UN official underscores zero tolerance for sexual misconduct

August 14th, 2008 - 10:31 am ICT by IANS  

United Nations, Aug 14 (IANS) As an internal UN probe found evidence that Indian peacekeepers in Congo may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse, the mission’s Force Commander reiterated the world body’s zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct. The misbehaviour of even one soldier can damage the reputation of the entire operation, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) told reporters Wednesday.

An investigation by the UN has found prima facie evidence that troops with an Indian contingent in the mission, which is known as MONUC, may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse.

Gaye noted that there are 17,000 troops deployed in the DRC, “some of them doing their task in very tough conditions and the misbehaviour of just one peacekeeper may tarnish their image and all their work.”

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.

“We are doing our very best to implement zero tolerance. I can tell you that there is much progress on that now. The mindset of all the peacekeepers in regard to the issue of zero tolerance is very clear,” Gaye said.

“They know that all fraternisation, all sexual relations are forbidden. But unfortunately there are still some of them who are misbehaving,” he said.

He said that the mission was on track to stamp out sexual abuse by peacekeepers, through measures such as establishing “out-of-bounds areas” for troops, curfews which prevent them leaving their barracks after a certain hour, and stopping them from going out in civilian clothes.

As for what happened to soldiers found guilty of misconduct, Gaye said it was important to see their home countries taking steps against them and that some nations had taken action.

In a statement released by his spokesperson Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-mmon said that the Indian Government had assured the UN that the allegations into conduct by peacekeepers with MONUC would be promptly and thoroughly investigated and, if proven, strict and exemplary action would be taken as per the law.

MONUC, which was established in late 1999, is one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world.

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