The shadows of children allegedly raped by United Nations peacekeepers in the Congo and the women allegedly molested by a top U.N. official fall across the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
From this past Monday to March 11, the U.N. will meet in New York City to review global progress on the "women’s human rights agreement" known as the Beijing Platform (1995).
Over 6,000 advocates of women’s rights will attend.
How can a self-respecting woman, let alone a feminist, legitimize the U.N. through her presence? The CSW should be in the forefront of those crying out for justice and U.N. accountability. Instead, the CSW will almost certainly call for expanding the U.N.’s power and funding.
Rage will be directed instead at President Bush who has already created pre-meeting controversy. On Thursday, the Bush administration signaled its refusal to renew an unconditional commitment to the Beijing Platform, a declaration of women’s rights promoted by the Clintons, which many consider to be a radical feminism’s global agenda.
Bush is balking because the declaration is seen to legitimize abortion as a "human right." Given the widespread reports that the U.N. was complicit in China’s forced abortion policy, the administration’s caution about how the Platform will be interpreted and implemented is justified.
But if abortion is center stage, a more fundamental question still remains: By what moral standard is the U.N. a proper stage on which to negotiate women’s rights? How much blood and corruption has to splatter before the U.N.’s moral authority is washed away?
Its credibility on human rights has been broken beyond repair by the oil-for-food scandal that, as a FOX News series stated, "ended up with Saddam Hussein pocketing billions to become the biggest graft-generating machine" in history.
Its integrity on women’s rights was destroyed in 2001 by the surging traffic in under-aged prostitutes in Bosnia. The traffic was not only created by the arrival of tens of thousands of male U.N. personnel who sought prostitutes but also by behind-the-scenes involvement by U.N. personnel.
The female staff member who blew the whistle was fired, later to be exonerated as the evidence unfolded.
The intervening years have not improved the U.N.’s record.
Approximately 50 U.N. personnel currently face some 150 allegations of sexual abuse, most of them involving children, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The situation has been labeled "the sex-for-food scandal" because children traded sex for the handful of food they needed to live.
Reports from the Congo surfaced last year. An article in December’s London Times stated, "When the police arrived the man was allegedly about to rape a 12-year-old girl."
The accused serial rapist and pedophile was a U.N. expert in the $700 million-a-year effort to rebuild the war-ravaged nation. Anneke Van Woudenberg of the Human Rights Watch organization, states, "The U.N. is there for their protection, so when the protectors become violators, this is particularly egregious."
The U.N. tends to stonewall such accusations despite its "zero tolerance" policy toward sexual abuse. When ABC’s 20/20 confronted William Swing, head of the Congo’s U.N. peacekeeping mission, he blamed the problem on a small number of miscreants. He emphasized the remedial measures taken-- such as curfews and prohibitions against fraternization with prostitutes.
ABC’s cameras, however, caught a group of peacekeepers out after the curfew with prostitutes at a bar. When Swing commented, "Perhaps my senior management…wasn't aware of it," ABC pointed out that several people at the bar were from senior management.
Investigative journalist David Ross explains that the abuse is a by-product of the de facto immunity from law enjoyed by U.N. personnel. Ross writes, "Peacekeeping troops come from U.N. member states and are only accountable to their own governments. U.N. civilian employees enjoy immunity from local prosecution and as a result tend not to face charges in countries where they are stationed."
Perhaps this explains why investigative reports now suggest that sexual abuse by U.N. "peacekeepers" is worldwide.
This could be good news. If there is a structural "incentive" to abuse, then abuse could be minimized by changing the structure. But reform requires the one thing that the U.N. seems determined to avoid: taking responsibility.
Consider the Lubbers scandal that played out earlier this month.
Ruud Lubbers, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was accused of "unwanted physical contact" with a female staff member in December 2003. The scandal emerged only after the Independent, a UK newspaper, published details of a confidential July, 2004 report from the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services, which pointed to a pattern of sexual harassment.
Until then, Secretary General Koffi Annan declined to act.
The Independent’s expose was published on Feb. 18; on Feb. 20, Lubbers resigned at Annan’s request.
The UN is no more forthcoming on the sex-for-food scandal. In response to a blistering commentary by Michelle Malkin entitled "U.N.'s Rape of the Innocents," Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, repeated the standard line. A zero tolerance policy is being enforced.
Moreover, she called Malkin "negligent" for not reporting on the U.N.’s remedial measures.
This is not an agency that shoulders responsibility.
Which returns us to the question, why are feminists pretending that the U.N. is a proper stage to discuss women’s rights? No self-respecting woman would walk through its doors.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.