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UN peacekeeper sex abuse still 'unacceptably high'

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 (Reuters) Sexual abuse charges against U.N. peacekeepers remain unacceptably high due to a persistent ''culture of dismissiveness'' in field missions, a UN diplomat has said.

It could take three to four more years for a reform program to fully take hold, Jordan's UN ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, said yesterday in updating the UN Security Council on how the problem was being addressed.

A spike in allegations was ''not entirely unexpected'' since a system was now in now place to facilitate complaints, he said, and all the reform elements had not yet been implemented. Al-Hussein was asked by the United Nations to recommend reforms after issuing his findings a year ago.

The United Nations has so far investigated allegations against 295 troops, police and other staff, said Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN peacekeeping chief.

To date, 170 of these individuals have been sent home or dismissed, Guehenno said. Seventeen of the 170 were civilians, 16 police and 137 military personnel including six commanders.

''We are making headway in laying the foundations for the prevention of the problem in the longer term,'' he said.

The United Nations has 18 peacekeeping missions with over 85,000 staff from more than 100 countries and an annual budget of nearly 5 billion dollar.

While a reform program was still being implemented, the most effective measure against abuse would be full enforcement of a ban on prostitution, he said.

The largest U.N. peacekeeping operation -- in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the most problems have surfaced -- has barred U.N. troops from fraternizing with the local population, but this policy does not apply elsewhere.

The United Nations has accused peacekeepers and civilian staff in Congo of rape, pedophilia and enticing hungry children with food or money in exchange for sex.

The United Nations and its 191 member-states ignored sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and other field staff for decades and only launched a crackdown two years ago, after reports of abuse surfaced in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A program of assistance for abuse victims would soon be proposed, Guehenno said.

In addition, legal experts were still studying complex legal issues such as how to deal with UN staff diplomatic immunity and how to sort out enforcement between the United Nations, the countries where abuses occur and the governments contributing troops to UN missions, al-Hussein said.

In any case, ''allegations being lodged against UN peacekeeping personnel remain high and unacceptably so,'' he said, lamenting ''how hard it is to change a culture of dismissiveness, long developed within ourselves, in our countries and in the mission areas.'' Both al-Hussein and Guehenno made a plea for full U.N.

funding for in-house investigators from the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which took control of all sexual abuse inquiries last May.

US Ambassador John Bolton, who scheduled yesterday's briefing as the Security Council president for February, said he was troubled no OIOS official had been allowed to participate in the meeting.

It was ''critical that OIOS operate with complete autonomy to investigate these matters,'' he said.

Reuters PDS VP0510

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