Whistleblowers Reveal Cover Up @ UN House hearing on alleged sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers
Two United Nations whistleblowers once inside the organization were among the witnesses who testified today before a House panel taking a closer look at the latest shocking allegations about sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers and the breakdown in accountability at the United Nations.
“The UN has laudable, and to be fair, difficult goals, but we must be steadfast in holding the UN accountable for its action and to weigh the results—good and bad—of UN work,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee tasked with congressional oversight of the United Nations. “American taxpayers provide more support for the UN peacekeepers than those of any other country, and with that, we in Congress bear a fiduciary onus not only to the taxpayers, but also to those innocents in countries who have been harmed. I hope that today’s revelations and testimony will ensure that a spotlight continues to shine on the United Nations, and that as a result what is broken can be fixed, and people in need of healing be given respite from their afflictions.” Click here to read Chairman Smith's opening remarks.
One of the key witnesses, Dr. Aicha Elbasri, Ph.D., who is the former spokesperson for the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur, did not mince her words, citing a cover-up and placing the blame for the abuse and crimes by UN peacekeepers at the feet of UN officials and leadership.
“My testimony will focus on providing information to the Committee on what I strongly believe is the UN cover-up of crimes that may well amount to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Sudanese government as well as war crimes committed by Sudanese rebels in Darfur between August 2012 and April 2013,” Elbasri said.
She also addressed “the failure of the UN Secretary General and the chiefs of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Department of Field Support (DFS), the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to investigate the cover-up charges which” she said has “led to the absence of accountability and the perpetuation of the Darfur tragedy.” Click here to read Elbasri’s testimony.
Smith noted that today’s House hearing, entitled “Peacekeepers: Allegations of Abuse and Absence of Accountability at the United Nations,” marks the second in a series he is holding on the critical issue of lack of accountability at the United Nations. He referenced a February hearing his panel held which exposed illicit technology transfers to rogue regimes and corruption at the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the harassment of whistleblowers who sought to address the wrongs.
Smith also cited a series of hearings that he chaired a decade ago, examining allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors by UN Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Sadly,” Smith said, “what was happening in the DRC more than ten years ago is today repeated in places such as the Central African Republic and Haiti. Hopefully the compelling testimony from the whistleblowers, those who were once on the inside of the UN, will finally spur true reform.”
Peter Gallo, a former UN investigator at its Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), said the OIOS does continue to receive reports of sexual exploitation and abuse, and part of the problem is due to the U.N.’s deployment of poorly trained and ill-disciplined troops. Click here to read Gallo’s testimony.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN staff has been a problem for a number of years,” Gallo said. “When I joined OIOS it was generally accepted that it was largely a thing of the past. I do not subscribe to that view.
“The dysfunction in the UN cannot be dismissed as a few isolated problems or attributed to a few ‘bad apples,’” Gallo said. “These problems are deeply ingrained in the culture of the Organization,” he reported.
Also testifying were Brett Schaefer, Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, The Heritage Foundation, and Jordie Hannum, Senior Director, Better World Campaign. Click here to read Hannum’s testimony.
“UN peacekeeping operations can be useful and successful if entered into with an awareness of their limitations and weaknesses, and the United States should not hesitate to encourage and demand reforms,” Schaefer said. “The cost of failing to reform the UN is high not just for the UN, which risks being sidelined if it cannot be relied upon to address key issues, but also for America, which would be forced to expend greater resources and effort to resolve problems.” Click here to read Schaefer’s testimony.
Witnesses also touched on a variety of proposals—withholding funds, resolutions of condemnation, new inspector general duties at the State Department—they thought might move the UN to finally take the necessary steps to end the culture of corruption.
“We are drafting legislation to encourage significant whistleblower reforms at the UN and prompt independent reviews and accountability,” Smith said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that all UN peacekeepers are once again seen as protectors, not predators.”