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NGO Demands Independent Inquiry into UN Peacekeeper Sexual Abuse Scandal

Geneva, January 3, 2007 — UN Watch today called on new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to create immediately an independent investigation into disturbing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan, with full powers to prosecute offending soldiers as well as UN officials who were obliged but failed to prevent the crimes.

In addition, the Geneva-based human rights group urged High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, responsible for mainstreaming human rights throughout the UN, to strongly condemn the abuses and conduct her own inquiry in the region.  “Mr. Ban will be judged by how firm and fast he is to take action against these shocking allegations of abuse,” said UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer.  “Words from the UN are no longer enough—Mr. Ban must show deeds,” said Neuer. “First impressions count, and this is now Mr. Ban’s first important test.”

Below is the full text of the UN Watch letter sent today to Mr. Ban and Ms. Arbour.


His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon
The Secretary-General
The United Nations
New York, NY 10017 

The Honorable Louise Arbour
High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Office Geneva
1211 Geneva 10

January 3, 2007

 

Dear Mr. Secretary-General and Madam High Commissioner,

We write to you regarding the appalling allegations of sexual abuse of children by UN peacekeepers in Southern Sudan that have just been reported by the Daily Telegraph.

As you know, UN Watch has been one of the leading non-governmental organizations urging the Human Rights Council to take action against Sudan's atrocities in Darfur. We represented the largest NGO coalition at the recent special Council session on Darfur and played a similar leading role in other UN human rights forums.  It was UN Watch's intervention that led the UN Working Group on Minorities to hold Sudan to account in its report last year.  Last month, we co-sponsored, together with the STAND group and with Darfuri refugees, the only demonstration at the Council demanding action for Darfur.  We therefore have great interest in events in Sudan and in preserving the credibility of current and proposed international missions to the region.

We were shocked to read of the allegations—detailed in a 2005 internal UNICEF report and corroborated by evidence gathered by the Daily Telegraph and NGOs in the region—that, since they were deployed two years ago, UN peacekeepers in Southern Sudan have regularly been sexually abusing children who already have suffered so much in the recent civil war.    

In our advocacy, we have consistently argued for UN intervention to protect civilians in Darfur from the horror of mass rapes, killings and displacement.  We continue to believe that an international force in the western region of Sudan will bring far more help than harm to that region's victims.  But unless the UN takes immediate, firm and sustained action against the reported abuses by its personnel in other regions of Sudan—and indeed around the world—we fear that today's allegations will pose a setback to this effort.
 
Last month, former Secretary-General Annan said there would be "zero tolerance" of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers.  Yet in the case of the current allegations, this appears not to have been the case.  The Daily Telegraph reports that the UN has known about the problems in Southern Sudan for more than a year but has not taken action.

Leading experts and NGOs such as Refugees International believe that sexual abuse by peacekeepers of young victims is occurring in almost every UN mission around the globe, including in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. [Click for BBC Video on Abuse]  Despite allegations of widespread abuse, however, out of approximately 100,000 UN peacekeepers, the UN itself admitted to having knowledge of only two examples of sex offenders being sent to jail (BBC News, December 1, 2006).  This shocking failure to take meaningful action against abusers creates a culture of impunity that can be tolerated no longer.

We welcome yesterday's announcement by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute that the current allegations would be investigated—but a business-as-usual investigation is simply not enough.  The UN must take immediate and powerful action to convince the world that, this time, it is serious about having "zero tolerance" for peacekeeper sexual abuse.  We propose the following:

  • A high-level investigation led by a team of major international figures with full independent powers to collect and examine information and to prosecute sexual abuse by peacekeepers as well other UN officials.
  • Additionally, the inquiry should follow the chain of responsibility and examine UN officials who were obliged to but failed to take action to prevent such crimes.
  • The inquiry panel should include respected authorities on international law and women's and children's rights—people such as Justice Richard J. Goldstone of South Africa, former member of the Volcker Commission on the Iraq Oil for Food program, and University of Michigan law professor Catherine A. Mackinnon, an expert who has successfully litigated on behalf of Bosnian women victims of sexual abuse.
  • Separate and additional to the above, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is responsible for mainstreaming human rights within the UN system, should strongly condemn these abuses, and conduct her own investigation in the region to determine how her office can assist in preventing future cases of UN peacekeeper sexual abuse.


We urge you to act immediately to protect the credibility of current and proposed UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan, as well as around the world.  The victims of abuse in Sudan, and elsewhere, deserve no less.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director


UN Watch is a Geneva-based human rights organization founded in 1993 to monitor UN compliance with the principles of its Charter. It is accredited as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and as an Associate NGO to the UN Department of Public Information.