Annan backs tougher line on UN sex abuse

Kofi Annan has endorsed proposals to crack down on peacekeepers sexually exploiting civilians while on missions abroad by vigorously prosecuting them, docking their pay and subjecting them to DNA testing.

The measures were submitted to the UN secretary general yesterday in a 41-page report by the Jordan's ambassador to the UN, Prince Zeid al-Hussein. The document offers a disturbing assessment of lapses in discipline and ethics among blue-helmet soldiers.

Already rocked by the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, the UN has been scrambling to react to allegations that surfaced last year of about 150 instances of sexual abuse against women and girls, sometimes as young as 12, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel must first be eliminated and then prevented from happening again," Mr Annan said. The reputation of the UN's blue helmets has been "clouded by the unconscionable conduct of a few individuals".

The report, to be considered soon by UN member states and the General Assembly, says a new UN authority will investigate future claims of abuse and ensure accused soldiers are prosecuted in the countries where they were deployed.

Prince Zeid says punishments should include docking pay from soldiers and UN staff found guilty of abuse and that the money be paid into a fund set up to give financial assistance to the victims. In cases where women are left bearing "UN babies", DNA testing would begin to identify fathers and make them give support.

"There is a need to try to ensure that the fathers, who can be identified, perhaps through blood or DNA testing, bear some financial responsibility for their actions," the report said.

The allegations in Congo, first revealed by The Independent, sent shock waves through the UN. Tales emerged of peacekeepers soliciting sex in exchange for food, favours and money, perhaps as little as one dollar. Yesterday's report noted similar problems in recent years in Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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