- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

U.S. lawmakers yesterday called on the United Nations to swiftly tighten up the vetting and disciplining of peacekeepers amid a growing scandal of “widespread” sexual exploitation and abuse.

Women and girls — some as young as 11 and already the victims of rape in Congo’s civil war — have been the victims of rape and sex-for-food acts by a number of U.N. peacekeepers deployed there.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, said he deplored the lack of successful prosecutions of U.N. military and civilian personnel accused of misconduct, and denounced the organization’s slowness to react.

“The continued toleration of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. leaders is severely damaging the reputation and effectiveness of the organization,” Mr. Smith said at a hearing of the House International Relations Africa, global human rights and international operations subcommittee, of which he is the chairman.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno told editors and reporters at The Washington Times Friday that he is expanding an investigation of staff and troop conduct to 15 other missions, warning that additional sex scandals are likely to be discovered.

Mr. Smith said yesterday he will introduce legislation that would link U.S. contributions to any peacekeeping mission to measures taken to prevent sexual exploitation and punish those who engage is such acts.

The scandal has rocked the United Nations, which is already the focus of a massive corruption investigation of its Saddam Hussein-era oil-for-food program in Iraq.

Jane Holl Lute, U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the committee that, as a professional soldier herself, she shared the lawmakers’ outrage and vowed to stamp out the practice.

“It is simply unacceptable,” she said.

Mrs. Lute added that past training and personal-conduct units clearly had not been enough for the roughly 80,000 peacekeeping troops from 100 nations that are deployed around the world.

The United Nations is investigating the accusations and talking with member nations at the highest levels of government to ensure that appropriate disciplinary measures are taken, Mrs. Lute said.

“We are determined to deal with them,” she said.

She dismissed Mr. Smith’s suggestion that U.N. peacekeeping could be seen as “sex tourism for soldiers,” and noted that male U.S. soldiers also have been accused of rape within their own ranks.

One suggestion being put forward by U.N. members is to have suspects face court-martial by their own military — but in the country where the charges against them are made.

Currently, those U.N. peacekeepers accused of wrongdoing are sent home to be dealt with by their own governments.

Contributing governments earn $1,080 per soldier for every month the soldier is deployed, a factor that could be used to leverage countries to better discipline their troops, said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska Republican.

Meanwhile, the U.N. special representative to Congo, former U.S. Ambassador William Lacy Swing, is likely to step down shortly, according to U.N. officials.

Mr. Swing will be in New York this week to brief the Security Council on the Congo peacekeeping mission.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette yesterday traveled to Liberia and explained the organization’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse and exploitation to civilian and military personnel in the capital, Monrovia.

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