Sex charges haunt UN forces
In places like Congo and Kosovo, peacekeepers have been accused of abusing the people they're protecting.
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Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, warned that the UN may "generate new policies" to crack down on sex abuse. But right now, with its ability to punish so limited, the UN must focus on prevention. "It's obvious the measures that we have had in place have not been adequate to deal with the changing circumstances," Lute said.Skip to next paragraph
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Kosovo is a prime example. What was once a local prostitution trade grew wildly in 1999, following the NATO airstrikes that forced Serbian security forces from their predominantly Albanian province. With the arrival of some 50,000 "internationals" - foreign peacekeepers, UN administration, and nongovernmental activists - came countless women and girls trafficked from places like Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and Bulgaria.
According to the UN's own report on trafficking this May, the vast majority of the foreign women in Kosovo - 12 percent of whom are reportedly just 14 to 17 years old - are lured by false promises of jobs, sold multiple times, and are typically controlled by "debt bondage," use of violence and fear, and even reprisals against family members back home.
Inside the Masazh Night dance club, the interior is a sea of red - blood-red carpets with red felt covering the walls. Of the six tables, only a few are occupied. To the side, a brass pole on a small stage reaches the ceiling, though no one dances just now. Huddled near the bar are a dozen scantily clad women. The boss hands out a drinks menu, with a "massage" upstairs listed at 100 euros ($120). He then reviews the daily special: "What do you like - black hair, blond hair?"
A young blonde from Ukraine named Elena approaches, uninvited. Elena says this is her third locale, after Syria and Cyprus. "There, if I didn't want to go with someone, no one forced me to," she says. "Here, they have a different system."
Amnesty International alleges that internationals continue to make up 20 percent of the clientele in Kosovo, a figure the UN disputes. Nevertheless, the UN in Kosovo and elsewhere have stepped up efforts to deal with the embarrassing frequency of scandal within its ranks.
Since 2002, raids by the UN's Trafficking and Prostitution Investigation Unit in Kosovo have netted 52 KFOR soldiers, three international police, and eight international civilians in the forbidden premises, says UN police spokesman Neeraj Singh.
For its part, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) today employs "gender advisers," plus staff members and training material dedicated to the issues of sexual violence that peacekeepers confront.
Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, say observers. Foreign troops and relief workers are typically transported thousands of miles from home into a zone of conflict.
These areas are generally poor, while UN staff and peacekeepers are laden with sought-after hard currency. In a pressure-packed environment, the stress relievers of choice are often alcohol, drugs, and opportunistic sex.
This darker side of nation-building is explored at length in a new book, "Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth." The book has scandalized the UN - Miramax reportedly may turn it into a TV show or movie.
"We draw a distinction between wild behavior that's consensual, and where officials have a duty of care they are abusing," says Amnesty's Sahgal.
Sexual violations, says Sahgal, arise from a pervasive air of impunity. Violence against women is generally not prosecuted in the peacekeepers' homeland, let alone in a chaotic war or post-conflict zone.
The UN also has no right to conduct background checks on the personnel a country contributes to a mission. And most significantly, foreign troops often enjoy immunity agreements.
Victim advocates complain it's rare for a commander to take accusations against underlings seriously, and even rarer to act against alleged perpetrators.
"If a few men were prosecuted ... I think they'd be much more on guard," says Sahgal. "Yet I don't see much evidence of that happening."
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.