Antony for quick probe of sexual abuse slur on Indian peacekeepers

August 13th, 2008 - 8:44 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/United Nations, Aug 13 (IANS) Defence Minister A.K. Antony Wednesday asked for a time-bound probe into charges of sexual exploitation and abuse by Indian peacekeepers in the Congo following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s demand for “disciplinary action to the maximum degree permitted by Indian law”. “I would like that the allegations are promptly and thoroughly investigated in a time-bound manner,” an official Wednesday quoted Antony as saying about the allegations and Ban’s subsequent remarks.

Close on the heels of taking action against three of its UN peacekeepers in the Congo, the Indian Army has said Tuesday that it was probing charges of sexual exploitation and abuse by another group of its soldiers in the African nation.

The Indian Army Tuesday issued a statement saying: “In keeping with the efforts to ensure the highest standards of discipline and conduct by the Indian peacekeepers, the vice chief of army staff (Lt. Gen. M.L. Naidu), during his visit to the Indian brigade in MONUC May 27-30, had directed that an internal inquiry be carried out by the commander there, Brigadier Inderjeet Narayan, to examine the allegations and identify the defaulters, if any.

“It has also been learnt that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) of the UN has also conducted an inquiry into the matter. We would seek the details of this inquiry to corroborate/augment the internal inquiry being conducted by the Indian Army.

“The Indian Army is committed to ensure that necessary disciplinary action is taken against the individuals, if proved guilty,” the statement added.

Ban said he was “deeply troubled” by the outcome of an internal UN investigation that found evidence that a number of Indian peacekeepers, previously assigned to one of the units with the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse.

“He reiterates, in the strongest possible terms, that such behaviour, if substantiated, is wholly unacceptable and that disciplinary action to the maximum degree permitted by Indian law should be taken as soon as possible against those found to be involved in such misconduct,” a statement released by his spokesperson said Tuesday.

Ban said the Indian government had assured the UN that the allegations into conduct by peacekeepers for the mission, known as MONUC, would be promptly and thoroughly investigated and, if proven, strict and exemplary action would be taken as per the law.

Stressing that he highly valued India’s long-standing and valuable support for UN peacekeeping, the secretary-general expressed his respect for all those peacekeepers from India and other troop-contributing countries who served with honour and commitment.

The misconduct of a few should not diminish the enormous contribution and sacrifice of the large number of blue helmets who serve the cause of peace, he added.

The UN has imposed a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeepers, and senior officials have reiterated in recent years that this means there is no impunity for blue helmets who engage in such practices.

The statement contained no details about the suspected sexual exploitation and abuse but UN officials have said the alleged incidents took place in North Kivu province, where UN troops have been policing a shaky ceasefire between rival rebel and militia factions and government troops.

The allegations surfaced after the UN mission in Congo came under heavy scrutiny due to a report by Human Rights Watch earlier this year, which accused it of covering up allegations of Pakistani and Indian troops’ involvement in alleged arms and gold smuggling in eastern Congo.

MONUC, which was established in late 1999, is one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world. The vast majority of MONUC’s nearly 18,000-strong force is based in Congo’s east, which has remained a violent patchwork of rebel fiefdoms and militia-controlled areas despite the official end of a 1998-2003 war.

More than 100 UN peacekeepers and personnel have been killed attempting to bring the situation under control.

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