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UN shame over sex scandal

The international organisation says that almost 200 of its peacekeepers around the world have been disciplined for sex offences - including rape and child abuse - but not one seems to have been prosecuted

Francis Elliott,Ruth Elkins
Sunday 07 January 2007 01:00 GMT

Nearly 200 United Nations peacekeepers have been disciplined in the past three years for sex offences ranging from rape to assaults on minors, the UN has admitted. Yet none appears to have been prosecuted.

Senior UN officials said on Friday that 319 soldiers, police or civilians serving on missions have been investigated for sexual misconduct over the past three years, and 180 have been dismissed or repatriated.

These numbers do not include allegations levelled at members of the UN's own staff. According to an internal UN report, these total 91, including 13 alleged to have had sex with minors, 15 who gave jobs in return for sex, 17 who had sex with prostitutes, five who face allegations of rape and one person who is alleged to have committed sexual assault.

The internal report, which was published in May last year, presents data on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse within the UN system between January and December 2006. It also says that 40 UN staff were alleged to have carried out other forms of sexual abuse.

Presenting the figures about the 319 personnel investigated, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jane Holl Lute, said that the inquiries had resulted in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians, and the repatriation of 17 international police and 144 military personnel. However, she did not cite any prosecutions.

According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, during the first 10 months of 2006, 63 per cent of misconduct allegations involving peacekeeping personnel related to sexual exploitation and abuse, a third involving prostitution. A new anti-prostitution campaign is about to start, "to target what has been a troubling pathway for sexual exploitation and abuse in the missions", Ms Lute said.

With nearly 200,000 people from more than 100 countries rotating through the peacekeeping missions every year, some people "are going to behave badly", she told a news conference. "What's different now is... our determination to stay with this problem... and constantly improve our ability to deal with it."

The issue of sexual offences committed by UN personnel made headlines around the world with claims in early 2005 that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money. Jordan's UN ambassador, Prince Zeid al-Hussein, wrote a report several months later that described the UN military arm as deeply flawed. It recommended withholding the salaries of the guilty and requiring nations to pursue legal action against perpetrators. It said abuses had been reported in missions ranging from Bosnia and Kosovo to Cambodia, East Timor, West Africa and Congo.

The UN peacekeeping department instituted a new code of conduct for peacekeepers and new training for officers and all UN personnel, and it reinforced messages of "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse. The Peacekeeping Department said in a memo: "In an environment where around a third of civilians in missions are new at any one time and contingent members change every six months, there is a constant need for vigilance and particularly training on standards of conduct."

But serious allegations continue to surface in many places where UN peacekeepers work. Investigations last year by the BBC claimed that children had also been subjected to rape and prostitution by UN peacekeepers in Haiti and Liberia as far back as 2004.

In one case, an 11-year-old girl told of sexual abuse by peacekeepers outside the gates of the presidential palace in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. A 14-year-old girl interviewed by the BBC described how she was abducted and raped inside a UN naval base in Haiti in 2004. The UN dismissed the allegation due to lack of evidence, and the alleged attacker was allowed to return to his home country.

In May 2006, another BBC investigation discovered systematic abuse in Liberia. Food, it was claimed, had been given out to teenage refugees by UN peacekeepers in return for sex.

A French UN logistics expert based in Congo was found to have shot pornographic videos and was about to rape a 12-year-old girl when police raided his home there in December 2004. UN staffers from Morocco were found to have made 82 local women and girls pregnant, according to a report by one international group in 2004. The same year, it was reported that another UN soldier accused of rape there was apparently hidden in the barracks for a year. UN insiders also told in 2004 of two Russian pilots who had paid young girls with jars of mayonnaise and jam to have sex with them.

Last week, a new case emerged, in Sudan. Children as young as 12 were systematically forced to have sex with at least four Bangladeshi peacekeepers in the town of Juba, in south Sudan, for 18 months despite complaints to senior officers.

According to one newspaper investigation, peacekeeping and civilian staff based in Juba are regularly picking up children using their UN vehicles and offering them money in return for sex. "A man in a white car drove past, I saw that it was a UN car because it was white with black letters on it," a 14-year-old boy called Jonas told The Daily Telegraph. "The man had a badge on his clothes. When he stopped the car, we got out, he put a blindfold on me and started to abuse me. It was very painful and went on for a long time. When it was over, we went back to the place we had been and he pushed me out of the car and left."

On the Sudanese case, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations corrected information it had supplied last week that four UN peacekeepers from Bangladesh had been sent home and 13 other peacekeepers serving in southern Sudan were under investigation for alleged serious misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the department, there are currently 13 sexual exploitation and abuse cases under investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services in Sudan (OIOS), half in southern Sudan.

These cases include an investigation into an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse in June 2006 against a Bangladeshi peacekeeper in southern Sudan. While the OIOS investigation is continuing, the department said the peacekeeper was sent home and dismissed from the army.

In addition, three Bangladeshi guards on duty when the alleged incident took place, and two officers, were repatriated for poor supervision or poor command. The Bangladeshi army dismissed one guard, lowered the rank of the two others, and severely reprimanded the two officers, the Peacekeeping Department said.

Prosecutions of peacekeepers are rare. Under UN regulations, servicemen and women can only be prosecuted in their home countries, not in the country where they are serving. In 1997, a military court sentenced two Belgian paratroopers to a month in jail and a £200 fine for roasting a Somali boy over a brazier. Another Belgian soldier is reported to have forced a young Somali boy to eat pork, drink salt water and then eat his own vomit. Pictures also appeared in the 1990s of Italian soldiers abusing and raping a Somali girl.

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