Living in the shadow of the Oil-for-Food controversy is another major United Nations scandal that may cause untold damage to the world body’s already declining reputation. U.N. peacekeepers and civilian officials from the U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo stand accused of major human rights violations. At least 150 allegations have been made against the Mission’s personnel. The allegations involve rape and forced prostitution of women and young girls across the country, including inside a refugee camp in the town of Bunia, in northeastern Congo. The victims are defenseless refugees, many of them children, who have already been brutalized and terrorized by years of war and who looked to the U.N. for safety and protection. The U.S. Congress should act to ensure that the U.N. personnel involved are brought to justice and that such barbaric abuses are never repeated.
The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) employs about 11,500 peacekeepers from 15 countries, in addition to 650 civilian staff. The biggest peacekeeping contingents are from Uruguay, (1,778 soldiers), Pakistan (1,700), South Africa (1,387), Bangladesh (1,304), India (1,302), Nepal (1,225), and Morocco (801). Established in 1999, MONUC is currently authorized by Security Council Resolution 1493.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has acknowledged that “acts of gross misconduct have taken place.” A draft United Nations report has described sexual exploitation by U.N. personnel in the Congo as “significant, widespread and ongoing.” In the words of William Lacy Swing, Annan’s special representative to the Congo, “We are shocked by it, we’re outraged, we’re sickened by it. Peacekeepers who have been sworn to assist those in need, particularly those who have been victims of sexual violence, instead have caused grievous harm.”
This scandal raises serious questions about U.N. oversight of its peacekeeping operations and the culture of secrecy and lack of accountability that pervade the U.N. system. The fact that abuses of this scale are taking place under U.N. supervision is astonishing, and it is inconceivable that officials in New York were unaware of the magnitude of the problem at an early stage.
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