The accusations are sickening — so why did it take the London newspaper, Daily Telegraph, six months to publish them?Â Were they waiting for Kofi Annan to leave?Â Were they making sure their own investigative reporting was complete and correct?
The accusations were published in the article UN staff accused of raping children in Sudan, written byÂ Kate Holt in Juba and Sarah Hughes – Last Updated: 12:27pm GMT 03/01/2007
The Daily TelegraphÂ reports that: “The abuse allegedly began two years ago when the UN mission in southern Sudan (UNMIS) moved in to help rebuild the region after a 23-year civil war. The UN has up to 10,000 military personnel in the region, of all nationalities and the allegations involve peacekeepers, military police and civilian staff.Â The first indications of sexual exploitation emerged within months of the UN forceâ€™s arrival and The Daily Telegraph has seen a draft of an internal report compiled by the UN childrenâ€™s agency Unicef in July 2005 detailing the problem.Â In a six-month investigation, Kate Holt gathered more than 20 victimsâ€™ accounts claiming that peacekeeping and civilian staff based in the town are regularly picking up young children in their UN vehicles and forcing them to have sex. It is thought that hundreds of children may have been abused”
What?Â UNICEFÂ has known about it for a year and a half?Â
Hang on for a minute, and let’s go back to the UN itself.Â Â
The Daily Telegraph says that “Responding to the report, Jane Holl Lute, the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said: ‘There could be truth. These environments are ones in which it is difficult to ascertain the truth…I do not believe these are new allegations. Nevertheless, we will treat them as seriously as we treat all other allegations,’ she told the Associated Press in New York.Â She said she had spoken to the force commander and chief of staff in the UN mission in southern Sudan ‘and I know they are very well briefed on what UN policy is and have taken steps to implement that policy across the board in that mission…But we donâ€™t have the facts yet in this case, and we need to ascertain the facts and follow it through to appropriate resolution and take action if necessary.Â We wonâ€™t be complacent and there will be no impunity to the full extent of the UNâ€™s authority’.â€
Of course, that is a pretty big qualification — the UN actually says it has little or no authority over its peacekeeping troops, because they are not, technically, UN staff members.Â Peacekeepers are provided by their own national governments and are not subject to UN disciplinary procedures, nor, by agreementsÂ (yes, worked out by the UN)Â with the countries in which the troops are deployed,Â are they subject to prosecution in the “host countries”.Â The UN says all it can do is to send any miscreants home, and hope they will be punished there.Â Until now, that has not really happened.Â
That is, they haven’t been punished — though some, a few, have been sent home.Â The UN spokesperson said on Tuesday that four UN Peacekeepers have been sent home already from southern Sudan; on Wednesday, she said that these four UN Peacekeepers were from Bangladesh, and they were sent home months ago.Â
It seems to be taking the new SG’s team, which has only been in place for four days, some timeÂ to read in on this issue.Â The UN spokeswoman also said on Wednesday that ” As of today, there are 13 ongoing investigations regarding allegations of serious misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, she saidÂ Â A UN team ‘that has been working on these matters’ has been in Sudan since February 2006.Â Asked whether the cases being investigated were the same as those reported in the Daily Telegraph, the Spokeswoman said that would need to be determined. The cases that the United Nations is studying date back to 2005. She noted that the Telegraph article had mentioned one nightclub that has for months been a ‘no go’ area for UN personnel.”
