UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations (news - web sites) is investigating about 150 allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. civilian staff and soldiers in the Congo, some of them recorded on videotape, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.
The accusations include pedophilia, rape and prostitution, said Jane Holl Lute, an assistant secretary-general in the peacekeeping department.
Lute, an American, said there was photographic and video evidence for some of the allegations and most of the charges came to light since the spring.
"We are shining a light on this problem in order to determine its scope, and we will not stop there," Lute told a news conference.
She did not say if 150 different people were involved but indicated some suspects committed more than one offense.
In May the United Nations reported some 30 cases of abuse among peacekeepers in the northeastern town of Bunia, where half of the more than 10,000 soldiers are stationed.
Last month, one French soldier and two Tunisian soldiers were sent home, U.N. officials said. Three U.N. civilian staff were suspended.
The United Nations has jurisdiction over its civilian staff but troops are contributed by individual nations. Consequently, the world body has only the power to demand a specific country repatriate an accused soldier and punish him or her at home.
Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, went to the sprawling central African country, formally called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, last month. He has promised an overhaul of staff discipline.
REPORT ON ABUSE
The U.N. internal oversight office is expected to release a report soon on the abuse in Bunia. In addition, the peacekeeping department is sending at least two other teams to Congo to deal with various aspects of the problem, Lute said.
Also visiting the Congo within the past month was Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, who serves as a special adviser on sexual exploitation. One of his tasks is to persuade governments to act on charges against their soldiers.
The prince, a former military man, served as a political affairs officer for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, from 1994 to 1996.
The United Nations mission in the Congo has some 10,800 peacekeepers and some 60 civilian staff, led by American diplomat William Lacy Swing.
The revelations of peacekeeping abuses is usually kept quiet at the United Nations until reporters or individual countries disclose the news, as happened in Cambodia in the early 1990s and later in Somalia, Bosnia and Ethiopia. But in this case the world body released some details.
Annan on Friday expressed outrage at the abuse, saying, "I am afraid there is clear evidence that acts of gross misconduct have taken place."
"This is a shameful thing for the United Nations to have to say, and I am absolutely outraged by it," he said while in Tanzania where Guehenno briefed him.
Annan said the allegations concerned a small number of U.N. personnel and promised to hold those involved accountable.
"I have long made it clear that my attitude to sexual exploitation and abuse is one of zero tolerance, without exception, and I am determined to implement this policy in the most transparent manner," Annan said.
This (UN Sex related scandals) really seems to be a very common occurance. Cambodia, Bosnia, Somolia, Ethiopia, and now in Congo, just from the article. Also, a quick Google search turned up some reporting on UN related sex scandals inZimbabwe, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea .
I know, Its not as if this was Official UN Policy or something, but there are some severe problems with oversight and discipline, for this many frequent breakdowns in the system. Something needs to be fixed, and quickly.
And that last paragraph by Annan is deeply ironic, in light of the way he sort of waved some other Sexual harrassment charges by a subordinent under the table recently.
I'd be interested in hearing more about the charges. The relationship between soldiers and prostitutes didn't spring up in the 90s around UN peacekeeping missions, one suspects that Cain's first priority after killing Able was to get his ashes hauled. Rape, though, that's a military tradition more difficult to abide by...
I remember reading a bit about this issue earlier this year. One of the big problems they were having was that the victims didn't want to come forward and refused to testify because they knew that doing so would end their ability to use sex to get favors they wouldn't normally get. Specifically peacekeepers were providing extra food, blankets, and medicine to women who were willing to trade favors. These women (many mothers of children who's fathers were killed in fighting or purges) were making the choice to protect the abusers to keep receiving the benefits of being abused. Hard to find the moral high ground in a swamp.