The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has already repatriated four of its peacekeepers to Bangladesh following investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and the cases of those personnel will now be dealt with by that country, the UN spokesperson said today.
Michele Montas told journalists that the blue helmets were repatriated a few months ago as a result of investigations by a UN team that began in February last year. Inquiries are continuing into misconduct allegations – not all of which involve sexual exploitation – against 13 other staff at UNMIS, some dating back to 2005.
Ms. Montas stressed that when individuals are accused of such acts they are halted from performing their regular duties pending the outcome of the investigations.
She added that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) will follow up with Bangladeshi authorities on the outcome of the cases of the four repatriated peacekeepers to find out what action has been taken.
Investigators are looking into whether the cases of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers are the same as those discussed in recent media reports.
In a statement released by his spokesperson yesterday Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the practice of sexual exploitation and promised that strong disciplinary action would be taken when necessary.
“The UN standard on this issue is clear – zero tolerance, meaning zero complacency and zero impunity,” the statement said.
Ms. Montas, who noted that the UN deploys tens of thousands of peacekeepers to broken societies, added today that DPKO has made definite efforts to change the culture, listen to alleged victims and conducting thorough investigations into accusations.
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.
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.