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UN Begins Addressing Peacekeeping Sex Scandal

United Nations peacekeeping officials Wednesday briefed members of the U.S. Congress on progress made toward addressing a scandal involving sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeeping troops.

The United Nations has been reeling from allegations of sexual abuse in its peacekeeping missions ranging, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Cambodia, East Timor, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The issue received particular attention after the United Nations earlier this year found that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese girls and women, usually in exchange for food or small amounts of money.

The revelations prompted the U.N. peacekeeping department to order an internal review of its policies for combating sexual exploitation among the nearly 80,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops serving around the world.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, U.N. assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, Jane Lute, offered a status report.

"In the past 18 months there have been a total of 186 substantiated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse," she noted. "This has resulted in seven civilians being dismissed, two reprimanded and 10 referred for additional disciplinary action. Two police have been repatriated, and two additional cases of policemen are under review. Seventy-eight military [personnel], including six commanders, have been repatriated. Nepal, South Africa, Morocco, Pakistan and others have taken decisive action against their contingent members who have been validated to have [who have been found to have] committed acts of sexual exploitation and abuse."

Ms. Lute says her department has taken steps to address the problem, including increasing training and establishing common standards of behavior to prevent such abuse. In addition, she says her department has strengthened methods of investigation and has been working with member states to improve criminal accountability.

"Zero tolerance, in effect Mr. Chairman, means to us, zero complacency, zero impunity," she explained.

Prince Zeid al Hussein is Jordan's permanent representative to the United Nations and serves as Secretary General Kofi Annan's adviser in addressing the scandal.

"I am quite confident we are on the right track. This is a very difficult problem. We will encounter more allegations in the field as we improve the mechanism for eliciting complaints. That is without any doubt," he said.

Philo Dibble, acting assistant secretary of state for International Organizations, says the United States is pleased with the steps taken so far in addressing the problem, but he says more needs to be done.

"We welcome the creation of personal conduct units within the UN missions in Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Haiti to address allegations and to assist victims. We have encouraged the UN to establish similar units in each of its peacekeeping missions. We will continue to address the issue forcefully with troop contributors and advocate at the UN for system-wide reforms," he added.

The United States is the largest financial donor to the United Nations, contributing 22 percent of its operating budget.