A third of allegations of sexual abuse by UN personnel involve a minor under 18, according to the report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) obtained by AFP on Thursday (June 11).
Interviews done with victims in Haiti and Liberia suggest that the United Nations is downplaying the scale of the problem by under-reporting cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeeping personnel.
In Haiti, 231 people admitted to having “transactional sexual relationships” with peacekeepers in exchange for “jewellery, ‘church’ shoes, dresses, fancy underwear, perfume, cell phones, radios, televisions and, in a few cases, laptops.”
The women interviewed in the report said they were hungry, homeless or needed items for their babies or their households.
A survey of 489 women aged 18 to 30 in Monrovia showed that over a quarter of the city’s women had engaged in sex with UN peacekeepers, usually for money.
In Liberia, women who engaged in sex with the peacekeepers were not poorer than others and also viewed the mission “more favourably” than women who did not have sexual relations, the study showed.
Some women in Haiti “withheld the badges of peacekeepers and threatened to reveal their infidelity via social media” if the men refused to pay.
“Evidence from two peacekeeping missions demonstrates that transactional sex is quite common but under-reported in peacekeeping missions,” said the draft report dated May 15.
There were 480 allegations of sexual abuse from 2008 and 2013 with the largest missions registering high numbers of cases, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Haiti, Sudan and South Sudan.
The OIOS noted that civilians serving in missions account for 33 per cent of all allegations, even though they only represent 17pc of the mission’s personnel.
UN peacekeeping officials have pointed to a drop in cases of sexual abuse from 127 in 2007 to 51 last year, but the reductions “are partly explained by under-reporting,” said the OIOS.
The United Nations began issuing rules 10 years ago to the blue helmets that “strongly discourage sexual relations” with the people that they are helping.
But the report cited widespread confusion among UN peacekeepers on the boundaries that should not be crossed.
There was a “general view that people should have romantic rights” and UN staff “raised the issue of sexuality as a human right,” it added.
The final report to be released on Monday (June 15) coincides with an outcry over allegations of child sexual abuse by French and African troops in the Central African Republic.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has ordered an independent external review after the United Nations admitted that those cases were poorly handled.
Responding to the report’s findings, Under-Secretary of State Atul Khare said sexual exploitation “committed by those who should be protectors is truly abhorrent.”
Khare noted that UN efforts to address sexual abuse allegations were producing results, with a “decreasing trend” during a time when there are more troops and personnel being deployed in crisis zones.
The United Nations has 125,000 peacekeepers deployed in 16 missions worldwide.
Read original report here.