- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The United Nations is under fire from diplomats, outside groups and some midlevel U.N. officials, who say the organization is doing too little to stop peacekeeping forces from sexually abusing local children.

“The big concern is that the abuses are happening with impunity in between investigations,” a senior U.N. official said.

Some fault U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and say his zero-tolerance policy stops short of setting up a tough investigative system that ensures full international accountability for the sexual offenders.

“It is clear Kofi Annan’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse is not working on the ground. Tougher enforcement is needed and is unlikely to come from mere diplomacy,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

UNICEF spokesman Alfred Ironsidesaid agency chief Carol Bellamy is especially concerned. “She is very focused and very keen to see the follow-up,” he said.

A report by the U.N. investigative arm, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), released Jan. 7 includes accounts of purported sexual abuse by a U.N. civilian staff member and 19 peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The report cites confirmed incidents in which peacekeepers exchanged bread or milk and small amounts of cash, $3 to $5, for sex with 13- and 14-year-old girls.

None of the peacekeepers identified — many from photographs and lineups — have admitted wrongdoing.

“But the evidence against them is strong and has been corroborated,” the report concludes.

The OIOS report did not name the countries that had sent the peacekeepers suspected in the abuse. Reuters news agency named the countries as South Africa, Uruguay, Morocco, Tunisia and Nepal.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Mr. Annan, said the names of the countries were omitted because “OIOS agrees that the conduct of a few soldiers does not mean that all the soldiers of that contingent behave the same way.”

The report quotes the head of the U.N. mission in Congo, William Lacy Swing, as saying, “In certain instances, it is apparent that the feeling of impunity is such that not only have policies not been enforced, but the command structures have not always given investigators their full cooperation.”

Some U.N. diplomats say the latest findings are just the tip of the iceberg.

“The problem of sexual abuses in the U.N. system is much wider than what is reported,” said a senior diplomat from Western Europe.

Asked to comment on the findings, a U.S. official said: “U.S. interest is primarily to make sure that there is a full investigation, and that troop-contributing countries investigate and prosecute allegations against their nationals.”

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