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12/24/04 - PEACEKEEPERS AS ABUSERS  - 2004-12-23

United Nations soldiers serving in Burundi and Congo are being accused of sexual offenses. Jane Lute, an American serving as a U-N assistant secretary-general, told the Reuters news agency that the charges include sex with children, rape, and prostitution. Ms. Lute says there is photographic and video evidence of these atrocities.

According to the New York Times newspaper, the U-N has "uncovered one-hundred-fifty allegations of sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Congo." There may be many more actual cases of sexual assault because many girls are afraid to report what happened to them. A twelve-year-old girl called Solange told a reporter, "I didn't tell my mother because she would beat me."

This month, two U-N soldiers serving in Burundi were suspended from duty. They are accused of engaging in sexual misconduct. A draft U-N report cites cases of alleged sexual misconduct involving U-N peacekeepers from Pakistan, Nepal, Uruguay, Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa.

Jan Egeland, a U-N emergency relief coordinator calls the reports of sexual abuse by U-N peacekeepers "disturbing":

"What we have seen in Congo and elsewhere should never have happened. If we as peacekeepers and aid workers abuse the civilian population, then we have really, really failed. We're there to protect and help, not to abuse those who are the most vulnerable."

U-N Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that he is "afraid there is clear evidence that acts of gross misconduct have taken place. This is a shameful thing for the United Nations to have to say, and I am absolutely outraged by it," says Mr. Annan.

Those who could engage in sexual exploitation, in Africa and elsewhere, cannot be tolerated. These allegations must be thoroughly investigated and appropriate actions taken. As President George W. Bush says, "Those who create these victims...must be severely punished."