- Following the scandals of sexual exploitation of Congolese girls by UN peacekeepers in the country, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has banned any sexual contacts between the soldiers and locals. Mr Annan is also planning to enhance the investigation of the widespread abuse of women and girls by UN peacekeepers in Congo Kinshasa (DRC).
The UN Secretary-General has written to the Security Council, appealing for more police and French-speaking investigators to strengthen the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo Kinshasa (MONUC), as an expanded investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and misconduct continues, a UN spokesperson said today.
In the letter to the UN Security Council, Mr Annan also disclosed tightened "no-fraternisation" regulations for MONUC members. This new "no-fraternisation rule" in practical terms means that UN peacekeepers in Congo Kinshasa are instructed not to have sex with Congolese civilians. Normal "no-fraternisation" regulations for UN peacekeepers forbid sex with girls or boys younger than 18 years old and forced prostitution.
Mr Annan is reacting to a sex scandal within MONUC - currently the UN's largest peacekeeping operation - that is by far greater than earlier scandals involving UN peacekeepers and personnel. According to internal UN investigations, MONUC troops have engaged in sexual exploitation of Congolese women and very young girls, with payment ranging from two eggs or US$ 5 per encounter.
The UN's central Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), which is investigating the issue, has so far received allegations of around 150 incidents in Congo, involving more than 50 UN peacekeepers. The cases range from buying sex from girls as young as 12 years to rape and gang rapes. According to Mr Annan, around 20 of these cases had so far been found substantiated.
UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe at a press briefing in New York today said that a multi-disciplinary team of investigators from the DPKO was now in Congo Kinshasa to take necessary steps. In addition to tightening the no-fraternisation rules, the DPKO mission had imposed a curfew for military contingents.
While the sex crimes in Congo were recognised by the UN in an initial report already last month, disciplinary action seemed to have no results. New cases of sexual exploitation of girls and women, in particular in Bunia in north-eastern Congo, have since been reported. These are the background for the tougher actions now implemented by the DPKO.
Mr Annan however made sure not to place collective guilt upon the entire UN mission, now numbering some 13,000 military and civilian staff. The UN Secretary-General had noted it was "important for peacekeepers to know that the members of the UN community stand together in recognising and honouring their tremendous contributions and sacrifices."
Mr Annan ended his letter to the UN Security Council with a reaffirmation of his "personal commitment to remain vigilant on this issue," and with an assurance that the UN would "work tirelessly to restore faith in UN peacekeeping as one of the world's most noble callings," Ms Okabe said.
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