UNITED NATIONS – A U.N. report on peacekeeper (search) sex abuse released Thursday describes the U.N. military arm as deeply flawed and recommends withholding salaries of the guilty and requiring nations to pursue legal action against perpetrators
Those recommendations and several others come after repeated allegations that peacekeepers exploited the very people they were sent to protect. The report described a troubled system where peacekeepers have often "failed to grasp the dangers confronting them, seduced by day-to-day conditions that can be viewed as benign."
It said abuses had been reported in missions ranging from Bosnia and Kosovo to Cambodia, East Timor, West Africa and Congo (search). While allegations of abuse have dogged peacekeeping missions since their inception 50 years ago, the issue was thrust into the spotlight after the United Nations found earlier this year that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.
"You cannot overstate the value of peacekeeping and what it can bring to a society, so for that reason I think we must restore it," Prince Zeid al Hussein (search), Jordan's U.N. ambassador and the author of the report, told The Associated Press before its release.
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Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) appointed Zeid, who once served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia, to study the Congo abuses and propose changes to keep them from happening again.
One of his key tasks was finding ways to hold peacekeepers more accountable in a system where the United Nations has few legal means to take action and those accused of wrongdoing are often sent home and never punished.
The task is especially troublesome because the United Nations does not want to risk offending nations who provide scarce peacekeeping troops.
In the last several months, Zeid has discussed his proposals with nations that contribute the most troops — such as Pakistan, Morocco, Brazil and Bangladesh — and those that fund missions, like the United States.
"My feeling is that most of the principal troop contributing countries will agree to this formula," he said.
U.N. peacekeeping missions comprise soldiers, civilians and civilian police who are held to different standards of conduct. Investigators appointed to probe crimes often do not feel qualified to handle the cases.
And sometimes troops and civilians fail to understand the complexities of the countries where they deploy. That must be counteracted, the report said.
"There are at least some people in peacekeeping who perceive it as almost a form of camping," Zeid said. "You can forget how wounded and traumatized the people you're working with are. You can make assumptions that you're entering into a normal consensual relationship if you're a civilian staff member and often those assumptions may be misguided."
The report makes a host of recommendations, many focusing on ways to hold peacekeepers more accountable by strengthening the U.N. rules for nations that contribute peacekeepers.
One idea is that militaries court martial soldiers accused of wrongdoing in the country where the claims were made. Another asks that nations agree to refer cases to national courts for prosecution if a U.N. investigation finds their peacekeepers committed abuse, Zeid said.
Currently, U.N. troops and employees accused of wrongdoing are sent home to be dealt with by their own government but are often never punished.
The United Nations could also withhold salaries for peacekeepers found guilty and put the money in a fund to care for their victims or the babies they father.
"There is a need to try to ensure that the fathers, who can be identified, perhaps through blood or DNA testing, bear some financial responsibility for their actions," the report said.
The report also calls for the United Nations to form an investigative arm to pursue misconduct allegations.
With the United Nations burdened by scandals including alleged corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq and allegations of sexual harassment by U.N. staff, officials have sought to deal with the peacekeeper sex abuse issue quickly.
Congress is also looking into the issue, and Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., has proposed a bill that would require troop-contributing nations to have codes of conduct in place. Otherwise, the United States would withhold funding for missions.
Zeid set 2007 as a target date to complete many of his recommendations. In a clear reference to the United States, he said members' concerns had weighed heavily when he wrote the report. The United States contributes about 25 percent of peacekeeping budgets, the most of any nation.
"Parliaments, and especially those legislatures of the largest contributors to the U.N. peacekeeping budget, may feel ill at ease over continuing to extend support to peacekeeping in the absence of any significant change," Zeid said.