Burundi: We want to ensure that the behavior of our staff is beyond reproach

Bujumbura, Burundi - Ms. Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, has just ended a two-day stay in Burundi. During the visit, she met several officials representing various local and international organisations. Her interlocutors included military and civilian staff of the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB), heads of UN agencies, the President of Burundi, Burundian and international NGOs and the media.

During the press conference organised this morning at ONUB head office, the Deputy Secretary-General first explained the reason of her visit. She said, "My visit had a dual purpose. First, it had to do with assessing the United Nations Mission in Burundi. The Mission is one year old and has made much progress in accomplishing its mandate. Second, the visit concerned the implementation of the United Nations Code of Conduct, especially with regard to sexual exploitation."

With regard to the first reason, Ms. Fréchette expressed her satisfaction with the progress made by ONUB and its Burundian and international community partners, in particular, as concerns the smooth conduct of the electoral process which led to the organisation of the referendum and, more recently, the holding of free commune elections. In both cases, Burundians turned out in large numbers and spontaneously. Considering these achievements, Ms. Fréchette concluded, "Therefore, in my opinion, our presence in Burundi is making a positive impact." Continuing, she said, "This opinion is even shared by the Security Council itself which is satisfied with our role in Burundi." Indeed, by virtue of Resolution 1602 that was adopted in May 2005, the Security Council has extended ONUB's mandate to 1st December 2005.

Concerning the second reason relating to the implementation of the Code of Conduct by military and civilian staff, the Deputy Secretary-General said that the objectives were threefold: (1) to ensure that appropriate steps have been taken to adequately inform staff members on their obligations pertaining to the Code of Conduct, (2) to determine the appropriate measures necessary to ensure compliance with the Code by all staff, and (3) to see if a mechanism has been established to investigate into cases of non-compliance with the Code.

Ms. Fréchette expressed satisfaction with the working sessions that she had had with various stakeholders. "I must admit that I had very useful meetings with all components of the Mission as well as a field visit, yesterday, to Makamba where I discussed the issue with the Kenyan contingent," she acknowledged.

The issue of the Code of Conduct of United Nations staff, especially in peace-keeping Missions, is among the concerns at the centre of the comprehensive reforms that the UN is planning to make. The Secretary-General is particularly attentive to this issue, especially considering the recent sex abuse allegations that dented the UN image. "Let me add that the Secretary-General considers this issue very important. You must have heard about the very serious incidents that occurred in some United Nations Missions and which considerably undermined the image of the United Nations. We want to avoid a repeat of such misbehaviour," Ms. Fréchette said.

To give them a feel of the extent of the problem, Ms. Fréchette provided journalists with some figures. Thus, since late 2004 when the Code of Conduct was reinforced, "we have expelled five civilian staff members from three different Missions. In four cases, investigations revealed that there was not enough evidence. Among United Nations Volunteers, one staff member was expelled, two were reprimanded and two were cleared for lack of evidence. In one case, the staff member resigned," the Deputy Secretary-General said.

As concerns the military, "there were about 75 cases for all peace-keeping Missions. The personnel were repatriated to be judged by the military courts of their countries," Ms. Fréchette said. "However," she stressed, "it must be noted that we are talking here of 17 Missions deploying nearly 70,000 soldiers." So far, no cases have been reported in the Mission in Burundi," she added.

Ms. Fréchette concluded by saying that, "This shows that we take serious measures once we receive allegations with evidence but we are also cautious. What is important to remember is that we want to ensure that the behavior of our staff is beyond reproach. Also, there have been cases of serious misconduct which, however, are attributable to a small minority compared to the large number of staff we have deployed on the field."


Isabelle ABRIC, Chef, Information Publique/ Chief, Public Information
Penangnini TOURE, Porte-parole/ Spokesperson
Mobile: +257 853 444, ONUB: +257 24 80 09 to 14, via New York: +1-212- 963 2839/42; Fax: +257 21 28 68
tourep@un.org, publicinformation@un.org