN’s role. Over 90 per cent of people here are illiterate and rumours therefore spread very quickly.’
Mr Ellery insisted that his organisation was following correct codes of conduct.
‘We provide regular briefings on the UN code of conduct. Nobody employed by the UN is meant to have sexual contact at all with any local person,’ he said.  He did, however, appear to acknowledge that the organisation might not be able to ensure that all its staff behave according to standards.
‘We are applying a standard of morality that is very, very high but we cannot expect that soldiers when they go abroad are going to behave themselves as we think they should.  [what?] There are a wide range of countries being represented in the UN forces and among these there is always going to be a bad apple’.” 

The local government does not look too good, either, in this report: “The Daily Telegraph has learned that a number of complaints have been made about the behaviour of UN personnel stationed in Juba. Yet those accused have not been tracked down nor has there been any attempt by the UN or local officials to interview those making the accusations.  The fledging government of southern Sudan is believed to be too concerned to maintain good relations with the UN to challenge the organisation… Juba’s county court judge, Ali Said, said that the region had seen an increase in child prostitution since the UN arrived.  ‘The majority of people working for the UN and NGOs are men and need to be entertained. But no cases have come to court,’ he said.  ttp://

Coming back to UNICEF, the report goes on to say that “An unfinished copy of the internal Unicef report, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows that the UN has been aware of the problem for more than a year.  ‘Evidence suggests that UNMIS staff may already be involved in sexual exploitation,’ the report says. ‘UN cars have been staying into the early hours of the morning, as late as 6am, at a restaurant/disco called Kololo in Juba … adult informants reported seeing a UNMIS car stop along a main road in Juba to pick up three young girls’.”

UNICEF is part of the UN system, but it is also a separate agency, funded not by the UN budget but by its own solicited contributions from individuals and donor countries (remember the UNICEF greeting cards?  And the Halloween trick-or-treat collections?)  Because of its dependence on donations, which depend to large extent on publicity, generated by news stories, UNICEF is seen by other organizations as elbowing competitors to take credit for this or that success, in many humanitarian operations.  So, why did it sit on these accusations, when it could have trumpeted its efforts to protect mothers and children?  Perhaps to protect its position in a UN-led operation?

A separate editorial in today’s Daily Telegraph says “Yet again, the UN shows itself unfit for purpose“: “It wouldn’t be the first time. If UN personnel have, as alleged, been molesting children in southern Sudan, they will be following in a long tradition of abuse. Around the world, UN officials have run smuggling and prostitution rings, stolen and sold supplies, and traded food for sex. Sometimes, the racket becomes institutionalised, as when UN contractors collaborated with Ba’athists on the oil-for-food boondoggle. More often, the organisation is greedy and self-serving, but stops short of outright corruption… The reason that the UN so often behaves badly is, paradoxically, because so many people wish it well. Because the organisation embodies the loftiest of ideals – peace among nations – it tends to receive the automatic benefit of the doubt. We are so fond of the theoretical UN that we rarely drag our gaze down to the actual one. The UN has therefore fallen out of the habit of having to explain itself and, in consequence, become flabby, immobilist and often sleazy…If that criticism sounds too harsh, consider its record since the end of the Cold War – the period in which it might have been expected to come into its own. In Bosnia, it was worse than useless. Uselessness would have meant doing nothing. Instead, the UN imposed an arms embargo that favoured one side over the other, herded the losers into notionally protected areas, disarmed them and then handed them over for execution. In Rwanda, when the UN commander on the ground informed his superiors that a mass slaughter was planned, and that he intended to forestall it by seizing the weapons caches, he was told to do no such thing.  This same combination of being notionally present but practically absent seems to be repeating itself in Darfur today. For the truth is that the UN is structurally flawed: its nature ensures that it is run by careerists whose chief motive is to avoid taking responsibility…Faced with such criticisms, the UN’s defenders trot out the old cliché that if the UN didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it. But is this really true? It is certainly useful to have a forum to arbitrate disputes among states: something that has existed, formally or informally, since the days of the Concert of Europe. But do we really need the large, expensive, unaccountable bureaucracies that come with it? The UN should do less, and do it better.”

These words echo sentiments expressed by BAN KI-MOON and his aides over the past few days — his spokesperson, Michele Montas, said in a UN Radio interview on Tuesday that “the Secretary-General told her reform is a key priority. ‘He wants a more efficient and lean machine, something that can be more able to face the challenges of today – and these challenges are many’…She added that he is seeking to cut red tape. ‘He wants less bureaucracy and he wants to simplify the way we do business at the UN to be able to be more efficient’.”

These are fine ambitions, but what they will mean in practice is something else. 

Unfortunately, the UN Administration’s record is all-too-poor on such matters.  Instead of offending the troop contributing countries — over which the UN says it has no power [blame the Member States, not the Organization — a constant refrain of the UN Secretariat], they will punish the UN staff.  Of course, if a UN staff member has sexually abused anyone, he or she should be punished.  But that’s not how the UN operates, unfortunately.  The UN is unfairly and unjustly pursuing ridulously trumped-up charges against lower-ranking staff members [more to come in future].  The UN is doing what it usually does, piling onto the least powerful target around, and then claiming victory. 

