Disgraced peacekeeping

April 03, 2005

A RECENT report on sexual abuse and exploitation of civilian women and girls by United Nations peacekeepers demands quick and unequivocal action by the organization's full assembly. The world body should adopt comprehensive recommendations made in the report, including prosecution of perpetrators by their home countries and on-site courts-martial in the countries where mission members served.

The U.N. report verifies a deeply troubling and widespread problem that first came to light last year with allegations of rape and other abuses by peacekeeping personnel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some 63 implicated peacekeepers have been expelled and where 106 other cases of abuse, including gang rape, are being investigated.

Peacekeepers there are accused of raping women and girls as young as 12, and coercing others to have sex in exchange for empty promises of jobs with the missions, or in the case of girls, in exchange for peanut butter, fruit or the equivalent of $1. Similar cases occurred in other impoverished countries in various states of political upheaval.

The report calls for formal assurances from troop-contributing countries to prosecute mission members charged with sexual abuse and to report how they follow up on the cases, or be excluded from missions. It also proposes financial payments to abandoned mothers of "peacekeeper babies" fathered by troop members or United Nations personnel, and formation of a professional investigative body within the United Nations.

In some countries served by U.N. missions, women and girls are devalued members of society. They may have already suffered rape or sexual torture by their own countrymen; that men representing the United Nations would further prey on desperately poor women and children is contrary to the very protection their presence is supposed to provide. Frightened and terrorized people look to peacekeepers as their last line of defense in societies turned upside-down by war and ethnic conflict.

To avoid risking the credibility of all 80,000 troops in 17 missions around the world, the vast majority of whom serve admirably,the U.N. General Assembly should provide the resources to implement the report's proposals for U.N. investigative operations, and work diligently to get member nations to implement its recommendations.

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