U.N. peacekeepers deploying to Darfur — the largest such mission in the world body’s history — will be under heavy scrutiny because of widely publicized abuses in recent missions, the American head of the peacekeeping agency acknowledged yesterday.
“You bet I am focused on that,” said Jane Holl Lute, U.N. assistant secretary-general in charge of peacekeeping operations, during a Washington visit.
“Unlike any other national military around the world, the U.N. had come under intense scrutiny — maybe rightly so — for the misbehavior of its troops,” said Mrs. Holl Lute, meeting with a small group of reporters. “It’s clear and it’s something we have internalized that we are being held to the highest standards.”
Mrs. Holl Lute was in Washington to brief the Bush administration and private aid groups on the status of the mission in Sudan’s Darfur region. The United States has accused Sudan of genocide in a brutal civil war with Darfur separatist groups that has killed an estimated 200,000 and left more than 2 million people homeless.
Under a U.N. Security Council resolution, some 7,000 African Union troops now in Darfur will be succeeded by a joint U.N.-AU force that will include nearly 20,000 soldiers from African and non-African nations, an international police force numbering more than 6,400 and more than 5,000 civilian staffers.
Charges of abuse by U.N. “blue helmets” were thrust into the spotlight after an internal study in 2005 found that U.N. peacekeepers in Congo demanded sexual favors from local women and girls. According to U.N. statistics, 197 U.N. staffers and soldiers were either sent home, dismissed or had their contract work ended for suspected sexual abuses between 2004 and June 30, 2007.
The issue flared again in July amid new charges that Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast were sexually abusing girls.
There will be “zero tolerance and zero complacency” over such abuses with the Darfur force, Mrs. Holl Lute said.
For the first time in its history, the U.N. peacekeeping arm drafted a “conduct discipline plan” prior to the Darfur mission, and held a meeting with countries pledging troops for Darfur to discuss the issue in detail.
Mrs. Holl Lute — whose husband, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, was recently named the White House point man on Iraq and Afghanistan — said the United Nations was on track to field the force in the coming months, despite daunting logistical challenges in the vast, arid, lawless Darfur region.
But the U.N. force, which will not be fully deployed until next year, still lacks some support capabilities, notably air transport.
The United States is scheduled to fund just over a quarter of the operating cost of the force, estimated at $2.4 billion to $2.6 billion for the first full year.
Khartoum, which had resisted the U.N. mission as an interference in what it calls an internal conflict, has been more forthcoming since July, Mrs. Holl Lute said.
“Right now, at least, we are able to work with Khartoum,” she said.
But the Sudanese government has gone back on previous promises to work with the world body. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to travel to both Khartoum and Darfur in the coming weeks.
Mrs. Holl Lute declined to comment on a new report released this week by Amnesty International charging that Sudan was shipping weapons to Darfur in violation of a U.N. arms embargo and a tentative peace deal signed with the rebels. The human rights group said the shipments underscored the need for a tougher mandate for the U.N. mission to use force in Darfur.
She also sidestepped a question of what the peacekeeping force would do if talks between Khartoum and the rebel groups broke down and the fighting flared again.
“We could sit here all afternoon discussing hypothetical situations,” she said.