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UN frustration at DRC allegations

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan reports from the United Nations headquarters in New York as officials react to a BBC investigation revealing evidence that the UN overlooked allegations that peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo traded in gold and provided weapons to rebel militia.

UN headquarters (file photo)
UN officials believe their internal justice system is finally beginning to work

At UN headquarters there is both irritation and unease over the BBC story.

Irritation because officials regard the allegations of gold smuggling in the Congo by Pakistani peacekeepers as rehashed.

Unease because, as the head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, put it in a letter to the BBC: "Every incident of misconduct by the Blue Helmets diminishes public confidence in our work and weakens the institution of peacekeeping."

The UN says an investigation by its Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into allegations that Pakistani peacekeepers in the DRC rearmed militias did not find evidence of that.

But on the allegations of gold smuggling by the Pakistani peacekeepers, the OIOS report did establish that some Pakistani troops provided meals, transport and security to businessmen engaged in the illegal trading of unwrought gold.

We do not always receive timely responses detailing follow-up actions from... contributing countries
Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of UN peacekeeping

The UN asked the government of Pakistan to take action against the officer commanding the company involved.

As for the allegations against Indian peacekeepers, the OIOS found many of them were not substantiated, says the UN.

But there was enough evidence to substantiate an allegation that some troops purchased counterfeit gold and illegally detained a local resident.

That report was sent to the Indian government in March 2008.

Independent watchdog

The UN has come a long way from the days when one official observed that "boys will be boys," when commenting on a sexual abuse scandal involving UN peacekeepers.

These days every UN mission has a dedicated conduct and discipline team on the ground.

Italian UN peacekeepers in Lebanon (Oct 07)
There are 110,000 UN peacekeepers deployed worldwide

The OIOS, an independent watchdog, looks into allegations of misconduct.

The UN General Assembly has passed a landmark victims assistance policy to help the victims of sexual abuse by peacekeepers.

And yet, the problem of misbehaving peacekeepers just will not go away. Why?

There are 110,000 UN peacekeepers deployed worldwide, more than ever before.

As Mr Guehenno pointed out to the BBC, with numbers this large it is impossible to have zero incidence of abuse.

True, but the real problem the UN faces is that countries which contribute troops are ultimately responsible for their conduct and discipline.

Reluctance to prosecute

The UN can investigate, and send wrongdoers home (a process called repatriation), but it is up to the governments involved to prosecute. Some are reluctant to do so.

How rigorous can the UN be in following up on complaints when it is politically dependent on the same governments to provide troops for peacekeeping missions?

Pakistan and India, whose troops are the subject of this BBC investigation, provide the most peacekeepers to the UN.

At a time when the peacekeeping mission in Darfur does not have enough helicopters, can tough questions be asked of those capitals which are prepared to offer up troops as peacekeepers?

Certainly governments are not always that forthcoming with information about what has happened to those accused of wrongdoing.

"We do not always receive timely responses detailing follow-up actions from our troop- and police-contributing countries once repatriation has taken place," acknowledged Mr Guehenno in his letter to the BBC.

For UN officials this is a frustrating story, as they believe their internal justice system, however imperfect, is finally beginning to work.

Yet there is also concern that another story about corruption by UN peacekeepers further dents the reputation of the blue helmets.


SEE ALSO
Congo spotlight on India and Pakistan
28 Apr 08 |  South Asia
UN troops 'helped smuggle gold'
11 Aug 07 |  Africa
Peacekeeper 'smuggled Congo gold'
13 Jul 07 |  South Asia
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
09 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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