FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. We’ve spent the morning, as you know, discussing the circumstances in Sudan. In particular, UNAMID and the deteriorating security situation, the various reports of fighting, of kidnappings, of denial of access. And so, we had a very in-depth discussion, particularly on the consultations, about both the circumstances on the ground and UNAMID’s recent efforts to, as you heard from Joint Special Representative Gambari, to make their posture more robust on the ground—which is something we have strenuously advocated. So we had a discussion about how that’s playing out.
And, as you know, Sudan is a very regular fixture on our agenda. We’ll have an opportunity in early February to come back, particularly to the issue of the referendum and its results. That was discussed a bit in the Council, but the focus really today was on Darfur. So I’m happy to take a few questions.
Reporter: Ambassador, can I ask a question about Lebanon?
Ambassador Rice: Let’s do Sudan first.
Reporter: You mentioned here the need for UNAMID to be more robust. What exactly can UNAMID do, and is Mr. Gambari proving to be an effective head of UNAMID? Might it be better to get someone more progressive, proactive?
Ambassador Rice: UNAMID is a Chapter 7 mission, with a robust protection of civilians mandate. And the United States view and the view of many members of the Council, as expressed today and on numerous previous occasions, is that we expect UNAMID, as one of the UN’s largest and most costly operations, with one of the most robust mandates passed by this Council, to be very active and, when necessary, aggressive, in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians. And we have been frustrated and dismayed by repeated instances of UNAMID being denied access in its freedom of movement restricted. And we have been pressing for months for UNAMID to fulfill the letter and spirit of its mandate, by ensuring that it is not finding itself negotiating questions of access, but ensuring that the access that it is due, as a Chapter 7 mission, it actually has.
Now, we welcome the fact that, in the last few weeks, beginning this month, early this month, UNAMID has very consciously and we think constructively, informed the government and the rebels, and the regional governors, that it is going to insist upon access to areas that it needs to fulfill its mandate. We support that. To be candid, there have been many instances, thankfully in which that has been the case and succeeded, and there have been some instances where it has not. And I made the point, as did others in the Council that this has to be consistent, it has to be uniform. It’s not subject to negotiation.
And while we are very mindful of the risk to peacekeepers, and we are extremely grateful for the sacrifices that have been made by UNAMID peacekeepers, there is an inherent risk to a protection of civilians mandate that has a Chapter 7 construction. And we look to the leadership of UNAMID, very ably led by the Force Commander, and as well we look to Joint Special Representative Gambari to ensure that this robust posture is pursued, is consistent, and enables UNAMID to do its utmost to protect civilians.
You had another. Sudan. Let’s keep with—Sudan.
Reporter: Since you’ve learned (inaudible) since the referendum has been set up, do you (inaudible)?
Ambassador Rice: The deteriorating security situation in Darfur is not something that began just in the last couple of weeks. It’s something that’s extended over much of last year, and including last fall, and into this year. And it’s a function of both government actions and rebel actions. So I wouldn’t want to go so far as to make that explicit linkage.
Reporter: Have you asked in any way for UNAMID to specify who’s denying them, where, which rebel group, when the government does it? Because it seems we hear about it in its statements.
Ambassador Rice: Well, its report. The UNAMID report that we were just discussing, if I’m not mistaken you guys can read it as well as I can. But if I’m not mistaken, it talked about in the last 90 days, 26 instances in which UNAMID’s access had been blocked or restricted. It attributed 23 of those 26 instances to government action, I believe two to rebel action and I’m not sure if it specified which rebel groups, and one to sort of civilian mobs.
Reporter: Should they not be saying this as it happens, as compared to a report 90 days later?
Ambassador Rice: I’m sorry.
Reporter: Should they not be announcing this as the government denies them access, so the Council can step in rather than 90 days later?
Ambassador Rice: I don’t think that the Council needs to step in every time there’s an issue of access. The government has an obligation, and in fact it’s made a commitment to allow freedom of movement. This is something that the UN and many concerned governments repeatedly discuss with the Government of Sudan. And, I think the point here is not to have a talk shop every time there’s an incident, but to ensure that UNAMID is acting in such a fashion where we will have fewer and fewer such instances. And the government, too, and the rebels, are doing their part to ensure that freedom of access is ensured.
Reporter: The general prosecutor of the ICC, Ocampo, when interviewed on Al-Arabiya yesterday, told us that he is contemplating more indictments in Darfur if the killing doesn’t stop, that he informed the Security Council of this, that he will come in June and inform of his decision of more indictments.
Ambassador Rice: That he will?
Reporter: That he will, yes. How does the United States view more indictments? Would that serve the purpose of accountability and justice? I mean, there have been indictments, three indictments, and the situation did not improve so far.
Ambassador Rice: Well, we would leave that in the hands of the prosecutor to make a judgment based on the facts and the findings. There is not a quota system. There are facts and realities, and our commitment is to justice and accountability. We feel that’s vitally important for long-term peace and stability in Sudan. And we will assume that we will be taken where the facts and the evidence necessitate.
Reporter: So how worried about the situation in Lebanon? And what do you expect from the newly-nominated prime minister? And do you consider that Syria has interfered – or Iran –interfered enough in Lebanon to influence a new, bringing to this position, a prime minister like Mikati?
Ambassador Rice: Well, first of all, we’re obviously following events very closely in Lebanon. And it will be now for the Lebanese to figure out the formation of their government. Our view is that it’s vitally important that that occur, and that decisions on the leadership occur without intimidation, without coercion, without the threat of violence. And unfortunately, that has not been the case. It has been all three of those things that Hizballah has chosen, along with Syria, to employ in recent days and weeks as we have come to this point.
We think that a government that is truly representative of all of the interests and concerns in Lebanon will be one that is committed to ending the era of impunity for murders, one that is committed to justice. And we believe that that is the right and the will of the people of Lebanon. And we reiterate our call for all concerned to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, and cease inappropriate interference in its internal affairs.
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