Monday, July 12, 2004
The U.N. response to the sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo has been mired in bureaucracy, with no
charges having been brought against any of the accused, the London
Independent reports today.
A total of 68 allegations against soldiers with the U.N. Organization
Mission in the D.R.C. (MONUC) have been recorded so far this year, among
them a child prostitution ring run out of MONUC airport in Bunia and the
rape of minors by Nepalese MONUC soldiers in the Ndromo camp. A senior
Tunisian MONUC officer has been accused of soliciting a minor for sexual
relations, while there have been repeated accusations against Pakistani,
Moroccan and Uruguayan U.N. troops.
On June 8, the MONUC office in Kinshasa sent a memo to U.N. headquarters in
New York outlining 50 cases of sexual abuse against minors by MONUC troops
in the northeastern D.R.C. town of Bunia. A second memo, one week later,
detailed four other allegations and said attention should be paid to South
African MONUC troops in Kindu, Moroccan MONUC troops in Kisangani and MONUC
troops from Uruguay, Pakistan and Nepal.
The memos prompted the deployment of an independent team from the U.N.
Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to Bunia in mid-June to begin
investigations into the alleged widespread sexual abuse of children. The
investigation is said to be continuing.
"It is particularly important to investigate these allegations thoroughly
and make MONUC aware of its responsibilities," said Matteo Frontino, the
head of UNICEF in Bunia. "It is increasingly important to make the local
population aware that MONUC is not only a military force to be feared but is
also providing humanitarian, political and social assistance."
Although the United Nations has said it has responded to the allegations and
is taking steps to address the situation, the London Independent reports
that abuses are continuing and that the behavior of MONUC troops was common
knowledge among U.N. officials.
In August 2003, the MONUC child protection office in Kindu sent a memo to
MONUC headquarters describing concerns about child abuse, yet no action was
taken, the Independent reports. Allegations against Moroccan troops in
Kisangani, including reports of child pornography, organized sex shows and
the rape of babies, was launched by MONUC last year but later dropped
because of a lack of evidence and support from the military contingent
Bringing charges against troops is complicated by the fact that they are
posted for six-month terms and are unlikely to ever face a military
investigation. Once the military takes over the inquiry, the United Nations
has no legal authority to follow up the investigation and cannot ensure that
a repatriated soldier will face prosecution.
Another concern is that while Kindu, Kisangani and Bukavu have all filed
reports of the sexual abuse of minors, and incidents of abuse have also been
reported in Goma, the United Nations has thus far restricted its
investigation to Bunia, the Independent reports.
Anna, a 12-year-old girl in Goma, was reportedly raped by U.N. troops who
tempted her with the promise of a biscuit. Such incidents are common,
according to the head of the nongovernmental organization that runs the
shelter for rape victims, where Anna now lives.
"We have had many cases of young girls coming here who have been raped by
MONUC soldiers — mainly Indian and South African," the woman, who declined
to be named, said. "Often the soldiers encourage the girls to go near them
by offering them sweets and biscuits. Then they rape them. Most girls and
their families are too scared to speak out because the U.N. soldiers have
guns. Many people see them as being like the local armies and are scared of
Further complicating the problem is that so many Congolese are desensitized
by years of violence and abuse.
"Women and girls in the Congo have been subject to so much sexual violence
that it has become an accepted social habit," said Kristina Peduto, the head
of MONUC child protection in Bunia. "It is not viewed as rape anymore."
Peduto, like many people interviewed by the Independent, said the OIOS
investigation was a positive step but it would be hard for the investigation
to produce any real results.
"The OIOS needs to be given the power to prosecute and act as a substitute
for national justice," she said. "Members of the U.N. have a strong
responsibility to send troops committed to uphold the U.N. code of conduct,
and strong mechanisms have to be enforced on all MONUC staff, military and
civilian, to act as a deterrent against sexual abuses, especially with
Yet little progress has been made, the Independent reports.
A U.N. cable last month detailed concerns regarding Pakistani troops, and 14
allegations of abuses have been made against the Pakistani contingent. Yet
Colonel Ihasan, the military chief of the Pakistani Battalion, acknowledged
to the Independent that there would be no independent military probe until
the U.N. investigation was complete, which could be months away.
"I don't know why this issue has been blown up so much," he said. "Much of
what we have seen are only allegations — there is still very little evidence
to prove anything, and without proof we can do nothing."
A senior member of MONUC's personnel, speaking on condition of anonymity,
also agreed that the investigation will likely be ineffective. "This whole
OIOS inquiry is a joke," the official said. "The U.N. has no authority to
follow through any of the investigations currently made. At most, after a
lengthy process, they can repatriate an individual, but they cannot see
those cases followed through in the country of origin. There is total
impunity for MONUC soldiers, and this is a deep cause for concern."
Julianne Kippenberg of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch also said
the U.N. probe needed more teeth. "These are very serious allegations
against MONUC soldiers and they need to be properly investigated and the
results must be made public," she said. "An issue such as rape and sexual
exploitation of minors is not just a matter that can be dealt with
internally in the U.N. If there are credible allegations against
peacekeepers then they should be suspended immediately while the
investigation takes place, and once the investigation finds evidence of
sexual abuse the peacekeepers should then be prosecuted" (Kate Holt, London
Independent, July 12).