Lords of Impunity ... Why Whistleblowing at the UN Is a Waste of Time: Until the United Nations Can Show That It Has a Credible Record of Protecting Whistleblowers, Employees Who Are Aware of Sexual Exploitation or Other Human Rights Abuses in Peacekeeping Operations Are Likely to Remain Silent, Writes Rasna Warah, a Former UN Staff Member
Warah, Rasna, New African
THE RECENT PROTESTS IN HAITI against United Narions peacekeepers who allegedly sexually abused a Haitian man occurred, unlorcunacely, at a time when the UN was desperately trying to protect its image after the recent release of the feature film The Whisdeblower, which reveals UN personnel's complicity in human trafficking in Bosnia.
The Whistleblower is a film based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a former UN peacekeeper who, while serving in Bosnia during 1999-2000 stumbled upon a horrific human trafficking ring that involved her colleagues in the UN, the US-based company that contracted her, and a cartel of local traffickers.
The film documents Bolkovac's desperate efforts to save two Ukrainian girls sold into sexual slavery in Bosnia. Her attempts to expose the human trafficking ring that kidnapped and sold them were thwarted by UN bureaucrats and her bosses, who seemed more concerned about preserving their organisations' reputations than protecting the lives of women.
Bolkovac was eventually fired by the organisation appointed by the UN to provide peacekeepers from the USA to Bosnia (and which is currently operating in Somalia), but successfully won a suit for wrongful dismissal in a British court.
One reviewer said the film "constitutes perhaps the darkest cinematic pottrayal of a UN operation ever on the big screen, finding particular fault with top UN brass, the US State Department, and a major US contractor thac supplies American policemen for UN missions".
Sources say UN spin doctors have been working overtime cowards damage concrol and CO show thac the world body is serious about addressing human rights violations and other wrongdoing by ics own personnel.
Prior to the release of The Whistleblowery the UN Department of Public Information issued a press release stating that since the Bosnian case, the world body had adopced a "zero colerance" policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse.
However, in the Haitian case, which was revealed when a video of a young Haitian man being stripped and sexually molested by peacekeepers from Uruguay found its way on to the internet, the UN is already showing signs that it has high levels of tolerance for sexual and other kinds of abuse by its peacekeepers.
Despite the obvious sexual nature of the video and the views of a doctor who found evidence of sexual assault on the man's body, the UN spokeswoman in Haiti told the Associated Press in September that preliminary investigations by the UN showed "no evidence of rape".
Sexual abuse among local populations by UN peacekeepers is nothing new. Several cases have been reported in DRCongo and in other war-ravaged parts of the world. What is disturbing about these cases is that the UN, while claiming to have a "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse by peacekeepers, does not do much to protect those who expose such wrongdoing. This means that even if a UN staffer witnesses sexual abuse, he or she dare not report it for fear of retaliation. The Washington-based Government Accountability Project (GAP) has taken on several such eases of UN staff members who find themselves suffering severe retaliation, including intimidation and dismissal, as a result of their whistleblowing.
While sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers rends to get more media coverage, other cases involving fraud, misappropriation of funds, corruption and mismanagement somehow do not make it to the headlines. Nor are they adequacely addressed by the internal oversight bodies ofthe UN.
I worked for the Nairobi-based headquarters of a UN organisacion for almost 12 years and in all that time I saw only one case of someone being fired for misappropriation of funds. In thac particular case, the cerminacion of the senior official was prompted by powerful member scares ofthe UN who orchescrared a "name and shame" campaign that led co the forced resignation of the official. …