Peacekeepers' sexual abuse of local girls continuing in DR of Congo, UN finds

7 January 2005 – United Nations peacekeeping troops have continued the sexual abuse of girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN's watchdog office says, but peacekeeping officials say Member States providing the soldiers must send sterner commanders and toughen the punishment for perpetrators.

A report from the Office of Internal Oversight Services says, "The OIOS investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of local Congolese women and girls found that the problem was serious and ongoing. Equally disturbing was the lack of a protection and deterrence programme at this time."

Although the troops knew that the investigation was being conducted in eastern Bunia town from June to September last year, they continued their activities, as evidenced by "the presence of freshly used condoms near military camps and guard posts and by the additional allegations of recent cases of solicitations brought to the attention of the OIOS team during the last days of the investigation."

Despite lack of cooperation from two of the three military contingents, the OIOS investigated 72 allegations, resulting in 20 case reports. Of these cases, perpetrators were positively identified in six, not identified in 11 and the accusations were not fully corroborated in two.

Payment ranged from two eggs to $5 per encounter, OIOS said. Some of the victims were abandoned orphans and they were often illiterate.

The UN forbids peacekeepers to pay for sex or to have sex with girls younger than 18.

At UN Headquarters in New York, the chief of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), William Lacy Swing, and the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told reporters that the missions were making every effort to tackle the problem of sexual exploitation in the DRC and any other countries where peacekeeping missions were stationed.

Mr. Swing said he was shocked, outraged and sickened that peacekeepers had caused grievous harm to the people they were sent to protect.

After the UN spotlighted the problems, a series of investigators went to work, first from MONUC - from military components and civilian police (CIVPOL), followed by representatives from DPKO and OIOS.

With troops being rotated out after six months, nine months, or a year, as the investigation progressed, "we had to take people off aircraft as they were leaving for home" and the girls and young women were allowed to try to identify them, he said.

Now Assistant Secretary-General Angela Kane, formerly deputy chief of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), was heading a team likely to be in the DRC for up to two months, Mr. Swing said.

One country, France, had taken an accused national "the length of the punitive chain," he said.

After the UN trained troops in the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) about the Code of Conduct and the Blue Helmet rules in 2003 and MONUC last year, the DRC received the first eight-member "Code of Conduct Unit." The unit had inspired the formation of similar units for UN mission in Burundi, Haiti and Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Swing said.

MONUC was also considering recommendations from Mr. Annan's special adviser on the matter, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, who had visited the DRC, and the Mission had set up a Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) task force at Mr. Guéhenno's suggestion. MONUC had also established curfews and off-limits areas, Mr. Swing said.

Prince Zeid was now engaging the troop contributing countries (TCCs) to come up with fresh ideas on military justice because presently it was up to them to prosecute their nationals, Mr. Guéhenno said.

"The TCCs are not just named and shamed but are given a chance to show their follow-up," he said, adding, "In a broken country, insert a force with power and money and the risk of creating an exploitative situation is great."

The idea of banning sex with all civilians of all ages should be looked at, but should not be done in a unilateral, "diktat" manner, he said. The TCCs should be involved in the discussion and where local jurisdictions were weak or non-existent, UN members should work together to establish legal norms.

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