- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

Just what is going on at the U.N. mission in Congo? In May, it was alleged that U.N. peacekeepers and bureaucrats had been sexually abusing the local inhabitants in exchange for food and other necessities. An internal U.N. report found, as reported by The Washington Post, that the abuse appeared to be “significant, wide-spread and ongoing,” involving more than 150 cases of rape, pedophilia and prostitution. Then, just this week, the paper obtained another U.N. report that found “U.N. peacekeepers threatened U.N. investigators investigating allegations of sexual misconduct to bribe witnesses to change incriminating testimony.”

When the abuse scandal first broke, the United Nations seemed prepared to investigate its Congo mission with the appropriate diligence. But by the time a second U.N. investigative team arrived at the mission in October, it found procedures implemented immediately following the scandal’s relevation “had largely faded away.” So far, the United Nations has sent home at least two Tunisian peacekeepers and a French civilian and suspended a senior U.N. official (with pay, no less). For a case that involves 150 allegations of rape, prostitution and pedophilia, with 68 documented, that’s not much progress. In one instance, investigators found that Moroccan peacekeepers had “spread the word” that a U.N. child-protection advocate looking into the allegations “had better be careful when she went out at night.” Other investigators have received anonymous death threats.

The United Nations is limited in that it has no authority over prosecution of foreign troops who serve as peacekeepers. But that doesn’t explain how things were allowed to progress to such a tragic point, and were then followed upon with incompetent damage control. From all levels of the United Nations’ effort in Congo, there is some explaining to do. This includes the top U.N. peacekeeping official, Jean-Marie Guehenno of France, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

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