Friday, August 27, 2010

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

By Matthew Russell Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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