An earlier article, titled “UN Peacekeeping Paramilitarism” explained that although Blue Helmets are supposed to restore order, maintain peace and security, and help people transition to stability, they usually create more conflict than resolution as imperial enforcers, committing human rights abuses against vulnerable people, nearly always unpunished.
Wherever they’re deployed, it’s the same. In Haiti, for example, where for the first time ever, an illegal MINUSTAH mission enforced coup d’etat authority against democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, instead of staying out or backing his right to return.
It’s no better elsewhere. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, where MONUC (renamed MONUSCO in July 2010) never brought peace and stability, and may be involved in reports of mass rapes and other atrocities. It wouldn’t be the first time there or elsewhere.
In December 2004, the London Times reported the following about DR Congo:
- UN staffers committed 150 or more sex crimes, including pornographic videos and photos, “now on sale in Congo;”
- two Russian pilots enlisted girls for sex in exchange for jars of mayonnaise;
- UN peacekeepers in Kisangani, on the Congo River, impregnated 141 Congolese women and girls; others were accused of rape;
- Congo’s Minister of Defense, Major General Jean Pierre Ondekane, told a top UN official that all peacekeepers in Kisangani would be remembered “for running after little girls,” not doing their job;
- at least two UN officials, a Ukrainian and Canadian, were forced out of DR Congo for impregnating local women;
- many other abuses involved sexual abuse and exploitation, involving sex trafficking and rape; and
- then UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, told the Times: “The fact that these things happen is a blot on us. It’s awful. What is important is to get to the bottom of it and fight it and make sure that people who do that pay for what they have done.”
Unfortunately sexual abuse, rape, and sex trafficking are more commonplace than occasional, wherever Blue Helmets are deployed.
On November 5, 2009, the London Independent published Bradley Klapper’s AP report headlined, “Fifty UN peacekeepers punished for sex abuses,” saying:
At least 50 were involved in “committing sexual abuses (and exploitation) on United Nations missions since 2007, the UN said today.” It’s the tip of the iceberg. Since the first June 1948 UNTSO mission after Israel’s “war of independence,” abuses occurred regularly in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan, Lebanon, Cambodia, Liberia, East Timor, Rwanda, Haiti, DR Congo, and elsewhere. Since 2007 through late 2009 alone, UN officials uncovered over 450 instances of misconduct. Imagine how many others weren’t reported, and abuses remain ongoing today.
In January 2009, Save the Children reported Blue Helmet abuses, including trading food for sex with girls as young as eight in Liberia, said also to go on in Burundi, Ivory Coast, East Timor, DR Congo, Cambodia, and Bosnia. Various other reports were similar, abuses including sex with young girls, rape and trafficking.
On July 16, 2009, IPS writer Marina Litvinsky headlined, “Rape by Regular Army a Growing Problem, HRW (Human Rights Watch) Says,” stating:
In DR Congo alone, “tens of thousands of women and girls have suffered horrific acts of sexual violence at the hands of the government army,” according to a new report, titled “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Little is done to stop it nor against culpable peacekeepers. As a result, Congolese women and girls are ravaged with impunity.
HRW’s report came two days after an Oxfam one about rampant sexual violence and abuse in 20 conflict-ridden North and South Kivu communities. As a result, people there live in constant fear of more attacks, vulnerable on their own. Congo’s MONUC head, Alan Doss, also took note, saying:
“We have also seen violence against women and girls in provinces that have been at peace for many years.” In large parts of the country, no one is safe.
On September 7, 2010, New York Times writer Neil MacFarquhar headlined, “UN Officials Say 500 Were Victims of Congo Rapes,” stating:
In July and August, they were raped in eastern Congo. Rebel and government troops were accused, involving girls as young as seven. Worse still, “Over 15,000 rapes were reported annually in both 2008 and 2009,” according to Atul Khare, deputy head of peacekeeping, omitting how many peacekeepers may be culpable, given how often later evidence shows it wherever they’re deployed.
On October 3, New York Times writer Jeffrey Gettleman headlined, “Mass Rapes in Congo Reveals UN Weakness,” saying:
Peacekeepers stood by as marauding rebels mass raped at least 200 women. “Despite more than 10 years (and) billions of dollars, the peacekeeping force still seems to be failing at its most elemental task: protecting people,” though left unsaid was why. It’s because their mission everywhere is for privilege and power, not people, especially when Black and impoverished.
According to Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, “Congo is the UN’s crowning failure. If the women being raped were the daughters or wives or mothers of the power elites, I can promise you this war would have ended about 12 years ago.” Instead it continues to rape Congo of its resources as well as its women, easy pickings, including for peacekeepers.