The UN, however, could threaten to send back a whole national contingent, if its members were accused of sexual abuse, couldn’t it?Â Countries are dependent on the UN allowances, paid by special assessments to Member States, to governments which contribute troops and other force participants to a UN Peackeeping operation.Â Â They might respond to a threat to cut off their allowances (daily, deployment, and more…)
UN Watch, an NGO established by a former U.S. Ambassador in Geneva in 1993 with the primary purpose of watching out for what the UN does regarding Israel, today called on BAN KI-MOON and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to establishÂ an international inquiry into the allegations reported by the Daily Telegraph:Â “UN Watch has been one of the leading non-governmental organizations urging the Human Rights Council to take action against Sudan’s atrocities in Darfur. We represented the largest NGO coalition at the recent special Council session on Darfur and played a similar leading role in other UN human rights forums. It was UN Watch’s intervention that led the UN Working Group on Minorities to hold Sudan to account in its report last year… We were shocked to read of the allegationsâ€”detailed in a 2005 internal UNICEF report and corroborated by evidence gathered by the Daily Telegraph and NGOs in the regionâ€”that, since they were deployed two years ago, UN peacekeepers in Southern Sudan have regularly been sexually abusing children who already have suffered so much in the recent civil war. In our advocacy, we have consistently argued for UN intervention to protect civilians in Darfur from the horror of mass rapes, killings and displacement. We continue to believe that an international force in the western region of Sudan will bring far more help than harm to that region’s victims.Â But unless the UN takes immediate, firm and sustained action against the reported abuses by its personnel in other regions of Sudanâ€”and indeed around the worldâ€”we fear that today’s allegations will pose a setback to this effort.Â Last month, former Secretary-General Annan said there would be ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers. Yet in the case of the current allegations, this appears not to have been the case.Â The Daily Telegraph reports that the UN has known about the problems in Southern Sudan for more than a year but has not taken action… Leading experts and NGOs such as Refugees International believe that sexual abuse by peacekeepers of young victims is occurring in almost every UN mission around the globe, including in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Despite allegations of widespread abuse, however, out of approximately 100,000 UN peacekeepers, the UN itself admitted to having knowledge of only two examples of sex offenders being sent to jail (BBC News, December 1, 2006). This shocking failure to take meaningful action against abusers creates a culture of impunity that can be tolerated no longer.Â We welcome yesterday’s announcement by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute that the current allegations would be investigated â€” but a business-as-usual investigation is simply not enough…We propose the following:
â€¢Â A high-level investigation led by a team of major international figures with full independent powers to collect and examine information and to prosecute sexual abuse by peacekeepers as well other UN officials.
â€¢Â Additionally, the inquiry should follow the chain of responsibility and examine UN officials who were obliged to but failed to take action to prevent such crimes.
â€¢Â The inquiry panel should include respected authorities on international law and women’s and children’s rightsâ€”people such as Justice Richard J. Goldstone of South Africa, former member of the Volcker Commission on the Iraq Oil for Food program, and University of Michigan law professor Catherine A. Mackinnon, an expert who has successfully litigated on behalf of Bosnian women victims of sexual abuse.
â€¢Â Separate and additional to the above, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is responsible for mainstreaming human rights within the UN system, should strongly condemn these abuses, and conduct her own investigation in the region to determine how her office can assist in preventing future cases of UN peacekeeper sexual abuse.”
Are we to understand from this, by the way, that UN Watch knew about the UNICEF internal report on this situation, prepared in 2005???
This story has another dimension, however, and it is alluded toÂ in the letter from UN WatchÂ — the government of Sudan is being pressured to accept large UN participation in a “hybrid” force with African Union forces in Darfur, though the government is apparently still reluctant to go through with the deal.Â
The Daily Telegraph reports, in this story of sexual abuse in southern Sudan, that “The UN is pushing to be allowed to launch a new peacekeeping mission there to help end the humanitarian crisis that has spiralled in recent years. The Telegraph understands that the Sudanese government, which is deeply opposed to the deployment of UN troops to Darfur, has also gathered evidence, including video footage of Bangladeshi UN workers having sex with three young girls.”
The Daily Telegraph includes some pompous, ridiculous,Â very unbecoming, and utterly reprehensibleÂ comments made by a UN official to their reporter “on the ground” — admittedly, made six months back, in May: “The British regional co-ordinator for UNMIS, James Ellery, has refuted the claims, arguing that there is no substantiating evidence.Â ‘I will refute all claims made on this issue,’ he said in an interview last May. ‘We investigated all allegations made and no evidence was forthcoming. None of these claims can be substantiated. This is the most backward country in Africa and there are lots of misunderstandings as to the UN’s role. Over 90 per cent of people here are illiterate and rumours therefore spread very quickly.’
Mr Ellery insisted that his organisation was following correct codes of conduct.
‘We provide regular briefings on the UN code of conduct. Nobody employed by the UN is meant to have sexual contact at all with any local person,’ he said.Â He did, however, appear to acknowledge that the organisation might not be able to ensure that all its staff behave according to standards.
‘We are applying a standard of morality that is very, very high but we cannot expect that soldiers when they go abroad are going to behave themselves as we think they should.Â [what?] There are a wide range of countries being represented in the UN forces and among these there is always going to be a bad apple’.”Â
The local government does not look too good, either, in this report: “The Daily Telegraph has learned that a number of complaints have been made about the behaviour of UN personnel stationed in Juba. Yet those accused have not been tracked down nor has there been any attempt by the UN or local officials to interview those making the accusations.Â The fledging government of southern Sudan is believed to be too concerned to maintain good relations with the UN to challenge the organisation… Juba’s county court judge, Ali Said, said that the region had seen an increase in child prostitution since the UN arrived.Â ‘The majority of people working for the UN and NGOs are men and need to be entertained. But no cases have come to court,’ he said.Â ttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml
Coming back to UNICEF, the report goes on to say that “An unfinished copy of the internal Unicef report, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows that the UN has been aware of the problem for more than a year.Â ‘Evidence suggests that UNMIS staff may already be involved in sexual exploitation,’ the report says. ‘UN cars have been staying into the early hours of the morning, as late as 6am, at a restaurant/disco called Kololo in Juba â€¦ adult informants reported seeing a UNMIS car stop along a main road in Juba to pick up three young girls’.”
