- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

NEW YORK — Linked in the past to sex crimes in East Timor, and prostitution in Cambodia and Kosovo, U.N. peacekeepers now have been accused of sexually abusing the very population they were deployed to protect in Congo.

And although the 150 charges of rape, pedophilia and solicitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be the United Nations’ worst sex scandal in years, chronic problems almost guarantee that few of the suspects will face punishment.

The problem is simple: The United Nations often implores member nations to discipline their peacekeepers, but it has little power to enforce the rules. And when nations are reluctant anyway to contribute soldiers for dangerous missions such as in Congo, it’s tough to turn the tables and shame them publicly.

“The U.N. goes around trying to cajole countries to provide peacekeepers,” said Edward Luck, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “They’re having a hard time getting any member states to respond, and that doesn’t give the U.N. a great deal of leverage in these kinds of situations.”

Although thousands of U.N. peacekeepers have served without incident, some have been accused of smuggling weapons and exotic animals, selling fuel on the black market, vandalizing airplanes, and standing by while mobs looted storefronts — if the peacekeepers didn’t join in the chaos themselves.

At other times their inaction has led to even more grievous crimes, as when Dutch peacekeepers under a U.N. mandate didn’t stop Bosnian troops in the enclave of Srebrenica from loading Muslim men onto buses and taking them away to be killed in 1995.

That failure led the entire Dutch government to resign. It brought words of remorse at the United Nations, but no firings.

In the case of Congo, the accusations seem as bad as anything the United Nations has seen in its history. Women and children reportedly have been raped, and there is said to be video and photographic evidence of crimes.

Similar accusations have been directed at U.N. peacekeepers and officials in East Timor. And in Cambodia and Kosovo, local officials and human rights group say the presence of U.N. forces has been linked to an increase in trafficking of women and a sharp rise in prostitution.

In a new embarrassment, the United Nations confirmed Tuesday that a U.N. auditor in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, had been accused of hiring a prostitute. He belongs to the agency that is investigating the latest claims, but isn’t taking part in the probe.

The Congo charges come at a particularly bad time for the United Nations and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

U.N. officials have been accused of allowing corruption under Iraq’s oil-for-food program. The U.N. refugee chief was accused of sexual harassment and cleared by Mr. Annan, which angered the world body’s staff. The United Nations’ top investigator reportedly recruited and promoted staff based on ethnicity, but was cleared by Mr. Annan.

“The last 18 months have been one of the worst years and a half for the United Nations of any similar period that I can remember,” said Jonathan Tepperman, senior editor at Foreign Affairs magazine. “This is the last thing that Kofi needed.”

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