“The situation…inÂ Palestine and Israel is a particularly difficult one. It is something that we are all struggling with today. Lots of initiatives are being discussed now. You noticed that not long ago, the Prime Minister of Spain, the President of France and the Prime Minister of Italy, I think, came up with an initiative suggesting an international conference. There are other suggestions being made to try and find a way out of this. I myself, when I came back from the region last summer after the Lebanese war, indicated that what happened in Lebanon was a wake-up call and that we need to move very quickly as an international community to try and stabilize the situation in Lebanon and move on to resolve their relations with Israel, [and] look at the comprehensive peace in Lebanon, in Syria, and with Palestine. I think in the coming months or years, you’re going to see a very active action on this. No one is satisfied with the status quo, nor should be.” – remark made in a press conference in Geneva on 21 November.Â http://www.un.org/apps/sg/offthecuff.asp?nid=952Â
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who recently visited Haiti, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 29 November that although more is being said about violations of civil and political rights, such as arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions, the general population lives in extreme poverty, and suffers from equally severe violations of their economic and social rights.
Children are often targets of violence, the High Commissioner said, and there is a big problem with access to adequate education and health care.
Minors who come in conflict with the law are most harshly affected by the general dysfunction and the many weaknesses of the judicial and detention systems in Haiti. The Government, she said, told her it needed more help from the international community to address these issues.
The High Commissionerâ€™s remarks took on a sharp edge a day later, with the BBC World Serviceâ€™s Mike Williams reporting from Port au Prince that fresh allegations of the sexual abuse of children by United Nations peacekeepers have been uncovered.
In the BBC report, broadcast on 30 November, Mike Williams said that there are some 9000 Blue Helmeted troops in Haiti now, coming from 19 different countries. They come under fire regularly, and a number have been killed. â€œMany of them have come to help. They work hard in dangerous conditions to bring security and aid to the desperate peopleâ€¦Half of the population of Haiti struggle to survive on just a dollar a day and the streets are filled with people selling whatever they can to raise a little cash. At nighttime, those who have nothing to sell, sell themselves. Among the UN soldiers and civilians, they can find willing buyers. One UN official told me that a great many of the girls who work the streets are children and, in the dark streets of the capital Port-au-Prince, we watched UN officials picking up young prostitutes and driving off with themâ€¦â€
He added: â€œI spoke to a 14-year-old girl who told of the peacekeeper who offered her jelly, sweets and a few dollars for sex with her and her friend – a child of just 11 yearsâ€¦Sarah (not her real name) is a fragile looking girl of 16. She says that two years ago, she was raped by a Brazilian soldier serving with the UN mission there. She stared at the ground while we talked and, almost in a whisper, she explained what happened: “He held me down by the arms and held both my wrists, twisting them back and we struggled together. And then he raped me.” Her mother cried while she recalled that day: â€˜When I found her I didn’t recognise my own child,â€™ she says. â€˜She had the face of a dead person – I started to cry out, she couldn’t tell me what had happened.â€™
â€œThe family have been seeking justice from the United Nations but officials at the local UN mission say that justice was done. Three internal inquiries found there was insufficient evidence against the man and he was sent back to his unit in Brazil.
“Soldiers serving with the UN have immunity from local laws and it’s up to their home countries to discipline them. More often than not, they’re simply repatriated and the UN has little information about what, if anything, happens to them thenâ€¦â€
The BBC report included comments from the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jane Holl Lute, who told the BBC that the UN â€œhas a very serious problem. â€˜My operating presumption that this is either an ongoing or potential problem in every single one of our missions,â€™ she says. â€˜All of our missions are in areas that are economically deprived, where societies have been torn by conflict and war, where habits like prostitution of very young children is seen as a matter of course. We need to bring every resource we can to bear to make that not the case when a peacekeeping mission is in placeâ€™â€.
The BBC reported that Ms Lute, a former US Air Force military officer, said â€œâ€™the UN’s inability to impose punishments was a shortcoming in the system and she admitted that the organization does not have a system of justice that everyone would recognize as fair and equitableâ€¦â€™â€
The BBC reported that the UN will be holding a conference on this issue at UNHQ/NY on Monday 4 December, at which officials will hear from victims, NGO workers and researchers in the field.
