- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

In what is rapidly becoming a global scandal, U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti were suspended last week after an investigation found that they had had sex with a Haitian prostitute. If recent U.N. peacekeeping history is any guide, this one incident of salacious sexual behavior won’t likely be the last to come out of Haiti. It took almost a full year’s worth of evidence of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in Congo before U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan finally ordered the soldiers to refrain from having sexual relations with any Congolese. “We are taking very firm measures — changing some of the commanders, some of the civilian staff have been disciplined — and we’ve come up with very strict instructions that they should not fraternize the way they have done in the past,” Mr. Annan said on Monday.

Let’s consider Mr. Annan’s words. Since allegations first arose in May, 50 peacekeepers are now under investigation for 150 allegations of abuse, including gang rape, in Congo. The problem is that even while the United Nations claimed it had cracked down on its sexual predators, the abuse continued. An October investigative team, sent to Congo to measure the effectiveness of stricter rules put in place in May, concluded that those measures “had largely faded away.” Even worse, a January report found the abuse “serious and ongoing.” Meanwhile, the number of Congo peacekeepers who have been sent home can still be counted on one hand. “Firm measures” indeed, Mr. Annan.

Nor is Congo an isolated event. Similar allegations have surfaced at U.N. missions in Burundi, Liberia, Ivory Coast, East Timor, Cambodia and Bosnia, among others. “We think this will look worse before it begins to look better,” said an assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations. “We expect that more information will come from every mission on allegations [of sexual abuse],” she said. Currently, the United Nations has 16 peacekeeping missions around the world — how many women in those countries are victims?

As the world’s largest donor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, the United States can wield a heavy hand in stopping this criminal behavior. The United Nations has no legal jurisdiction over its peacekeeping personnel. So, if a peacekeeper commits a crime, the worst the United Nations can do is send him home. Once there, the suspect’s country may level criminal charges, but obviously this hasn’t been much of a deterrent. The United States, however, can threaten to withhold precious funds if the United Nations continues to operate its far-flung missions with little or no oversight. Just such a proposal has been drafted by Rep. Christopher Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. Mr. Smith’s bill would demand safeguards and regular reports from contributing countries and the United Nations before the United States hands out any cash.

Now that the United Nations has proven incompetent to manage its responsibilities, it’s time for Congress to step in and make the best of a bad situation.

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