Friday, 4 May 2007

Over the Top

The following is a verbatim transcript:

Office of the Special Representative of the Sectary General
United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste
Postal Address: obrigado Barracks, Caicoli, UNMIT Headquarters, Dili,

ON 30 APRIL 2007-05-04


Good afternoon,
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all UN staff members of our responsibilities as peacekeepers in Timor-Leste.

We are GUESTS in this country and we are present here to help the people recover from the trauma of conflict, and not to perpetuate it. Each and every one of us owes a fundamental duty of care to the people of Timor-Leste. We must always be on our best behaviour and work towards maintaining the respect and trust of the Timorese people and the United Nations.
Let us not forget that all our actions reflect the image of the United Nations and I call on all UN staff members to practice courtesy and respect at all times, including when driving.
Never underestimate the impact we can have on our good relations with the Timorese community, simply be being friendly and courteous while driving. For many Timorese, the only interaction they have with the UN is when a big white car passes them on the street. Don’t waste that opportunity to make a positive impression and help us as a mission have good relations with the community. Little gestures, like a smile and a wave, can make a huge difference.
Many of you may say that the driving conditions here can be challenging, but let us remember that the basic driving rules and concepts of road safety are similar in all countries. Therefore, I call on everyone to respect and practice these rules here in Timor-Leste as we would in our countries of origin or nationality.
Not drinking and driving, not speeding, not cutting-off vehicles, but obeying traffic signals and allowing pedestrians to cross the streets, are just some examples of road safety rules that if followed could make a difference, not only in the perception given when big UN cars drive by, but in ensuring that our lives and the lives of others are not compromised.
Since 1 March 2007, there have been over 80 traffic accidents where UNMIT vehicles were the only vehicles involved. The frequency of accidents has been increasing significantly.
More recently – yesterday – UN Security conducted a Joint Operation from 0100 to 0400, where checkpoints were established in the vicinity of ‘Pig Bridge and Dili 2001.’ During this three-hour time frame:
26 UN vehicles were stopped
Four UN staff members tested positive to a breath test. One refused to take the test.
Three vehicles and two weapons were impounded.
Seven non-UN staff members were being carried in UN vehicles in violation of regulations.

Yesterday’s operation was set-up following an incident that took place at 1.35 a.m. on Saturday morning when a UN staff member was stopped because of erratic driving. This staff member, who was pronounced drunk, also assaulted the police.
Yesterday at 3.30 in the morning, another accident took place near Hatuberiku, where six Portuguese teachers and 1 Timorese national were injured. The fact that this was a vehicle travelling on its own greatly contributed to the delay in reaching the injured persons. Yesterday’s accident reinforces the need to conform with the rule for two vehicles to travel together on roads that have not been approved for single vehicle use.
I am shocked and distressed by these developments.
These numbers reveal the high volume of accidents involving UN staff. Let us work together to reduce these numbers and to set an example of proper road safety behaviour.
Thank you.

All great sentiments.
Now, when is the SRSG going to deal with the issue of armed UN personnel drinking alcohol in the various ‘de-stressing’ establishments here? I personally have nothing against alcohol, in fact I am known as a bit of a connoisseur of the distilled liquid. But I do object to being in a bar with someone who has a gun on their hip and a beer in their hand. (see UNPOLs post, 12 February 2007)
There, that’s got that off my chest…….


Anonymous said...

Good on ya! You have just said what most "guests" would not care to admit.

The fact is that most (not all) foreigners who are in Timor working for the UN have a superiority complex and look down on the locals.
That is not helped by the fact that UN staff enjoy immunity from any wrongdoing in Timor.
There are quite a few past cases of local pedestrians being runover and killed by UN personnel who got away with impunity.

Your honesty is commendable and I hope your calls are heeded.

Heather W. said...

One particularly memorable bit of our trip last August was being nearly run down by some Portuguese troops in an armored vehicle while trying to cross a small bridge in your truck. (Thank God you keep your brakes in working order!)

I also heard stories of UN staff who didn't actually know how to drive being issued cars.

The behavior is inexcusable. And then to imagine them hanging around drinking AND armed. Glad I'm not in charge of enforcing "zero" tolerance.