In his farewell press conference in Geneva on 20 November, UNSG Kofi Annan reflected on this issue: â€œI think I should take this opportunity to address the issue of sexual exploitation which has been written about so extensively. I think in a way, I’m not criticising anyone, but the way they have been written about, I don’t think has been entirely fair to the bold and hardworking peacekeepers, military and civilian, who are deployed around the world to help. As you know, the UN does not have its own army, we borrow the troops from governments, and we borrow them from governments who are willing to give us troops.
â€œSome contingents are much better commanded than others. We have had some problems with some soldiers, and a handful of civilians, some of whom we’ve sacked and some other soldiers we’ve sent back home. But I wish if when one is covering these things, one would say, a contingent from such and such a country, a soldier from such and such a country, has done this or that, not the UN is involved in this. In fact, what is even interesting on two recent incidents, we could not even discipline these, we had to send them for the government concerned to discipline them. We may have eight different contingents in a country, and one contingent, members of one contingent, may commit such a crime. Six or seven others, well commanded, never have any other problems, but we give them the same blanket condemnation – the peacekeepers in Congo. There are some large contingents, extremely well commanded, kept busy, whose troops have never been involved in this. And I don’t think it’s really fair.
So I would urge you, sometimes, if you can, to get into a bit more detail, you know. It also helps us put pressure on the governments concerned to train their soldiers properly to be responsible and also know that we are going to monitor whether they are going to discipline the troops when they are sent home or not. So I am pleading for a bit of fairness.â€
The Secretary-General also told journalists in Geneva that â€œthe peacekeeping operations will continue unfortunately. We would be happy if we did not have any peacekeeping operations because peacekeeping operations and deployment of troops reflects the type of world we live in, the turbulence, the conflicts, and we would much rather be out of business. But unfortunately, the trend is going the other wayâ€
He noted that â€œSome years ago, one thought that UN peacekeeping was on its last legs, after the peak in the nineties when we had about 75,000 troops deployed. We went down drastically to about 10,000 to 15,000. We are now back up to about 90,000, and if all the deployment demanded of us were to go through, including Darfur, we’d probably get to over 120,000-140,000 which is huge for the UN. We are not a big military organization. We backstop and support these operations with a relatively small number of staff. But I was gratified not long ago, and some of you may want to look at it, the Rank Corporation did a study indicating that the UN does peacekeeping operations better than the US Government and others, and I thought that was gratifying for my staff who work very hard on this. Having said that, let me say that we are almost at the outer limits of our capabilities. I have shared this with the [Security] Council, that they need to be careful not to pile too much on us. There is a limit as to what a relatively small organization can take on.â€
The International Court of Justice in the Hague handed down a ruling on 9 July 2004 saying that the Barrier / Wall being constructed in the West Bank was illegal under international law.Â In August 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing theÂ ICJ ruling.
More than two years later, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a report suggesting the international framework required to set up a register of damages caused by Israel’s continuing construction work.Â “The Secretary-General proposes to establish an office of the Register of Damages in Vienna. That office would include a Board comprised of three independent members, as well as a small secretariatâ€, the UN Spokesman reported in New York on Friday 27 October 2006.
On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague handed down an Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. According to the press summary published by the ICJ, there are obligations on Israel, on other States, and on the United Nations — which are â€œlegal consequences of the violation by Israel of its obligationsâ€:
Israel is obliged to comply with the international obligations it has breached by the construction of the wall – Israel is obliged to put an end to the violation of its international obligations, including the obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall, to dismantle it forthwith and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith the legislative and regulatory acts relating to its construction, save where relevant for compliance by Israel with its obligation to make reparation for the damage caused – Israel obliged to make reparation for the damage caused to all natural or legal persons affected by construction of the wall.
All States have the obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction – and … to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to selfâ€‘determination is brought to an end – and … while respecting the Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention …
and the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, [need] to consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and its associated rÃ©gime, taking due account of the Advisory Opinion.
That was the ICJ ruling in July 2004.
(Photo by Matt Robson – Bethlehem – new terminal under construction at Checkpoint 300 – July 2004)