The recent revelation of widespread sexual abuse by United
Nations personnel of refugees in southern Sudan, many of them
children, has cast another pall over the reputation of the United
Nations. Incidents of sexual exploitation in U.N. peacekeeping
missions around the world have become depressingly routine. Abuse
by U.N. peacekeepers has taken place in the Congo, Sierra Leone,
Burundi, Guinea, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Cambodia-in
four continents altogether. Congress and the Bush Administration must
act to help ensure that those responsible are brought to justice
and that future abuses are prevented.
The United States must send a clear message that it will not
tolerate abuse in U.S.-funded peacekeeping operations and must
press strongly for the prosecution of U.N. peacekeepers by their
own national governments. Congress, which holds the purse strings
to U.S. funding for the United Nations, has an important role to
play in helping put an end to the culture of impunity within U.N.
peacekeeping. By launching its own investigations into peacekeeper
abuse, as well as holding hearings on the issue, the House and
Senate can dramatically raise the international profile of the
matter and force the U.N. to treat the issue with the seriousness
Congress and the Executive Branch can also apply pressure for
the establishment of an external watchdog for U.N. operations,
accountable to the U.N. Security Council, but comprised of non-U.N.
staff. Only a genuinely independent oversight mechanism can ensure
the kind of accountability and scrutiny that is so badly needed for
U.N. peacekeeping operations. Congress is also in a position to
reduce or withhold funding for peacekeeping missions unless there
is a significant improvement in the behavior of U.N.
The Sudan U.N. Abuse Scandal
On January 3, The Daily Telegraph revealed that "members
of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in southern Sudan are
facing allegations of raping and abusing children as young as
The paper interviewed more than 20 victims in the city of Juba
alone and reported that hundreds more may have been abused by U.N.
peacekeepers since the 10,000-strong United Nations Mission in
Sudan (UNMIS) arrived in the region two years ago after decades of
civil war. The report was a huge embarrassment to the United
Nations, which had recently adopted a policy of "zero tolerance"
for sexual abuse by its peacekeepers, half a century after its
peacekeeping operations began.
The United States has a major stake in the Sudan mission, having
contributed over $500 million to UNMIS in 2005 and 2006 combined.
The State Department "supports the on-going deployment of U.N.
peacekeeping troops in Southern Sudan and an early expansion into
Darfur," with $441 million requested for 2007.
The Sudan scandal comes just two years after then-U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that "acts of gross
misconduct" had been committed by personnel serving in the U.N.
Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). The
crimes-consisting of at least 150 human rights violations in
all-involved 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 alleged perpetrators included
U.N. military and civilian personnel from Nepal, Morocco, Tunisia,
Uruguay, South Africa, Pakistan, and France. The victims were
defenseless refugees-many children-who had already been brutalized
and terrorized by years of war. Since 2000, MONUC has
received a staggering $1.3 billion in total U.S. funding, with an
additional $152 million requested for 2007.
The U.N. has consistently attempted to hide or downplay abuses
within its operations, preferring the cloak of secrecy to the harsh
light of public scrutiny. As in the Congo case, the leadership of
the United Nations has been extraordinarily slow in publicly
acknowledging the scale of the problem in the Sudan or even
admitting that criminal activity has taken place. The allegations
relating to the Sudan first surfaced in May 2006, but were
summarily dismissed at the time as unfounded "rumors." It was
only after the Telegraph report was released that the U.N.
admitted to repatriating four Bangladeshi peacekeeping personnel in
connection with the allegations. With regard to the Congo
scandal, it took the Secretary-General several months to accept
full responsibility after initial reports in The
Independent documented extensive abuse by U.N. personnel.
In the wake of media scrutiny over the Sudan scandal, the U.N.
Department of Peacekeeping revealed this month that it had
investigated 319 peacekeeping personnel over allegations of sexual
exploitation and abuse across its 16 missions between January 2004
and November 2006. A total of 179 personnel were dismissed or
repatriated following the inquiries. Not one person, however, has
been prosecuted for these serious crimes.
The U.N.'s own investigations, conducted by an understaffed and
overstretched Office of Internal Oversight Services, have only
begun to address the horrendous level of abuse within U.N.
peacekeeping operations. The scale of sexual exploitation is likely
far greater than the United Nations admits, with a large number of
cases going unreported in places such as the Congo and the Sudan,
where highly vulnerable refugees are afraid to come forward for
fear of retribution. A large-scale, wide-ranging, fully independent
investigation is needed. It must have extensive powers to interview
U.N. personnel and the ability to gather evidence in the field.
