UN paid millions to Russian firm accused of sexual abuse

This will probably come as a complete shock to … almost nobody. Yet another report has surfaced of the United Nations being involved with forces which engage in pretty much the opposite of helping the world’s needy and oppressed. The Guardian is reporting that the UN has paid roughly half a billion dollars in service fees to a Russian helicopter company, continuing the relationship after it was learned that at least one of their crews had probably kidnapped and raped a teenage girl in the Congo.

The United Nations has spent half a billion dollars on contracts with a Russian aviation company since discovering one of its helicopter crews in the Democratic Republic of the Congo drugged and raped a teenage girl in a sexual attack.

Senior UN officials considered terminating the company UTair’s contract after concluding that the incident, in which the girl was dumped naked and unconscious inside the helicopter base, was indicative of a wider culture of sexual exploitation at the company.

Internal UN documents, marked “strictly confidential” and leaked to the Guardian, reveal how the UN’s internal complaints unit uncovered evidence the woman was abused with lit cigarettes and photographed lying on the ground. The UN concluded the shocking attack in 2010 was perpetrated by the manager in charge of UTair’s base in Kalemie, eastern DRC.

Back in 2011 an investigation warned of a “culture of sexual exploitation and abuse” at the Russian firm, but apparently that’s not a disqualifier for fat UN service contracts. Even though the report was in their hands four years ago and even prompted “action” on the part of the UN (apparently in the form of making them promise not to do it again) the contracts continued to be renewed and the money kept on flowing.

It’s not hard to detect a pattern here. The issue of the French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic hasn’t gone away.

French prosecutors have ordered a criminal investigation into allegations that French peacekeeping soldiers raped children and demanded sex for food in the Central African Republic.

The decision follows revelations in the Guardian more than a week ago that a senior United Nations official had been suspended for leaking details of the alleged abuse to the French government…

It said the investigation concerned “the rape of minors under 15 years old by persons who had abused the authority conferred upon them by their roles, and complicity in this crime”.

The number of women and children in Haiti who were raped and abused while seeking food and help from the UN forces is estimated to be at least in the hundreds, and that figure might be grossly low. More than a decade ago the Washington Post was reporting that the list of sexual assaults by UN forces encompassed incidents in nearly a dozen countries. At the time, the leadership of the UN was forced to admit that there was a “swamp of problems” and that they were instituting a zero tolerance policy for such monstrous conduct.

I guess zero tolerance means something different in Europe and gets lost in translation. But what can be done about it? It’s not as if the UN answers directly to the United States… or any nation for that matter. Back in January of this year, Nile Gardiner and Steven Groves at Heritage offered some suggestions.

The United States must send a clear message that it will not tolerate abuse in U.S.-funded peacekeeping operations and must press strongly for the prosecution of U.N. peacekeepers by their own national governments. Congress, which holds the purse strings to U.S. funding for the United Nations, has an important role to play in helping put an end to the culture of impunity within U.N. peacekeeping. By launching its own investigations into peacekeeper abuse, as well as holding hearings on the issue, the House and Senate can dramatically raise the international profile of the matter and force the U.N. to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.

Congress and the Executive Branch can also apply pressure for the establishment of an external watchdog for U.N. operations, accountable to the U.N. Security Council, but comprised of non-U.N. staff. Only a genuinely independent oversight mechanism can ensure the kind of accountability and scrutiny that is so badly needed for U.N. peacekeeping operations. Congress is also in a position to reduce or withhold funding for peacekeeping missions unless there is a significant improvement in the behavior of U.N. peacekeepers.

None of those are terrible ideas, but it seems to me that the problem comes in implementation and monitoring rather than simple funding cuts or declarations of intent. So much of the work being done by the UN takes place in remote, far flung areas where there are no cameras or independent monitors to spy on their activities. For all we know, the abuses which have been found are only the tip of the iceberg. So what do we need here… a second entire peacekeeping force with no purpose other than to make sure that the first peacekeeping force isn’t raping children? Some problems just don’t offer a simple solution and this one is going to be a tough nut to crack.