| Tragic revelations
London, Jan. 3: The UN said today that it would launch an investigation after the Daily Telegraph reported allegations that UN personnel have abused children in southern Sudan.
Members of the UN peacekeeping forces in southern Sudan are facing allegations of raping and abusing children as young as 12.
The abuse allegedly began two years ago when the UN mission in southern Sudan (UNMIS) moved in to help rebuild the region after a 23-year civil war. The UN has up to 10,000 military personnel in the region, of all nationalities and the allegations involve peacekeepers, military police and civilian staff.
The first indications of sexual exploitation emerged within months of the UN force’s arrival and The Daily Telegraph has seen a draft of an internal report compiled by the UN children’s agency Unicef in July 2005 detailing the problem.
The allegations came just as the new UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, took over saying he will make Darfur, the northwest of Sudan, a priority.
The UN is pushing to be allowed to launch a new peacekeeping mission there to help end the humanitarian crisis that has spiralled in recent years.
The Telegraph understands that the Sudanese government, which is deeply opposed to the deployment of UN troops to Darfur, has also gathered evidence, including video footage of Bangladeshi UN workers having sex with three young girls.
Responding to the report, Jane Holl Lute, the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said: “There could be truth. These environments are ones in which it is difficult to ascertain the truth.
“I do not believe these are new allegations. Nevertheless, we will treat them as seriously as we treat all other allegations,” she said in New York.
Lute said she had spoken to the force commander and chief of staff in the UN mission in southern Sudan “and I know they are very well briefed on what UN policy is and have taken steps to implement that policy across the board in that mission”.
“But we don’t have the facts yet in this case, and we need to ascertain the facts and follow it through to appropriate resolution and take action if necessary.”
When contacted by The Daily Telegraph prior to publishing the allegations, the UN’s headquarters refused to comment.
Many of the children who claim to have had sex with UN personnel in Juba belong to southern Sudan’s “lost generation”, separated from their families by the recent civil war, who now sleep rough on the streets of Juba, the regional capital.
This paper has gathered more than 20 victims' accounts claiming that peacekeeping and civilian staff based in the town are regularly picking up young children in their UN vehicles and forcing them to have sex.
It is thought that hundreds of children may have been abused.
''I was sitting by the river the first time it happened," said Jonas, 14, one of more than 20 children who told the Telegraph they had been abused this way.
"A man in a white car drove past and asked me if I wanted to get into the car with him. I saw that the car was a UN car because it was white with the black letters on it. The man had a badge on his clothes. When he stopped the car, we got out, he put a blindfold on me and started to abuse me. It was painful and went on for a long time. When it was over we went back to the place we had been, and he pushed me out of the car and left."
Jonas now returns to the same place regularly in the hope of being picked up and paid something for his services.
"I know it is a terrible thing to do but I see the UN cars around late at night by the drinking places and I sit there in the hope of being picked up. If I get 1000 SD ($3) a day then that is a good day."
The other children interviewed describe the same scenario. One boy, 13 years old, reported being enticed into a UN car with the offer of cash and then abused before being dumped without any payment. Similar verbal testimonies have been gathered by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and rights groups in the region. But there are no medical reports confirming that the children have been abused. The limited local medical services and the children's poverty and fear are thought to explain why doctors have not been involved.
The British regional co-ordinator for UNMIS, James Ellery, has refuted the claims, arguing that there is no substantiating evidence.
"I will refute all claims made on this issue," he said in an interview last May. "We investigated all allegations made and no evidence was forthcoming. None of these claims can be substantiated. This is the most backward country in Africa and there are lots of misunderstandings as to the UN's role. Over 90 per cent of people here are illiterate and rumours therefore spread very quickly."
Mr Ellery insisted that his organisation was following correct codes of conduct.
"We provide regular briefings on the UN code of conduct. Nobody employed by the UN is meant to have sexual contact at all with any local person," he said. He did, however, appear to acknowledge that the organisation might not be able to ensure that all its staff behave according to standards.
"We are applying a standard of morality that is very, very high but we cannot expect that soldiers when they go abroad are going to behave themselves as we think they should.
"There are a wide range of countries being represented in the UN forces and among these there is always going to be a bad apple."
The Daily Telegraph has learned that a number of complaints have been made about the behaviour of UN personnel stationed in Juba. Yet those accused have not been tracked down nor has there been any attempt by the UN or local officials to interview those making the accusations.
The fledging government of southern Sudan is believed to be too concerned to maintain good relations with the UN to challenge the organisation. An unfinished copy of the internal Unicef report, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows that the UN has been aware of the problem for more than a year.
"Evidence suggests that UNMIS staff may already be involved in sexual exploitation," the report says. "UN cars have been staying into the early hours of the morning, as late as 6am, at a restaurant/disco called Kololo in Juba … adult informants reported seeing a UNMIS car stop along a main road in Juba to pick up three young girls."
A preliminary report for a leading NGO in the region backed up these allegations, although the NGO was unwilling to be named for political reasons.
The report stated: "According to Kennedy Tombe, 23, a shoe shiner in Kony Konyo Market, the issue of young girls being picked up by UNMIS cars during late hours in Juba is common. One time, he stated, he was chatting with friends of his own in Kosti area near Konyo Konyo Market – they saw a UNMIS vehicle drop three girls off.
"One girl, Jackline Keji, was 18, the other two were 13 and 16. Keji, who was obviously frightened, said that they had spent the night with an UNMIS official. She said that they had sex with that UNMIS official."
Juba's county court judge, Ali Said, said that the region had seen an increase in child prostitution since the UN arrived.
''The majority of people working for the UN and NGOs are men and need to be entertained. But no cases have come to court," he said.
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