- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

KATMANDU, Nepal The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said this week it has sent a team to Nepal to investigate the sexual assault of Bhutanese refugees by aid workers.
The agency has confirmed that at least 18 employees of local nongovernmental agencies have assaulted refugees at camps for people who fled neighboring Bhutan.
"We are here to ensure that such cases do not happen again," said Abraham Abraham, the Nepalese representative for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
No one has been charged or detained for the assaults, but a U.N. investigation last month confirmed that aid workers had either raped or attempted to rape girls as young as 7 years old.
The offenders are not employed by the United Nations, but work for local nongovernmental agencies that receive U.N. funds to run refugee camps in southeastern Nepal, Mr. Abraham said.
The U.N. refugee agency said it is assisting police investigations and all 18 aid workers suspected of sexual abuse have been dismissed. Some of them, however, remain in the camps because they are refugees themselves.
In Geneva, the agency's inspector general, Dennis McNamara, said two Nepalese officials whose salaries were paid by UNHCR were reputedly involved in the abuse.
"We're now pressing Nepalese authorities to investigate," he told reporters. "We're concerned no adequate police operation has been undertaken."
Mr. McNamara insisted that no UNHCR staff member was directly or indirectly implicated. However, he said the agency had "recalled two senior staff to Geneva for further consultations" to determine if disciplinary action is necessary. He refused to identify the staff members.
The UNHCR has created a new code of conduct for its employees and the aid workers who serve alongside them.
This follows charges of sexual abuse none directly involving UNHCR staff at refugee camps in West Africa.
"Even where we as UNHCR do not have staff directly involved in sex abuse, we will not deny our overall responsibility," he said, adding that the agency has a policy of "zero tolerance."
Mr. Abraham said his team would also provide the victims with medical and psychological help, and set up a system to make it easier to report such cases. The Nepalese government may also be asked to provide more police at the camps.


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