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
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
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
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.
There are major
doubts surrounding the effectiveness of the U.N.'s own internal
investigation into the Congo scandal, conducted by the Office of
Internal Oversight Services, headed by Under Secretary General
Dileep Nair. A
confidential U.N. report obtained by The Washington Post
revealed that "U.N. peacekeepers threatened U.N. investigators
investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in Congo and sought
to bribe witnesses to change incriminating testimony." According to the
Post, the report also cites instances where peacekeepers
from Morocco, Pakistan, and possibly Tunisia "were reported to have
paid, or attempted to pay witnesses to change their testimony."
The Congo abuse
scandal is the latest in a string of scandals that have hit U.N.
peacekeeping operations across the world. Indeed, it appears that
U.N. peacekeeping missions may give rise to a predatory sexual
culture, with refugees the victims of UN staff who demand sexual
favors in exchange for food and U.N. troops who rape women at
gunpoint. Allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct by U.N.
personnel stretch back at least a decade, to operations in Kosovo,
Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Despite previous U.N.
investigations, and Kofi Annan's declaration of a policy of "zero
tolerance" toward such conduct, little appears to have changed in
U.S. Funding of the
An issue of great
concern to Congress should be the scale of U.S. funding for the
Congo operation. U.N. peacekeeping operations paid for with U.S.
public funds should be accountable to American taxpayers, who
expect U.N. officials and peacekeepers to conduct themselves with
honor and integrity.
The United States
contributes 27 percent of the total worldwide U.N. peacekeeping
budget and is the world's largest contributor to MONUC, providing
over a third of its operating budget of roughly $600 million.
contribution to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo has been
substantial. If 2005 figures are included, the U.S. will have
contributed roughly three quarters of a billion dollars ($759
million) toward MONUC since 2000, according to State Department
figures. The U.S. is expected to contribute $249 million toward
MONUC in FY 2005, and $207 million in FY 2006.
Questions for Congress
There are many key
questions that arise from the scandal and which merit congressional
Why has the U.N.
failed to effectively prevent abuse by its personnel given its
tarnished record in previous peacekeeping operations?
Why did the U.N.
take six months to release its own internal report on the Congo
To what extent
were the U.N. Secretary-General and other senior U.N. officials
aware of the abuses by U.N. personnel in the Congo before media
reports began to surface?
Can the U.N. be
relied upon to objectively conduct its own investigations into
allegations against its peacekeepers and civilian staff?
How can U.N.
peacekeepers and civilian personnel accused of human rights abuses
be prosecuted for their crimes?
can be implemented to ensure that future U.N. peacekeeping
operations are transparent, accountable, and run in accordance with
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What mechanisms should
be put in place to ensure external oversight of U.N.
should the Congo scandal have on future U.S. contributions to the
U.N. peacekeeping budget?
- Congress should
hold hearings into the Congo abuse scandal and request that U.N.
officials provide testimony. The U.N. needs to demonstrate a
commitment to transparency and accountability.
- The scale of the
scandal and the recurring nature of the problem demand serious
scrutiny in both the House and the Senate. These should be major
issues of concern for the newly created House International
Relations Subcommittee on International Oversight and
Investigations, as well as the Senate and House Committees on
Appropriations, which provide 22 percent of the U.N.'s operating
budget each year.
- MONUC's Chief of
Mission, William Lacy Swing, should be asked to testify before
Congress to explain the U.N. operation. In addition, Dileep Nair,
the head of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, and
Ruud Lubbers, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, should also give
evidence on the U.N.'s failures in the Congo.
- The United
States government should pressure U.N. member states to prosecute
their nationals accused of human rights violations while serving as
- The U.N. should
lift diplomatic immunity for its staff accused of criminal acts in
the Congo, opening the way for prosecution.
- The Security
Council should exclude countries whose peacekeepers have a history
of human rights violations from future operations.
- The U.N. should
make publicly available all internal reports relating to the Congo
- The U.N. should
publicly name those countries whose peacekeepers have carried out
abuses in the Congo.
independent commissions of inquiry should handle future
investigations into human rights abuses by U.N. personnel.
- The U.N. should
outline the exact steps it plans to take to prevent the sexual
exploitation of refugees in both existing and future U.N.
- An external oversight body, completely
independent of the U.N., should be established to act as a watchdog
over U.N. operations, including humanitarian programs and
- Congress should
withhold a percentage of the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping
operations unless U.N. personnel responsible for criminal activity
are brought to justice.
Holding the U.N.
The Congo episode
has further undermined the credibility of the United Nations and
raises serious questions regarding the U.N.'s leadership,
especially that of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The U.N. has
consistently failed to prevent and punish the criminal behavior of
its own personnel in trouble spots across the world.
The sexual abuse
scandal in the Congo makes a mockery of the U.N.'s professed
commitment to uphold basic human rights. U.N. peacekeepers and the
civilian personnel who work with them should be symbols of the
international community's commitment to protecting the weak and
innocent in times of war. The exploitation of some of the most
vulnerable people in the world-refugees in a war-ravaged country-is
a shameful episode, a betrayal of trust, that will haunt the United
Nations for years to come.
The sexual abuses
committed by U.N. personnel violate the institution's Convention on
the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as the principles
enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Congress must act
to ensure that U.N. civilian staff and peacekeepers are brought to
justice and that such barbaric abuses are never repeated elsewhere.
So far, not a single member of the U.N. operation has been
successfully prosecuted. The United States must take a stand and
declare that it will not tolerate human rights abuses by U.N.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and
Joseph Loconte is the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a
Free Society at The Heritage Foundation. Heritage Foundation
interns Scott Glabe, Jamie Zeppernick, and Nicole Collins assisted
with research for this paper.