One proposal now under consideration, courtesy of Prince Zeid Al-Hassan, Jordan’s outgoing UN Ambassador, who was also Kofi Annan’s special Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operaions (Jordan is a major troop-contributing country), is to collect DNA samples from men and women (these are not troops, but civilians) being sent on peacekeeping missions.  The DNA samples are to be returned to these personnel once they return from the field! 

[It should also be noted that the UN rarely sends experienced core staff on these missions — their supervisors often resist sending them.  The result is that persons having litle or no experience with, or knowledge of, the UN are sent to remote and difficult locations on critical peacekeeping missions with inadequate or non-existant administrative and other support from headquarters.]

One other reflection — Jane Holl Lute, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, is a former U.S. Army officer.   It has always seemed more than a little cynical to have hire this experienced female military officer to deal with these problems — with little support from the rest of the Organization, it is clear.  She was added to a Department which already had one Assistant Secretary-General, Hedi Annabi from Tunisia, who apparently deals only with the more prestigious and sensitive political questions, but doesn’t get his hands or collar dirty with matters like this.  Now, the lounge lizards will be whispering with barely disguised glee that even the Americans could not deal with this issue.  This factor takes on added significance now, as the U.S. has been signaling for months that it would like to have an American in the top job, as Under-Secretary-General, in the Department for Peacekeeping Operations — and, with BAN KI-MOON taking office, it’s now decision-time.

The Associated Press (AP) reported later, picking up on the Daily Telegraph story, that “U.N. policy prohibits all U.N. staff from engaging in sexual exploitation, abuse or prostitution.  Lute, who served in the U.S. Army for 16 years, stressed that the U.N. has instituted a series of measures in terms of training, clarifying standards and reinforcing messages against sexual abuse.  But she said vigilance on this matter has to be ‘a constant factor of life when you’re rotating through 200,000 troops in as diverse environments as we do’.”

No matter how you look at it, however, dismissing these accusations as the work of only a few “bad apples”, or as something bound to happen when you’re rotating 200,000 troops over whom you have no real control, is just not good enough.

At the daily UN Noon Briefing at UNHQ/NY on Wednesday, spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists that: “We are deeply concerned by press reports of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Juba. The UN standard on this issue is clear—zero tolerance, meaning zero complacency and zero impunity. In cooperation with the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), we are looking into the substance of the press reports to determine if the allegations are new or are existing cases already under investigation.   It is the UN’s policy to treat credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse as serious offences to be investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). OIOS has a team permanently based in Sudan which investigates all allegations of abuse. Over the past year, as a result of UN investigations four UNMIS peacekeepers have already been repatriated. The United Nations is working closely with local authorities and all operational partners including our troop contributing countries to ensure that UN personnel adhere to the highest standards of accountability…Asked whether the Secretary-General had contacted UNICEF about its information on the allegations, Montas said that UNICEF’s report was not on sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers, but rather those committed by Sudanese forces. [n.b. This seems to be belied by the quotations from the unpublished UNICEF report cited in the Daily Telegraph story, and mentioned above — it’s only Michele’s second day on the job!]  Asked whether the allegations would complicate UN efforts in Darfur, the Spokeswoman said that was an underlying concern.”

Later in the day, the UN News Centre (under the auspices of the Under-Secretary-General for “Strategic Communications”) beefed up the institutional response with these details:  “The problem of sexual abuse and exploitation by blue helmets surfaced in 2004, when a UN report found that a ‘shockingly large number’ of peacekeepers had engaged in such practices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with payments for sex sometimes ranging from two eggs to $5 per encounter. The victims included many abandoned orphans who were often illiterate.  The UN responded with forceful policy decisions and disciplinary action. By the end of last November, 319 peacekeeping personnel in all missions had been investigated. These probes resulted in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation on disciplinary grounds of 17 police and 144 military personnel.”

(It should be noted, however, that only the civilians — who will have been given contracts as UN staff members — have been really punished, with summary dismissal, while the police and military personnel have just been repatriated — which is probably not too much of a punishment by comparison with serving in a conflict zone”.) 

It is curious how this story is being ignored by some other media.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Reuters News agency reported that “Sudan on Thursday described the alleged sexual abuse of children by U.N. peacekeepers in south Sudan as ‘outrageous” and said it would launch its own investigation into the affair.  ‘We are very concerned. It is outrageous,” foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig told Reuters.  ‘If anyone has committed such crimes they should face the full weight of the law,’ he added.  He said the Khartoum government would launch an investigation into the matter.  Any U.N. personnel found guilty of such crimes would be dealt with by the United Nations and not under Sudanese law…Asked if the sex abuse allegations would affect Khartoum’s decision on allowing U.N. troops in Darfur, al Sadig said: ”This is exactly why we are so concerned.”