Few Governments Answer UN Queries on Peacekeeper Scandals
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 5, 2010 (IPS) - As the U.N. investigates new allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most troop contributing countries continue to evade accounting for how they handle disciplinary actions.
A senior U.N. official who asked for anonymity told IPS, "Although there have been statistical reductions in the number of allegations, sexual abuse involving peacekeepers is still rampant, despite pronouncements that they have been curbed."
In DR Congo, two peacekeepers – reportedly an Indian and a Tunisian – have been accused of sexual abuse, although their identities and the specifics of the cases are protected under the U.N.'s confidentiality policy.
According to the United Nations Conduct and Disciplinary Unit, of the 45 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against U.N. peacekeepers brought in the first six months of this year, 18 involved minors.
The charges were reported to the 39 troop contributing countries. However, only 13 governments have responded to the U.N. regarding their progress in investigating the charges and taking action, according to the New York Times.
This figure is in line with the numbers from previous years: in 2009, the U.N. sent 82 requests for information on actions taken by national authorities concerning misconduct related to sexual exploitation and abuse, and received 14 responses.
In 2008, the U.N. sent 69 such requests and received eight responses on action taken, while in 2007, 67 requests were made and 23 responses received.
"The U.N. cannot tackle this issue alone," Anayansi Lopez of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), told IPS. "It needs the full support of all member states to ensure that zero tolerance is a reality."
Currently, there are about 124,000 peacekeepers deployed around the globe, Lopez said.
"While allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse have decreased from 357 in 2006 to 112 in 2009, one case is one too many, and the U.N. is making every effort to target this issue," she told IPS. "In 2008, there were 83 such allegations, following 127 allegations in 2007."
However, according to the senior U.N. official, not only are the allegations "a blemish on peacekeeping operations… there could be hundreds more that have been undocumented primarily due to the remote locations of the operations."
Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel first came to light in the 1990s in the Balkans, Cambodia and Timor Leste, and in West Africa in 2002 and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2004.
Official reports publicly surfaced in 2004, with the U.N. mission in DR Congo the first to be singled out followed by Haiti, Liberia and other peacekeeping missions around the world.
In DR Congo, approximately 150 allegations were filed against U.N. troops. The offences – some of which were captured on videotape – included pedophilia, rape, and prostitution, according to a classified U.N. report that was obtained by the Washington Post.
Yet comprehensive record-keeping and data tracking of such allegations and subsequent actions did not begin until 2006, Lopez told IPS. This left an approximately decade-long delay in formally tracking the allegations.
One year later, in 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that in Haiti, "girls as young as 13 were having sex with U.N. peacekeepers for as little as one dollar".
Some 114 Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti were removed from their posts after those allegations surfaced.
Palitha T.B. Kohona, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the U.N., told IPS, "It is noted that the U.N. considers Sri Lanka's reaction to the allegations as an exemplary case where a national government has taken serious measures in response to allegations of sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers. Sri Lanka has a firm policy of not tolerating any infractions of U.N. standards by its peacekeeping troops."
In July 2008, the Department of Field Support launched the Misconduct Tracking System, a global database and confidential tracking system for all allegations of misconduct.
Lopez told IPS the examples of action taken by the U.N. include demotion, termination of contract, and referral to local authorities or national governments for further action. Military contingents deployed on peacekeeping missions remain under the exclusive jurisdiction of their own government.
In December 2007, the General Assembly adopted a Resolution on Criminal Accountability of United Nations Officials and Experts on Missions to address the extension of national jurisdiction by member states to cover criminal misconduct of U.N. officials or experts on mission.
However, a high-level source told IPS, "Sierra Leonean and Sri Lankan efforts are the only serious responses to these allegations that are publically known. Most member states lack sincere commitment to eradicate sexual exploitation and abuse as evident by their actions."
The U.N. has a three-pronged strategy to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse: prevention of misconduct, enforcement of U.N. standards of conduct and remedial action.
Last month, Under-Secretary-General Susanna Malcorra from the Global Field Support office of DPKO discussed the revision of support strategy in terms of procedure and financing. Her discussion did not include procedures to address the allegations.
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