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More action needed to stop sexual abuses, new UN report says

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NAIROBI, 25 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - A new UN report issued on Thursday said that efforts to stop UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from sexually abusing the local population have not been effective and it recommended establishing better mechanisms to investigate cases.

"Sexual exploitation and abuse appeared to be ongoing, thereby highlighting the inadequacy of current measures to address the problem in peacekeeping operations," Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordan's permanent representative to the United Nations, who the UN Secretary had asked to produce the report, said.

Al-Hussein was referring to his mission to the DRC in October 2004, pointing out Bunia, capital of the troubled northeastern district of Ituri, as being where some of the worst abuses were taking place. His report laid out how peacekeeping personnel who commit sexual exploitation and abuse need to be held individually accountable.

"There is a widespread perception that peacekeeping personnel, whether military or civilian, who commit acts of sexual exploitation and abuse rarely if ever face disciplinary charges for such acts and, at most, suffer administrative consequences. Nor are they held to account financially for the harm that they cause to their victims," he said in the report.

His report recommended that the UN play a greater role in investigating and prosecuting cases. Though troops operate under the UN flag, it is the governments of troop contributing countries that are responsible for disciplinary action.

Al-Hussein said each government should be required "to share information that it has obtained through its contingent's investigations into the incident".

Another recommendation is that, "The troop contributing countries should hold on-site courts martial, since that would facilitate access to witnesses and evidence in the peacekeeping area."

Al-Hussein also pointed to inconsistencies in the way cases of the various civilians, military and police components of a UN mission were handled.

"This is a serious shortcoming," he said in the report. "Rules against sexual exploitation and abuse must be unified for all categories of peacekeeping personnel."

The way in which UN currently undertakes investigations is inadequate. "A professional investigative process must be established and modern scientific methods of identification must be utilized," he said.

Also, he said, "The General Assembly should authorize the Secretary-General to require DNA and other tests to establish paternity in appropriate cases so as to ensure that peacekeeping personnel can be obligated to provide child support to so-called peacekeeper babies that they father and abandon.

Commenting on the report's release Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "We are committed to implement the necessary reforms as quickly as possible."

However, he also added that solutions were "a shared responsibility and can only succeed with firm commitment and action by both the Secretariat and Member States".


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