Report: UN peacekeepers pay impoverished women for sex

Sexual exploitation of local populations by members of United Nations peacekeeping forces is “quite common but underreported,”according to a draft report by a UN internal oversight office.

The report, to be released later this month by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), claims that peacekeepers routinely pay for sex with cash, cellphones, perfume, and other items, taking advantage of women who are struggling with hunger and poverty or who are seeking to improve their lifestyle.

The OIOS draft reported 480 allegations of sexual exploitation between 2008 and 2013, one third of which involved children under the age of 18. Liberia, Congo, South Sudan, and Haiti accounted for the greatest number of allegations.

In 2014, investigators interviewed 231 women in Haiti who said they’d had transactional sexual relationships with UN peacekeepers. “For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby care items, medication, and household items were frequently cited as the ‘triggering need,’” the report said. Urban and suburban women received “church shoes,” cellphones, laptops, and perfume, as well as money.

“In cases of non-payment, some women withheld the badges of peacekeepers and threatened to reveal their infidelity via social media,” according to the report. “Only seven interviewees knew about the United Nations policy prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse.” None knew about the mission’s hotline to report it.

The UN explicitly prohibits “exchange of money, employment, goods, or services for sex.” The report suggested, however, based on the number of condoms distributed along with the number of peacekeepers seeking HIV testing and counseling, “sexual relationships between peacekeeping personnel and the local population may be routine.”

A spokesman for the OIOS declined to comment on the report, preferring to wait until its public release. However, the draft report did include a response by peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous and field support chief Atul Khare, who pointed out that, over the past decade, the number of peacekeepers worldwide has dramatically increased while the number of allegations of sexual exploitation have decreased.

The UN peacekeeping force of more than 125,000 military troops, police, and civilians is deployed in 16 operations around the world. The member states who contribute peacekeeping personnel are also responsible for investigating alleged misconduct in their ranks, though the UN can step in if no action is taken.

— by Michael Cochrane

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