UNICEF is part of the UN system, but it is also a separate agency, funded not by the UN budget but by its own solicited contributions from individuals and donor countries (remember the UNICEF greeting cards?Â And the Halloween trick-or-treat collections?)Â Because of its dependence on donations, which depend to large extent on publicity, generated by news stories, UNICEF is seen by other organizations as elbowing competitors to take credit for this or that success, in many humanitarian operations.Â So, why did it sit on these accusations, when it could have trumpeted its efforts to protect mothers and children?Â Perhaps to protect its position in a UN-led operation?
A separate editorial in today’s Daily Telegraph says “Yet again, the UN shows itself unfit for purpose“: “It wouldn’t be the first time. If UN personnel have, as alleged, been molesting children in southern Sudan, they will be following in a long tradition of abuse. Around the world, UN officials have run smuggling and prostitution rings, stolen and sold supplies, and traded food for sex. Sometimes, the racket becomes institutionalised, as when UN contractors collaborated with Ba’athists on the oil-for-food boondoggle. More often, the organisation is greedy and self-serving, but stops short of outright corruption… The reason that the UN so often behaves badly is, paradoxically, because so many people wish it well. Because the organisation embodies the loftiest of ideals â€“ peace among nations â€“ it tends to receive the automatic benefit of the doubt. We are so fond of the theoretical UN that we rarely drag our gaze down to the actual one. The UN has therefore fallen out of the habit of having to explain itself and, in consequence, become flabby, immobilist and often sleazy…If that criticism sounds too harsh, consider its record since the end of the Cold War â€“ the period in which it might have been expected to come into its own. In Bosnia, it was worse than useless. Uselessness would have meant doing nothing. Instead, the UN imposed an arms embargo that favoured one side over the other, herded the losers into notionally protected areas, disarmed them and then handed them over for execution. In Rwanda, when the UN commander on the ground informed his superiors that a mass slaughter was planned, and that he intended to forestall it by seizing the weapons caches, he was told to do no such thing.Â This same combination of being notionally present but practically absent seems to be repeating itself in Darfur today. For the truth is that the UN is structurally flawed: its nature ensures that it is run by careerists whose chief motive is to avoid taking responsibility…Faced with such criticisms, the UN’s defenders trot out the old clichÃ© that if the UN didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it. But is this really true? It is certainly useful to have a forum to arbitrate disputes among states: something that has existed, formally or informally, since the days of the Concert of Europe. But do we really need the large, expensive, unaccountable bureaucracies that come with it? The UN should do less, and do it better.”Â http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/01/03/dl0301.xml
These words echo sentiments expressed by BAN KI-MOON and his aides over the past few days — his spokesperson, Michele Montas, said in aÂ UN Radio interview on Tuesday thatÂ “the Secretary-General told her reform is a key priority. ‘He wants a more efficient and lean machine, something that can be more able to face the challenges of today â€“ and these challenges are many’…She added that he is seeking to cut red tape. ‘He wants less bureaucracy and he wants to simplify the way we do business at the UN to be able to be more efficient’.”
These are fine ambitions, but what they will mean in practice is something else.Â
Unfortunately, the UN Administration’s record is all-too-poor on such matters.Â Instead of offending the troop contributing countries — over which the UN says it has no power [blame the Member States, not the Organization — a constant refrain of the UN Secretariat], they will punish the UN staff.Â Of course, if a UN staff member has sexually abused anyone, he or she should be punished.Â But that’s not how the UN operates, unfortunately.Â The UN is unfairly and unjustly pursuing ridulously trumped-up charges againstÂ lower-ranking staff members [more to come in future].Â The UN is doing what it usually does, piling onto the least powerful target around, and then claiming victory.Â
One proposal now under consideration, courtesy of Prince Zeid Al-Hassan, Jordan’s outgoing UN Ambassador, who was also Kofi Annan’s special Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operaions (Jordan is a major troop-contributing country), is to collect DNA samples from men and women (these are not troops, but civilians) being sent on peacekeeping missions.Â The DNA samples are to be returned to these personnel once they return from the field!Â
[It should also be noted that the UN rarely sends experienced core staff on these missions — their supervisors often resist sending them.Â The result is that persons having litle or no experience with, or knowledge of, the UN are sent to remote and difficult locations on critical peacekeeping missions with inadequate or non-existant administrative and other support from headquarters.]
