Governments Evade UN Queries on Allegations of Sexual Abuses by Peacekeepers

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.

The year so far…
• Out of the 45 allegations reported for the first half of 2010, 39 are pending and 4 have been substantiated.
• Out of those 45 allegations, 19 involve adults, 18 involve minors, and 8 are unidentified.
• From 2007 to June 2010, there have been a total of 346 allegations against civilian, military and police personnel.
• From 2007 to June 2010, there have been a total of 257 follow-ups with member states, but there have only been 58 total responses.

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.

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.

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.

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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