On May 27, 2008, CNN reported that:
“Humanitarian aid workers and United Nations peacekeepers are sexually abusing small children in several war-ravaged and food-poor countries,” according to Save the Children.
“After interviewing hundreds of children, the charity said it found instances of rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex.” According to Jasmine Whitebread, Save the Children UK’s chief executive:
“It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children’s rights.”
As shocking is the “chronic under-reporting” of believed thousands more children suffering globally in silence, “too frightened to report the abuse, fearful” more will follow, and no one will confront their abusers.
Report on “UN Peacekeeping Economies and Local Sex Industries: Connections and Implications”
In September 2009, Kathleen M. Jennings and Vesna Nikolic-Rstanovic prepared the MICROCON (Micro Level Analysis of Violent Conflict) Research Working Paper 17 with the above title.
Examining Blue Helmet missions in Bosnia (UNMIBH), Kosovo (UNMIK), Liberia (UNMIL), and Haiti (MINUSTAH), the paper examined “the interplay between the peacekeeping economy and the sex industry, including domestic sex work, trafficking for sexual exploitation, and sex tourism.”
Despite claiming “zero tolerance,” UN officials haven’t stopped decades of serious peacekeeper-committed abuses. According to MICROCON:
It “suggests that the existence and potential long-term perpetuation of a highly gendered peacekeeping economy threatens to undermine, if not actively contradict, the goals and objectives to gender roles and relations that are generally an implicit or explicit component of most contemporary peace operations.”
Organized Sex Transactions in Peacekeeping Economies
Sexual exploitation is wide-ranging, including slavery and prostitution, what the UN calls “transactional sex,” peacekeepers very much involved. In countries like Bosnia and Kosovo, “domestic sex work and sex trafficking have become a seemingly permanent part of the” economy. Their peacekeeping missions affect both supply and demand, “effectively creating avenues (for) trafficking of women for sexual exploitation into/through these areas.”
Local women often can’t satisfy the demand so foreign ones from poor nations are imported to supplement. Bosnia and Kosovo “are consistent with other (countries where) the development and evolution of sex trafficking is a component of the overall expansion of the sex industry, which in turn is driven by militarism.”
Organized crime also gets involved. The prevalence of rape and sex slavery increases. Women and young girls are brutally exploited, and “documented cases of UN soldiers (show) that, far from helping the victims,” they become clients or otherwise implicated in the trade.
Former prisoners said they saw girls forced into UN vehicles and driven away. International military and civilian personnel are directly involved in the sex industry, including trafficking, a 2002 Turin Conference on Trafficking, Slavery and Peacekeeping report saying “peacekeepers are often part of the problem,” connected to organized crime, because human trafficking provides “an important revenue source.”
In addition, once established, the sex trade continues when peacekeepers leave, its effects permanent and destructive. MICROCON also asked if the link between peacekeeping economies and sex industries remains valid given claimed UN efforts against it. Yes, based on evidence and observations in Haiti and Liberia where the local sex trade and trafficking flourish, demand “generated by the peacekeeping economy.”
“The impact of the UN’s zero-tolerance policy on (Haitian and Liberian) sex industries… is debatable.” The policy is hard to enforce, harder with little or no effort made to do it. Further, it says nothing about the legality or illegality of the sex industry in countries with peacekeepers, and doesn’t try to regulate their types or nature. In fact, it can’t as it’s up to national or sub-national authorities, often corrupted and complicit.
“The critical issue — the environment that enables the commoditization of the sexual labor of local women, men, and children – is ignored, except insofar as mission personnel are prohibited from patronizing certain establishments,” or otherwise being involved. Yet, they do it anyway, the above evidence showing how pervasively and abusively.
MICROCON concluded, saying different peace missions have different gender mandates, goals, and objectives, despite UN Resolution 1325, calling for a gender perspective that includes the special needs and rights of women and girls. The ultimate goal is gender equality, nowhere near achieved.
“….there seems to be a fundamental mismatch between the (UN’s) goals… and its participation in and perpetuation of a peacekeeping economy that has concrete and often negative impacts on” local women and men. As a result, peacekeepers often undermine local economies, raising considerations about their effectiveness and real purpose.
UN officials acknowledge the problem, including its own personnel involved in committing sexually exploitive or abuse acts. Yet acknowledgement only highlights its “tendency to compartmentalize problems… rather than (address) symptoms of the larger political economy that it is unable or unwilling to deal with constructively.”
The UN’s zero tolerance policy is more rhetoric than effective policy, and won’t change fundamentals on the ground that include an informal and exploitable labor force, corruption and criminality, no accountability, and ongoing sex trade. As a result, UN peacekeepers are more corrosive and negative, not a positive influence where they’re deployed. They serve power, not local people needs, and that’s the crux of the problem UN authorities make no effort to address or correct.