Monday, April 18, 2005

The UN responds to sexual abuse in the DRC

This is an on/off issue for the media vis-a-vis UN reform. Here's a briefing paper I worked on at work that offers a more substantive perspective:

Executive Summary
This paper will briefly explore the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the accusations against UN peacekeepers in the country of sexual abuse and what the response has been by the United Nations. It also includes recommendations made by a recent UN Report commissioned by Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, who is the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the deadliest documented conflict in African history. Over four years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, three and a half million people lost their lives; more than in any conflict worldwide since World War II. All of the surrounding countries became involved in the war. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia backed the DRC government, while Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi supported anti-government rebels and invaded the north and east of the DRC.In April 2003, the various factions signed a peace agreement and formed a Government of National Unity, composed of representatives from the DRC government and the rebel groups. At the same time, the UN Security Council created the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). MONUC was established to implement the peace agreement and help disarm the warring factions and is the largest UN peacekeeping mission with about 16,000 troops.

Thousands of impoverished Congolese who have been displaced by the conflict live in camps that are situated next to MONUC bases for protection. They fear attacks by armed militias that operate in the area and are afraid to leave the camps to return to their villages and farms. Last year, allegations emerged that UN peacekeepers were sexually exploiting Congolese living in the nearby camps. MONUC personnel are accused of engaging in prostitution, rape, molestation, and pedophilia.

Unfortunately, many women and children in the camps find themselves living alone or in situations where their families cannot provide for them. Some of them resorted to “survival sex” with MONUC personnel. The peacekeepers sexually exploited Congolese girls as young as 11 years of age in exchange for small amounts of money and scraps of food. Local boys were used as “pimps” who arranged the sexual misconduct, also in return for food or money.

The United Nations Responds
The Secretary-General's October 2003 Bulletin on Special Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, the United Nations Code of Conduct for Blue Helmets, and MONUC's Code of Conduct are very clear: sex in exchange for money, employment, goods or services is strictly forbidden. Moreover, UN Personnel are prohibited from engaging in any sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18 years; being unaware of a child’s age is not a defense or an excuse.

The United Nations has emphasized training MONUC peacekeepers on the code of conduct before they are deployed but the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jane Holl Lute, said those changes have not kept pace with the massive growth in other peacekeeping missions. Jean-Marie Guehenno, UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, agreed that the UN needs a stronger prevention program, enforcement ability and investigative capability. He pointed out that the current rules that exist are for normal circumstances and the situation in conflict zones is abnormal.

Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly expressed his outrage at the abuses. In a six-page letter to the UN Security Council, he said, “I reiterate my stance - one which I know the members of the council share - that we cannot tolerate even one instance of a United Nations peacekeeper victimizing the most vulnerable ones.”

Following reports from Congolese women and media organizations on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, the U.N. has investigated 150 allegations of sexual exploitation. According to a UN report, the investigation team from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) produced 20 case reports: perpetrators were positively identified in six, not identified in eleven, while accusations were not fully substantiated in two. The reports gave been submitted to respective Member States.

The most infamous case involves a senior French official, Didier Bourguet, who was accused of running an Internet pedophile ring. He is currently in jail in his home country facing charges. Another individual accused of abuse is no longer employed by the organization. In February, the Government of Morocco arrested six of its soldiers accused of sexual abuse in the DRC. MONUC has also established curfews and off-limits areas in Congo. Louise Frechette, the UN Deputy Secretary General, is presently touring other UN peacekeeping missions to assess the problem and highlight Secretary General Kofi Annan’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse. The UN also recently set up a hotline to receive complaints against peacekeepers accused of abuse.

While the UN is working to educate peacekeepers about its zero-tolerance policy, strengthen its prevention programs, and investigate allegations, it faces legal limitations when it comes to prosecuting peacekeepers for sexual abuse. All peacekeepers that are contributed to UN missions are subject to agreements which prevent either the UN or the country where the peacekeeping mission is operating from trying them for criminal acts. Only the offender’s home country has the right to prosecute its troops. Therefore, the UN usually can only send the offenders home and turn over the results of the UN’s investigation to the offender’s home country. Currently, troop contributing countries are under no legal obligation to investigate or try offenders.

Recommendations by UN Report
Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan, had agreed to serve as the Secretary-General's Adviser on issues of sexual misconduct and set up a Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) task force. He has also been ensuring that concerns of the Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) plays a role in the UN strategy to prevent sexual misconduct. You cannot understate the value of peacekeeping and what it can bring to a society, so for that reason I think we must restore it,” he said.

He commissioned a UN report that was released on March 24, 2005 that proposes:

  • The Secretary General should obtain formal assurances that troop contributing countries will persecute violators in return for immunity from the host state. They should update the Secretary General within 120 days on actions they take and continue communication until the case is settled. The report urges troop contributing countries to agree to hold courts-martial of their accused soldiers in countries where the alleged abuse occurred and to change national laws that prevent it.
  • UN civilian staff who violate rules should be fired and held financially accountable. The money collected should go into a trust fund for victims and children who are born to the peacekeepers.
  • The UN should deduct allowances from peacekeepers who violate rules with monies paid into a trust fund for victims, especially women who need child support.
  • A database should be created to record names of offenders to ensure they are never deployed on UN missions again. Moreover, the number of female peacekeepers should be increased.
  • The establishment of a team of professionals including DNA and fingerprinting technology experts to investigate sex crimes, especially those involving children.
  • UN personnel should be allowed frequent leaves and provided with recreational facilities such as free Internet and subsidized phone calls. The report also calls for expanding curfew and off-limit area policies, and replace static guard posts with mobile patrols.
  • Peacekeeping missions should introduce extensive training and outreach programs to the local community, enabling victims to file complaints.
  • The UN currently publishes the Ten Rules and We Are United Nations Peacekeepers on cards in the official languages of the United Nations. The report recommends that these cards with specific prohibition on sexual abuse should be distributed to contingent members in their own languages. In addition, when condoms are distributed to troops, it should be emphasized that it is a strategy to combat transmission of HIV/AIDS and not encourage prostitution.
  • UN managers and military commanders who implement policies against sexual abuse should be rewarded while those who do not should be removed from their posts.
  • The General Assembly should define acts of sexual exploitation as serious misconduct of Staff Regulations and emphasize that Member Sates will not tolerate such acts.