- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

NEW YORK — A U.N. report on peacekeeper sex abuse released yesterday describes the U.N. military arm as deeply flawed and recommends withholding salaries of abusers and requiring nations to pursue legal action against the guilty.

Those recommendations and several others come after repeated charges that peacekeepers exploited the very people they were sent to protect.

The report described a troubled system under which peacekeepers often have “failed to grasp the dangers confronting them, seduced by day-to-day conditions that can be viewed as benign.”

It said abuses had been reported in missions ranging from Bosnia and Kosovo to Cambodia, East Timor, West Africa and Congo.

Although charges of abuse have dogged peacekeeping missions since their inception 50 years ago, the issue was thrust into the spotlight after the United Nations found earlier this year that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.

“You cannot overstate the value of peacekeeping and what it can bring to a society, so for that reason I think we must restore it,” said Prince Zeid al Hussein, Jordan’s U.N. ambassador and the author of the report.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Prince Zeid, who once served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia, to study the Congo abuses and propose changes to keep them from happening again.

One of his key tasks was finding ways to hold peacekeepers more accountable. The United Nations has few legal means to take action, and those accused of wrongdoing often are sent home and never punished.

The task is especially troublesome because the United Nations does not want to risk offending nations that provide scarce peacekeeping troops.

In the past several months, Prince Zeid has discussed his proposals with nations that contribute the most troops — such as Pakistan, Morocco, Brazil and Bangladesh — and those that fund missions, such as the United States.

U.N. peacekeeping missions comprise soldiers, civilians and civilian police who are held to different standards of conduct. Investigators appointed to probe crimes often do not feel qualified to handle the cases.

Troops and civilians sometimes fail to understand the complexities of the countries where they deploy. That must be counteracted, the report said.

“There are at least some people in peacekeeping who perceive it as almost a form of camping,” Prince Zeid said. “You can forget how wounded and traumatized the people you’re working with are.”

The report makes a host of recommendations, many focusing on ways to hold peacekeepers more accountable by strengthening the U.N. rules for nations that contribute peacekeepers.

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