The U.N.’s Heart of Darkness in the Congo

Nile Gardiner
Living in the shadow of the Oil-for-Food controversy is another major United Nations scandal that may cause untold damage to the world body’s already declining reputation. U.N. peacekeepers and civilian officials from the U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) stand accused of major human rights violations. At least 150 allegations have been made against the MONUC's personnel.

The allegations involve rape and forced prostitution of women and young girls across the country, even inside refugee camps in Bunia, a town in northeastern Congo. The victims are defenseless refugees, many of them children, who have already been brutalized and terrorized by years of war, and who looked to the U.N. for safety and protection.

The Congo abuse scandal is the latest in a string of scandals that have hit U.N. peacekeeping operations across the world. Allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by U.N. personnel stretch back at least a decade to operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

Joseph Loconte
The U.S. contribution to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo has been substantial. If 2005 figures are included, the U.S. will have contributed roughly three quarters of a billion dollars ($759 million) toward MONUC since 2000, according to State Department figures. The U.S. is expected to contribute $249 million toward MONUC in 2005, and $207 million in 2006.

Congress should hold hearings into the Congo abuse scandal and request that U.N. officials provide testimony. The U.N. needs to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and accountability.

Congress must act to ensure that U.N. civilian staff and peacekeepers are brought to justice and that such barbaric abuses are never repeated elsewhere. So far, not a single member of the U.N. operation has been successfully prosecuted.

The United States must take a stand, and declare that it will not tolerate human rights abuses by U.N. personnel. Congress should withhold a percentage of the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping operations, unless U.N. personnel responsible for criminal activity are brought to justice.

The Congo scandal has further undermined the credibility of the United Nations and raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness of the its leadership. An external oversight body completely independent of the U.N. should be established to act as a watchdog over U.N. operations, including humanitarian programs and peacekeeping operations.

Nile Gardiner is the fellow in Anglo-American security policy at the Heritage Foundation's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies. As a leading authority on transatlantic relations, Dr. Gardiner has advised the U.S. government on a range of key issues, testified before Congress, and frequently briefs delegations of political leaders and journalists from across the world. Prior to joining the Heritage Foundation, Gardiner was foreign policy researcher for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He served as an aide to Lady Thatcher from 2000 to 2002, and advised her on a number of international policy issues. Nile Gardiner received his doctorate in history from Yale University in 1998, and was awarded several academic scholarships, including the International Security Studies Smith Richardson Foundation Fellowship, and the David Gimbel Fellowship. In addition, he has two Masters degrees from Yale and a B.A. in modern history from Oxford University.

Joseph Loconte is the William E. Simon Fellow in religion and a free society at the Heritage Foundation, where he examines the role of religious beliefs in strengthening democracy and reforming civil society. Loconte previously served as deputy editor of "Policy Review," where he wrote widely about religion and politics. His book, "Seducing the Samaritan: How Government Contracts Are Reshaping Social Services" documents the destructive impact of government funding on private charities. His most recent research studies include "The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning From Uganda" and "Churches, Charity and Children: How Religious Organizations Are Reaching America’s At-Risk Kids." A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Loconte earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana and has a master’s degree in Christian history and theology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Nile Gardiner is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation and a former aide to Margaret Thatcher. Follow him on Twitter @NileGardiner.