By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, December 1 — When US Ambassador Samantha Power held a press conferenceabout the UN Security Council’s work in December, when she will be president, Inner City Press asked her about two items on her Program of Work: the use in Yemen of troops from Sudan.
Inner City Press also asked Power about one item not yet listed on the month’s Program: the twice-delayed UNreport into how allegations of rape by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic were handled by the UN.
Power spoke with passion about the latter topic, saying that during her recent trip to India she devoted a third of one of her speeches to the topic. Power said that the UN must repatriate accused troops, and that the troop contributing countries, including where applicable the US, must investigate and prosecute the allegations as if they had taken place in their own countries, against their own citizens.
The report on CAR was announced on June 22 and was supposed to take ten weeks. Then it was delayed past the General Assembly high level debate week into November, then delayed again into December. Power said the US would like it taken up in the Security Council, whether considered in connection with CAR in the December program of work, or in January if it is not released until then.
On the Saudi-led coalition’s use of troops from Sudan in Yemen, Power said that it had to be acknowledged that Sudan’s military violated the laws of war in South Sudan, in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and in Darfur. She said the Saudi-led coalition was asked to be discerning. Inner City Press didn’t have time to ask, but there are increasing reports that the United Arab Emirates is employing mercenaries from Colombia in Yemen. We’ll have more on this. For now, here’s a fast transcription by InnerCityPro.com:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about two things. On the program of work you have Yemen, and you also have Sudan ICC, so I wanted to ask about something that brings them together, which is, the use of Sudanese troops in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. Some people have said it’s sort of strange, given their record and the fact that the government of Sudan is under ICC indictment, for the use of these troops in Darfur; it seems like a funny part of the coalition in Yemen. So I wanted your thoughts on that.
And also, during the month of December, the long-delayed report on sexual abuse in CAR is supposed to come out. Do you think the Council, given the importance of this issue of peacekeepers and accountability, will the Council take it up? And what do you think, either personally or nationally, should happen?
Ambassador Power: On the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation, I did travel all the way to India and did give a speech, a third of which was dedicated to that topic because it is clear that whatever the notional zero tolerance policy that exists here, the spate of allegations is extremely disturbing and the loss of trust that results when civilians who are counting on the UN for protection begin to view them as predators, cannot be overstated. I think the Secretary General has taken a series of steps now that are aimed at filling some of the gaps that have existed. Fundamentally, if we don’t do what I sought to do on my visit overseas, and what we are now talking about bilaterally around the world, which is elevate the issue of accountability in capitals, every capital, including if US personnel were accused of carrying out these kinds of abuses. Where the accountability needs to exist in the first instance is of course at the UN, individuals need to be repatriated and an investigation needs to be launched. But fundamentally it is the member states that are going to need to take ownership of what their troops are doing in other countries, as if it was happening in one’s own country.
I don’t really have a comment on CAR. I don’t yet know in terms of how we will take it up. We do have, as I mentioned, a lot happening related to CAR. It’s possible we could combine discussion of the report. I think it depends on the precise timing. But if it isn’t in this month, it certainly is something that the United States will support discussing at the earliest possible occasion.
On Sudan and Yemen, first of all underscore that under the leadership in Khartoum the Sudnaese government has fought in a manner, whether it was against the South Sudanese people for many many years, or in Khordofan or Blue Nile over the last couple of years, God knows in Darfur, the manner in which Sudan has employed force has consistently ignored or violated international humanitarian law. There’s just no way around it. It is the use of indiscriminate weapons of war, and seemingly scant regard for civilian life. So we would be very concerned that any units that were involved in the kinds of atrocities we have seen in Darfur, on the ground or from the air, or those in other parts of Sudan, if they were involved elsewhere, and have encouraged the coalition to be extremely discerning and to make every effort to ensure that anything they are doing in Yemen is in compliance with IHL.
On Syria, Power said among other things that there are procedures in place to adjudge which groups are terrorists and which are not (State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner earlier in the day twice said that Al Nusra is a terrorist group).
On North Korea, Power said that as much light as possible should be shed from outside the country. One wanted to ask, what could a trip by Ban Ki-moon at this time accomplish, but time did not allow.
Inner City Press has been reporting extensively on Burundi, and on this subject Power said that a Security Council trip is still in the planning stages, but is unanimously supported by the Council’s members. Yesterday Inner City Press reported, based on sources in the Council, that Angola expressed the position at least that a visit in December might be too soon.
Power answered about her trip to India, and mentioned her visit to Sri Lanka which came after that. Inner City Press hear from Lankan sources that a film crew accompanied Power into certain meetings; one awaits the broadcast.
On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, as it did with last month’s president Matthew Rycroft and his predecessors, Inner City Press asked Power to hold question and answer stakeouts after Council closed door consultations, “so we can learn what went on inside.” Power quipped that it is not all that interesting, which may most of the time be true. But at least we can ask. And we will. Watch this site.