UN told it ignored years of abuse by peacekeepers

31 May 2005 22:09:46 GMT
By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, May 31 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned for the first time sexual abuse among peacekeepers after being told U.N. members ignored such exploitation for decades, fearing exposure of their own soldiers' wrongdoing.

The United Nations has accused peacekeepers and civilian staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo of rape, pedophilia, and enticing hungry children with food or money in exchange for sex. Sexual abuse on a smaller scale was discovered in other missions.

A U.S.-drafted statement read at a formal meeting urged all nations to adopt recent proposals by a U.N. inquiry to end and prevent sexual abuse. But it says the countries contributing troops have primary responsibility for the conduct of their soldiers.

"The Security Council condemns in the strongest terms, all acts of sexual abuse and exploitation committed by U.N. peacekeeping personnel, the council's statement said. "The distinguished and honorable record of accomplishment in U.N. peacekeeping is being tarnished by the acts of a few individuals."

Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, who investigated the abuse and made extensive recommendations in March, told the council that embarrassment and pride prevented the exposure of abuse in past years.

"We, the member states, have refrained, from opening up this subject to public discourse over the last 60 years (because) sentiments of pride, mixed in with a deep sense of embarrassment, have often produced in us only outright denials," Zeid told the council.

"And yet almost all countries that have participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations have, at one stage or another, had some reason to feel deeply ashamed over the activities of some of their peacekeepers," Zeid said.

Since December 2004, 117 soldiers, 32 civilians and three U.N. police have been investigated. Five U.N. staff have been dismissed, nine more are undergoing a disciplinary process and four have been cleared, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, told the council.

In addition, 77 military and two policemen had been sent home, including six military commanders, he said. The United Nations has 17 peacekeeping missions with 66,500 personnel at a cost of more than $4 billion annually.

Guehenno said the problem of exploitation and abuse was likely "to look worse before it looks better" because victims were now more likely to come forward.

He said areas frequented by prostitutes had been declared off-limits to missions in the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia, Kosovo and East Timor as well as the Congo. But only in Congo are soldiers forbidden to fraternize with the local population.

Zeid estimated it would take two years to put most of his recommendations in place and a legal team was studying "complex issues" of immunities for U.N. staff and what do do when "they commit "frightful offenses, such as murder."

Among other recommendations, Zeid has proposed conducting trials in the country where the abuse took place so victims could testify. He said soldiers' pay should be docked and a fund set up for any women they impregnated.

The council's statement, responsible for peacekeeping mandates, asks Secretary-General Kofi Annan to include in his reports a summary of the "preventable measures taken to implement a zero-tolerance policy." It also asks him to report the outcome of "actions taken against personnel found culpable for sexual exploitation and abuse."

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