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Call to act over sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers

Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of United Nations peacekeeping, has called for a system-wide overhaul of staff discipline amid mounting revelations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In early November, the UN revealed that a French civilian in its Congo mission (Monuc) had been arrested and sent home in connection with paedophilia. Two Tunisian soldiers had earlier been sent home for sexual abuse against women in Kinshasa. After further investigations, an additional three civilians are now being suspended.

The UN's internal oversight arm will shortly release findings of widespread sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the town of Bunia. And the UN is sending a countrywide assessment team to examine reports of other incidents.

Mr Guehenno says the more he investigates, the more information emerges on the extent of the problem. There are mounting fears that sexual exploitation, whether of prostitutes or minors, by both troops and civilians, is endemic.

"That problem has been there for many years, but as we stir the pot, we see things coming up which give a sense of the real dimension," Mr Guehenno told the Financial Times.

"I went to Congo three weeks ago to sensitise Monuc from the top down, and shake the tree. Now things are beginning to happen in a serious way."

While most peacekeepers behave honourably, Mr Guehenno says the large size of the mission means some morally weak individuals, who suddenly find themselves in positions of unchecked power, are bound to creep into the ranks.

"You inject people with power and money into a very fragile society, away from their family and from the structures that have constrained them," he says.

"If you don't replace that with a very strong and solid framework, you run the risk that in the kind of extreme situation of isolation and tension we face, people who have a weakness can compromise their position."

Mr Guehenno's public call breaks with a system that traditionally prefers to deal quietly with such matters.

But over recent years the UN has publicly committed itself to take better account of women in conflict, and peacekeeping staff are growing tired of their work being compromised by a few "bad apples".

Source: Monuc News

 
 

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