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International Justice/ICC: Sep ‘08

UN says IWPR investigation has assisted efforts to clamp down on suspected sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Congo.
The United Nations has said that an IWPR investigation into alleged sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Congo “has added impetus” and “helped to sharpen” efforts to combat the problem.

The IWPR investigation, UN Sexual Misconduct Allegations Won’t Go Away, which was published in early September, reported that although a group of Indian peacekeeping soldiers accused of sexual abuse in eastern Congo had returned home, allegations of misconduct continued to surround the battalion.

The UN confirmed in August that an internal investigation had uncovered credible evidence that members of an Indian unit stationed in North Kivu province “may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse”.

A UN source said around 100 peacekeepers from India allegedly used children both to work for them and to hire Congolese girls for sex. The source said the children were used as domestic servants and to pimp for prostitutes, some as young as 12 or 13 years old.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said he was “deeply troubled” by the findings, and the Indian government promised a swift and thorough investigation.

Under the regular six-monthly troop rotation, the soldiers concerned left the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, in January. However, the IWPR report ran interviews with local women who said their replacements were continuing to break UN rules.

Peacekeepers are strictly forbidden to socialise with local people, but Mapendo Polepole, a 28-year-old prostitute from Goma, who heads an association of women suffering from AIDS, told IWPR that Indian soldiers from their base in central Goma were regular customers.

Polepole told IWPR peacekeepers in Goma have continued to flout UN regulations since the 100 peacekeepers left. Her allegations that prostitution was continuing on and around the Indian base were repeated by other sex workers in Goma.

While the story was being researched Nick Birnback, chief of the peacekeeping force’s public affairs section in New York, told us that the MONUC official responsible for military conduct and investigations is to be relocated from Kinshasa to Goma.

Following publication of the IWPR investigation, Birnback said that "well researched and documented press reports like the IWPR story have helped to sharpen the UN's response to sexual abuse and exploitation committed by peacekeepers".

He said on the ground, the IWPR story had “added impetus to the mission's ongoing efforts to address this critical issue”, and that the aforementioned officer in charge of disciplinary affairs will be transferred from Kinshasa to Goma by the end of this month. At the same time, eight UN military policemen, UNMP, from Bangladesh will be moved to Goma.

Birnback said MONUC’s conduct and discipline unit, CDU, has now opened a permanent office in Goma “to provide field support to MONUC in North Kivu, in an effort to establish an environment free of misconduct, especially sexual exploitation and abuse”.

He added that “now the CDU has a permanent presence in North Kivu, we will be able to conduct more sustained assessment on the ground”, and that “if allegations are reported or we become aware of them, then we will of course take immediate action”.

Birnback added that the North Kivu brigade has implemented more measures to stamp out sexual exploitation and abuse.

Specially-assigned officers will work with UNMP and Congolese police to identify areas likely to be frequented by prostitutes, and monitor places which are designated as out of bounds for military personnel.

The officers will keep North Kivu headquarters informed about the investigations and actions against personnel found to be indulging in sexual exploitation and abuse.

The North Kivu brigade has also created flying squads to work in close cooperation with UNMP to carry out random surprise checks in Goma to identify and prevent misconduct.

“The flying squad has been authorised to temporarily arrest any individual involved in misconduct, especially sexual exploitation and abuse related activities. Flying squads are being authorised to visit out of bounds areas after coordination with military police,” said Birnback.

In addition, all MONUC military units have been instructed to organise regular perimeter patrols to monitor areas around their camps, and the Congolese police are working with UNMP to deter prostitutes from soliciting near MONUC military locations.

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