By ABBY WISSE SCHACHTER (NY Post)
October 24, 2005 -- UNITED Nations peace keepers have a rape problem, and the U.N. last week basically admitted that it's not doing anything about it. Perhaps worse, the reasons why the world body hasn't managed to do anything here go to its effectiveness at doing anything.
It's not just rape, of course: Sexual exploitation and harassment, and various other improper sexual relationships, pop up at many of the 17 U.N. peacekeeping missions now underway around the world
The United Nations admitted the problem in March. Prince Zeid Raad al Hussein, Jordan's U.N. ambassador, produced an explosive report cataloguing a host of abuses committed by U.N. peacekeepers in civil-war-torn Congo.
The men in blue helmets were found to have raped Congolese women and young girls in their care, sometimes in exchange for food or small sums of money. Zeid was full of moral indignation: "The U.N. has scant credibility on telling member states how to treat its own populations if it doesn't come to terms with this," he declared.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared a "zero tolerance" policy — but half a year later, nothing much has changed.
At a hearing last week, the U.N. heard from Sarah Martin of the human-rights group Refugees International. Following Zeid's report and Annan's declaration, she looked in on the U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia and Haiti.
"Time and time again, whenever I interviewed people, I heard, 'Well, what do you expect to have happen when you have thousands of men taken away from their homes for long periods of time?' " Martin told the hearing.
She also explained that her interviews suggested that lots of sexual abuse cases are never reported. "They'd say, 'Why should we ruin someone's otherwise illustrious career over an act with a prostitute'," Martin declared.
Her report, "Must Boys be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in U.N. Peacekeeping Missions," can be found at refugeesinternational.org.
Meanwhile, back at Turtle Bay, Zeid couldn't get anyone to care. He complained to the media that his attempts at reform were received with deafening silence. "The entire responsibility for this mess is with the member states," he declared. Apparently, no one showed up to the meetings he scheduled.
Even after identifying a disgusting and prevalent practice among its blue helmets, the United Nations can't manage to put a stop to it. A peacekeeper accused of rape might be sent home — to be dealt with by his home justice system. Few get formally charged, let alone punished.
And U.N. peacekeepers come from the nations that are willing to lend troops. Right now, the main ones are Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh. Not exactly the roster of top societies for respecting the equal rights of women.
But then, the world body can't fix anything, explains Kenneth Cain, himself a former U.N. aid worker and co-author of the expose "Emergency Sex: and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth."
The way to get ahead at the United Nations, Cain told me, is to prevent anything from happening. "They are incapable of executing or implementing. What they can do is demonstrate their righteousness," he said. "They are perfectly happy to release documents that promise or imply efforts to reform — and time after time it dies before the ink is dry."
Zaid's complaint has part of the key: The only way to screw up as a U.N. staffer is to get into trouble with the member nations — there's no accountability for anything else, and if doing the right thing requires upsetting a member nation, it doesn't get done.
Then, too, the vast majority of U.N. employees come from the elite back home — where they can likely avoid trouble or buy their way out of it. When they get to the United Nations, few want things to work any differently.
This is, after all, the organization that didn't have the will to prevent the slaughter of 1 million Rwandans; that established a "safe haven" at Srebrenica, then let the people there be murdered; that winked at massive corruptions in the Oil-for-Food program. Confronting sexual exploitation is really low on the priority list.
As Cain put it, "The United Nations promulgates human-rights standards to the whole world. But when you try to hold them to the very same standards, it's impossible."
Can you imagine the mainstream media outrage if United States troops were constantly raping Iraqi and Afghan women? It's just standard operating procedure for UN troops on a typical 'peackeeping' mission. Most major newspapers and networks could not care less.
UPDATE: LA Times reports on the continuing policy of rape - ignore at the UN. (Seen at Discarded Lies)
Despite a raft of new policies instituted since widespread abuses by peacekeepers in Congo made headlines last year, rape and sexual exploitation continue in U.N. outposts around the world, according to a report released Tuesday by the Washington-based advocacy organization Refugees International.
A "hyper-masculine" culture and a tradition of silence among peacekeepers are making it more difficult than U.N. officials expected to halt soldiers' sexual exploitation of the people they are charged with protecting, the report said.
Instead, the soldiers are protecting one another, providing alibis for their fellow troops and making death threats against investigators, the report said.
Extensive training and a strict code of conduct have made few inroads into the "boys will be boys" culture among U.N. soldiers, said the report, based on interviews with U.N. troops and staff members, plus local residents, in six countries.