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December 23, 2004


Sex scandal in Congo threatens to engulf UN's peacekeepers

By Jonathan Clayton and James Bone

They should be rebuilding the country, but foreign workers face serious accusations



HOME-MADE pornographic videos shot by a United Nations logistics expert in the Democratic Republic of Congo have sparked a sex scandal that threatens to become the UN’s Abu Ghraib. (I say a bit more serious then what happened in Abu Ghraib L.R.)


The expert was a Frenchman who worked at Goma airport as part of the UN’s $700 million-a-year effort to rebuild the war-shattered country. When police raided his home they discovered that he had turned his bedroom into a studio for videotaping and photographing sex sessions with young girls.


The bed was surrounded by large mirrors on three sides, according to a senior Congolese police officer. On the fourth side was a camera that he could operate from the bed with a remote control.


When the police arrived the man was allegedly about to rape a 12-year-old girl sent to him in a sting operation. Three home-made porn videos and more than 50 photographs were found.


The case has highlighted the apparently rampant sexual exploitation of Congolese girls and women by the UN’s 11,000 peacekeepers and 1,000 civilians at a time when the UN is facing many problems, including the Iraqi “oil-for-food” scandal and accusations of sexual harassment by senior UN staff in Geneva and New York.


The prospect of the pornographic videos and photographs — now on sale in Congo — becoming public worries senior UN officials, who fear a UN version of the scandal at the American-run Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. “It would be a pretty big problem for the UN if these pictures come out,” one senior official said.


Investigations have already turned up 150 allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers and UN staff despite the UN’s official policy of “zero-tolerance”. One found 68 allegations of misconduct in the town of Bunia alone.


UN insiders told The Times that two Russian pilots based in Mbandaka paid young girls with jars of mayonnaise and jam to have sex with them.


They filmed the sessions and sent the tapes to Russia. But the men were tipped off and left the area before UN investigators arrived.


The Moroccan peacekeeping contingent based in Kisangani — a town on the Congo River with no road links to the outside world — had one of the worst reputations. A soldier accused of rape was apparently hidden in the barracks for a year.


In July 2002 the rebel commander Major-General Jean Pierre Ondekane, who subsequently became Minister of Defence in a postwar transitional government, told a top UN official that all that Monuc (the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) would be remembered for in Kisangani was “for running after little girls”.


An international organisation examining the sex trade between Monuc and local women found that in March there were 82 women and girls who had been made pregnant by Moroccan men and 59 more by Uruguayan men.


According to UN insiders, at least two UN officials — a Ukrainian and a Canadian — have had to leave the country after getting local women pregnant.


Jordan’s Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, a special adviser to the UN Secretary-General, who led one investigative team, said in a confidential report obtained by The Times: “The situation appears to be one of ‘zero-compliance with zero- tolerance’ throughout the mission.”


Sexual exploitation and abuse mostly involves the exchange of sex for money (on average between $1 — 52p — and $3), for food — for immediate consumption or to barter — or for jobs, especially affecting daily workers, the prince’s report said.


In addition, victims spoke of incidents of rape, as well as “rape disguised as prostitution” where a girl was raped and then given money or food afterwards to give the appearance of a transaction having taken place.

Three civilian UN staff have already been suspended.


A man who worked for the UN’s investigative arm in Kinshasa has resigned after being accused of consorting with a prostitute.


The Frenchman with the homemade pornography accused of paedophilia was sent back to France in October and is in jail facing charges of sexually assaulting a minor.


“The fact that these things happened is a blot on us. It’s awful,” Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN’s under-secretary-gen- eral for peacekeeping, said.


“What is important is to get to the bottom of it and fight it and make sure that people who do that pay for what they have done.”


The UN has now plastered its code of conduct on UN premises in Congo. The code forbids sex with prostitutes or women under the age of 18 — even though the Congolese age of consent is 14.


But the UN continues to hand out free condoms to peacekeepers because of the fear of Aids.


A second internal UN report, also obtained by The Times, detailed the extent of prostitution by “street girls” and “girlfriends” in Kisangani.


“One strategy is to find another UN staffer with a ‘girl friend’ and ask the girl if she knows a friend. She will usually be only too happy to comply and a more or less suitable candidate will be dispatched to the staff member’s house,” the report said.


Mireille Byongo, 20, a prostitute from Goma, said that she had had no problem gaining admission to the town’s UN barracks.


“The guys on duty at the entrance know why we have come,” she said. She said she had once gone to the tent of her Moroccan “boyfriend” and found him with a young girl aged “anything from 10 to 12”. Disgusted, she left.


“Never forget this is Heart of Darkness country. People do things here just because they can,” one female UN employee said, in a reference to Joseph Conrad’s novel about the abuses of the former Belgian Congo.




Military strength: 11,570 uniformed personnel, including 10,848 troops, 567 military observers


Civilian staff: 155 civilian police supported by 707 international civilian personnel and 1,135 local civilian staff


Contributing countries: 47 including Uruguay (1,800 troops), Pakistan (1,700), South Africa (1,400) and India (1,300)


Fatalities: 33 military personnel, eight observers, two foreign civilians and one local civilian


Approved budget: $746.10 million (£390 million), July 1, 2004-June 30, 2005

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Extortion experts extrodinaire!

Kick 'em out and turn the building into a homeless shelter.

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Controversy Hangs Over Human Rights Day at UN

By Peter Heinlein

United Nations

11 December 2004


United Nations' observances of Human Rights Day, Friday, were overshadowed by questions about the legitimacy of the main U.N. human rights body. A high-level panel recently concluded that the U.N. Human Rights Commission is damaging the world body's reputation.


U.N. headquarters observed Human Rights Day with a General Assembly debate, a news conference and two panel discussions featuring prominent rights activists.


Opening the debate, Deputy U.N. Secretary General Louise Frechette noted that, 56 years after adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it remains largely an unfulfilled dream. "This Human Rights Day is also an occasion to remember persisting human rights abuses around the world, and to point to the enormous efforts still needed to make human rights a reality for all," she said.


But hanging over the observances was a report issued last week by a high-level U.N. panel concluding that the U.N. Human Rights Commission suffers from a legitimacy deficit. The panel, appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan, says the commission's failures cast doubt on the world body's overall reputation.


The United States and many European countries have complained for years that the commission's membership includes nations accused of gross rights abuses. Among the 53 current members are Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, all targets of criticism for their human rights records.


As a means of improving the commission's effectiveness, the high-level panel recommends increasing the membership to include all 191 U.N. member states. But Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch, who spoke at Human Rights Day observances, told VOA expanding the commission's size would make it weaker, not stronger. "It's a terrible idea. The report provides a good analysis of what's wrong with the commission. In other words, it points out that governments are there not to protect human rights, but to protect themselves from criticism," she said. "It points out that the main problem is the membership, but then almost in the same breath it says we need to expand membership to all 191 countries, which really isn't the cure, it's not going to solve anything. If anything it's likely to make the commission more ineffective, more of a talk shop."


Dutch Ambassador Dirk Van den Berg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, cautioned the General Assembly Friday that talking about human rights is of no use, unless it leads to concrete action. "We can proclaim decades, we can adopt programs of action, we can adopt resolutions as much as we want. If these do not result in concrete activities, if these do not lead to improvement on the ground, all our efforts will have been entirely in vain," he said.

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