ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When Words Are Not Enough

When Words Are Not EnoughAccusations of sexual exploitation against the un

The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon has promised to investigate allegations by the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Save the Children, in a recently released report, that UN peacekeepers sexually exploited children in Haiti, Ivory Coast and south Sudan in return for food and other essentials. This is not the first time that the UN has had to face such accusations, dogged as it has been by similar claims of exploitation in different conflict-torn regions for almost a decade now. The report says that aid workers from 23 different NGOs are also guilty of the same charge. Last year Save the Children investigated 15 allegations of abuse against its own personnel, finding four of these accusations justified.

Ban has reiterated the “zero-tolerance” policy of the UN towards such acts. A UN spokesperson called the report “fair and essentially accurate”; the report said that a tiny proportion of peacekeepers and aid workers are abusing the very children they are sent to protect. While it is creditable that there was no attempt to deny the report outright, the persistence of such allegations over several years indicates that there is a wide gap between the UN’s words and its deeds. In 2002, a joint study by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children (UK) found that workers from international and local NGOs as well as the UN agencies in west Africa were among the worst sex exploiters of children, often using humanitarian aid and services intended to benefit the refugee population as a tool of exploitation. The UN Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) which investigated these allegations said that none of the allegations against any regular UN staff member were substantiated. But the following year, the UN had to launch another inquiry when there were allegations of rape and forced prostitution at its camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The inquiry results led the then secretary general Kofi Anan to say that there was “clear evidence of gross misconduct”. It also led to a number of countries questioning the effectiveness of the OIOS, demanding that member states be forced to prosecute their erring nationals accused of such violations while serving as part of the peacekeeping units and that the UN lift diplomatic immunity for its own staff accused of criminal acts.

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