One other reflection — Jane Holl Lute, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, is a former U.S. Army officer.Â Â It has always seemed more than a little cynical to have hire this experienced female military officer to deal with these problems — with little support from the rest of the Organization, it is clear.Â She was added to a Department which already had one Assistant Secretary-General, Hedi Annabi from Tunisia, who apparently deals only with the more prestigious and sensitive political questions, but doesn’t get his hands or collar dirty with mattersÂ like this.Â Now, the lounge lizards will be whispering with barely disguised glee that even the Americans could not deal with this issue.Â Â This factor takes on added significance now, as the U.S. has been signaling for monthsÂ that it would like to have an American in the top job, as Under-Secretary-General, in the Department for Peacekeeping Operations — and, with BAN KI-MOON taking office, it’s now decision-time.
The Associated Press (AP) reported later, picking up on the Daily Telegraph story, that “U.N. policy prohibits all U.N. staff from engaging in sexual exploitation, abuse or prostitution.Â Lute, who served in the U.S. Army for 16 years, stressed that the U.N. has instituted a series of measures in terms of training, clarifying standards and reinforcing messages against sexual abuse.Â But she said vigilance on this matter has to be ‘a constant factor of life when you’re rotating through 200,000 troops in as diverse environments as we do’.”
No matter how you look at it, however, dismissing these accusations as the work of only a few “bad apples”, or as something bound to happen when you’re rotating 200,000 troops over whom you have no real control, is just not good enough.
At the daily UN Noon Briefing at UNHQ/NY on Wednesday, spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists that: “We are deeply concerned by press reports of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Juba. The UN standard on this issue is clearâ€”zero tolerance, meaning zero complacency and zero impunity. In cooperation with the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), we are looking into the substance of the press reports to determine if the allegations are new or are existing cases already under investigation.Â Â It is the UNâ€™s policy to treat credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse as serious offences to be investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). OIOS has a team permanently based in Sudan which investigates all allegations of abuse. Over the past year, as a result of UN investigations four UNMIS peacekeepers have already been repatriated. The United Nations is working closely with local authorities and all operational partners including our troop contributing countries to ensure that UN personnel adhere to the highest standards of accountability…Asked whether the Secretary-General had contacted UNICEF about its information on the allegations, Montas said that UNICEFâ€™s report was not on sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers, but rather those committed by Sudanese forces. [n.b. This seems to beÂ belied by the quotations from theÂ unpublished UNICEF report cited in the Daily Telegraph story, andÂ mentioned above — it’s only Michele’s second day on the job!]Â Asked whether the allegations would complicate UN efforts in Darfur, the Spokeswoman said that was an underlying concern.”
Later in the day, the UN News Centre (under the auspices of the Under-Secretary-General for “Strategic Communications”) beefed up the institutional response with these details:Â “The problem of sexual abuse and exploitation by blue helmets surfaced in 2004, when a UN report found that a ‘shockingly large number’ of peacekeepers had engaged in such practices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with payments for sex sometimes ranging from two eggs to $5 per encounter. The victims included many abandoned orphans who were often illiterate.Â The UN responded with forceful policy decisions and disciplinary action. By the end of last November, 319 peacekeeping personnel in all missions had been investigated. These probes resulted in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation on disciplinary grounds of 17 police and 144 military personnel.” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=21152&Cr=sudan&Cr1=
(It should beÂ noted, however, that only the civilians — who will have been given contracts as UN staff members — have been really punished, with summary dismissal, while the police and military personnel haveÂ just been repatriated — which is probably not too much of a punishment by comparison with serving in a conflict zone”.)Â
It is curious how this story is being ignored by some other media.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Reuters News agency reported that “Sudan on Thursday described the alleged sexual abuse of children by U.N. peacekeepers in south Sudan as ‘outrageous” and said it would launch its own investigation into the affair.Â ‘We are very concerned. It is outrageous,” foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig told Reuters.Â ‘If anyone has committed such crimes they should face the full weight of the law,’ he added.Â He said the Khartoum government would launch an investigation into the matter.Â Any U.N. personnel found guilty of such crimes would be dealt with by the United Nations and not under Sudanese law…Asked if the sex abuse allegations would affect Khartoum’s decision on allowing U.N. troops in Darfur, al Sadig said: ”This is exactly why we are so concerned.”