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Congo peacekeepers face sex abuse claims

/ Source: The Associated Press

The United Nations is investigating 150 allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Congo, a disturbing sign that efforts to rid the so-called “blue helmets” of such misconduct in recent years haven’t worked, officials said Monday.

The allegations include pedophilia, rape and soliciting prostitutes, all claims that have been made against peacekeepers working under the U.N. mandate in the past, said Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

“It's important that those missions be above reproach and adhere to a standard of condition which not only we have a right to expect, but the people in these circumstances themselves have a right to expect,” Holl Lute said.

The allegations in Congo started coming to light in the spring, and there is enough evidence in many of the cases for formal investigations, she said. Investigators are now checking the 15 other U.N. missions around the world to see how widespread the problem is.

In recent years, the United Nations has tried to put more emphasis on training peacekeepers beforehand and re-emphasizing codes of conduct. But Holl Lute said those changes have not kept pace with the massive growth in peacekeeping missions, and their complexity — where soldiers often are deployed in highly volatile, lawless areas rather than manning clearly delineated truce lines.

Officials have refused to give details about specific cases, but at least three people in Congo have been sent home for further investigation.

Investigative teams deployed
She said U.N. leaders were now determined to get tougher. So-called “personnel conduct officers” have been sent to the missions in Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast and Haiti.

Several investigative teams have been deployed to Congo, including one that arrived Monday. Another is on its way to study long-term proposals.

The United Nations has also named Jordan’s Prince Zeid Al Hussein a special adviser on sexual exploitation with the hope that he can talk to governments and make sure they pursue claims against their soldiers.

“I’m talking to governments so we have a collective response to assist the secretary-general and the U.N. by ensuring that these cases don’t arise in the future,” Zeid told The Associated Press.

The United Nations hopes Zeid’s background will give him the power he needs in an extremely difficult task. He is one of the few U.N. ambassadors with peacekeeping experience, from Bosnia in 1994 and 1995. In addition, Jordan is among the top troop suppliers for U.N. missions.