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UN peacekeepers in Congo face sex abuse charges

UN peacekeepers in the Congo are continuing to sexually abuse and exploit women and girls, some as young as 13, according to a UN watchdog agency.

"We have had, and continue to have, a serious problem of sexual exploitation and abuse," William Lacy Swing, the secretary-general's special representative to the Congo told a news conference on Friday.

"We are shocked by it, we are outraged, we are sickened by it," he said. "Peacekeepers who have been sworn to assist those in need, particularly those who have been victims of sexual violence, instead have caused grievous harm. It is inexcusable behaviour, we are determined to stamp it out."

Reports of around 150 allegations of sexual exploitation emerged in early 2004. The United Nations mission began investigating itself before calling in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

It now has a special team continuing investigations which are expected to continue for another six weeks.

Peacekeepers regularly had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money, an investigation by the office found. Sexual activities continued even while the investigation was going on in Bunia last year, the report said.

"It was clear that the investigation did not act as a deterrent for some of the troops, perhaps because they had not been made aware of the severe penalties for engaging in such conduct, nor had they seen any evidence of a negative impact on individual peacekeepers of such behaviour," it said.

The investigators said some military officers had tried to block their work: "On several occasions, the commanders of these contingents either failed to provide the requested information or assistance or actively interfered with the investigation."

The problems were "serious and ongoing" and it was "disturbing" that there was no deterrence or protection programme, the report by the UN oversight agency said.

The team investigated 72 allegations against both military and civilian UN personnel, which resulted in 20 case reports. One involved a UN civilian, the others peacekeepers.

"In six cases, the allegations against the peacekeeper were fully substantiated, and underage girls were involved in all of them," the report said. None of the accused peacekeepers admitted the allegations.

In other cases the evidence was either convincing, but not fully substantiated or could not be corroborated, according to the report.

People's Daily Online

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