Also needed is a permanent external watchdog to monitor the conduct
of U.N. operations.
While very few U.S. soldiers serve in U.N. peacekeeping missions
(and no U.S. personnel have been implicated in abuse cases),
Washington has a vested interest in ensuring that global operations
funded by the U.S. taxpayer are free of corruption, mismanagement,
and abuse by peacekeepers. The culture of "hear no evil, see no
evil" that has dominated the United Nations must be brought to an
The United States is the greatest financial contributor to U.N.
peacekeeping operations, being assessed 27 percent of the U.N.'s
total peacekeeping budget, roughly $4.75 billion for the period
from July 2006 to June 2007. The Bush Administration
has requested $1.3 billion for worldwide peacekeeping operations in
fiscal year 2007. 
There are several specific steps that Congress, the
Administration, and the U.N. itself can take to increase oversight
of U.N. peacekeeping operations, improve accountability and
transparency, and help ensure that U.N. personnel guilty of
criminal behavior are prosecuted:
- Hold hearings: Congress should hold hearings to address
the incidents of sexual exploitation committed by U.N. peacekeeping
personnel in the Sudan and call senior U.N. officials to
Investigate abuses: The United States should call for a
Security Council-backed independent investigation into abuses by
peacekeepers and civilian U.N. personnel in the Sudan, Congo, and
other major U.N. peacekeeping operations, including Haiti, Kosovo,
Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burundi.
- Establish a watchdog: An external oversight
body-completely independent of the U.N. Secretariat and backed
by a Security Council mandate-should be established to act as a
watchdog over U.N. operations, including humanitarian programs and
peacekeeping operations. This watchdog organization would
enforce the high standards that should be required of U.N.
- Establish U.S. oversight: The United States should also
set up its own U.N. oversight unit, answerable to Congress and
specifically charged with monitoring the use of American
contributions to United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian
operations. This could be funded by diverting part of the
annual assessed contribution to the United Nations.
- Push for prosecutions: The United States should pressure
U.N. member states to prosecute their nationals accused of
human rights violations while serving in U.N. peacekeeping
operations. The U.N. should lift diplomatic immunity for its own
staff accused of criminal acts in the Congo and Sudan, opening the
way for prosecution.
- Identify perpetrators' countries: The U.N. should
publicly name and shame those countries whose peacekeepers have
carried out abuses in the Sudan, Congo, and other parts of the
- Exclude past abusers: Washington should press for the
U.N. Security Council to exclude from future operations
countries whose peacekeepers have a history of human rights
violations unless they demonstrate a commitment to trying and
punishing their nationals accused of criminal behavior. Individual
peacekeeping personnel involved in sexual exploitation should be
immediately blacklisted from participation in all future
- Improve transparency: The U.N. should make public all
internal reports relating to the Sudan and Congo abuse
scandals and outline the specific steps it plans to take to
prevent the sexual exploitation of refugees in both existing and
future U.N. peacekeeping operations.
- Withhold contributions: Congress should withhold a
percentage of the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping
operations unless U.N. personnel responsible for criminal
activity are prosecuted and safeguards are put in place to prevent
The growing scandal surrounding U.N. peacekeepers in southern
Sudan, combined with large-scale peacekeeping abuses in the Congo,
further undermine the credibility of the United Nations and raise
serious questions regarding the effectiveness of the U.N.'s
leadership. New Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon should make the
elimination of sexual exploitation in U.N. operations a top
priority and pledge to bring guilty parties to justice through
sustained pressure upon member states. Under his predecessor Kofi
Annan, the U.N. consistently failed to publicize, prevent, and
punish the criminal behavior of its own personnel in trouble
spots around the world. Congress should make it clear to the United
Nations that continued robust U.S. funding of U.N. peacekeeping
will be contingent upon the elimination of all forms of abuse.
The sexual abuse scandals across the world make a mockery of the
U.N.'s professed commitment to uphold basic human rights. It is a
travesty that in the shadow of the genocide in Darfur carried out
by barbaric Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militias, personnel from the
United Nations have been preying on refugees. U.N. peacekeepers and
the civilian officials 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 war-ravaged
countries-is a shameful episode and a betrayal of trust that will
haunt the United Nations for years to come.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is
Director, and Steven Groves is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas
Fellow, in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.