Tue, Jun 21, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Rape scandal of UN peacekeepers
festers as reports of abuse grow

An external panel appointed last year by the UN secretary-general issued a report that accused some UN officials of obstructing an investigation and focusing on punishing a whistle-blower, adding that a child sexual abuse report went ‘from desk to desk, inbox to inbox’

By Kambiz Foroohar  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Mountain people

One night in August last year, as the Central African Republic was gripped by a conflict between Christian and Muslim groups, UN peacekeeping troops descended on an enclave in search of a suspect. One of the peacekeepers is accused of taking a 12-year-old girl behind a truck and raping her.

“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told Amnesty International.

It was hardly the only act of brutality by peacekeepers in the world’s poorest nations. There were 99 allegations of sexual abuse against UN staff last year, a 25 percent increase from 2014, affecting peacekeeping operations in nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Haiti, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali and Sudan.

Vulnerable civilians in armed conflict have long been victims of abusive soldiers. However, 104,000 blue-helmeted troops now deployed are sent by more than a dozen nations to protect people. Their repeated failures are looming over the UN as it chooses a new leader and tarnishing the legacy of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is ending his decade-long tenure amid accusations that he has not taken the issue seriously.

“For 10 years, the secretary-general has been happy to sweep all of these allegations under the carpet, but this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ strategy has broken down before he reached the end of his term,” former UN investigator Peter Gallo said. “The organization’s manifest failure is to properly investigate any form of wrongdoing.”

Ban’s office denies the accusations — the secretary-general was “shocked to the core” by the abuse, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding that Ban has moved aggressively. In April, the UN announced an investigation of allegations that peacekeepers from at least three nations had abused more than 100 girls in the Central African Republic, where the World Bank said nearly half the population of about 5 million needs humanitarian aid.

However, damaging accounts keep surfacing, not only of abuse, but of failure to investigate and act. Internal UN documents, leaked by advocacy group, AIDS-Free World, include an episode in 2014 in which French troops were said to have forced four girls to perform obscene acts for a few US dollars.

Last week, Anders Kompass, a senior UN official who had tried to expose earlier sexual abuse of children by French and African troops, resigned in frustration.

Kompass said he was horrified by “the complete impunity for those who have been found to have, in various degrees, abused their authority.”

“This makes it impossible for me to continue working there,” he told IRIN news service.

US Republican Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, called Kompass’ resignation “a damning indictment of the leadership at the United Nations that has failed to end the horrific sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, and protect those who report wrongdoing.”

Ban’s successor must make fixing the problem a high priority, said Richard Gowan, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

UN officials have been publicly interviewing more than a dozen potential successors to Ban, with a final selection expected in October. All have said they would work to end the mistreatment.

“There are too many stories of sexual abuse by peacekeepers and too little evidence of operations succeeding,” Gowan said. “The next secretary-general will need a plan both to clean up peacekeeping and give it a greater sense of strategic purpose.”

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