A new report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) said UN peacekeepers in Liberia bought sex with money, jewelry, cell phones, televisions and other items in countries where they are deployed.
A spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping force in Liberia, known as UNMIL, said the mission adheres to the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.
Acting chief public information officer Matthew Elavanalthoduka said the mission has taken steps to minimize any possible misconduct by UN peacekeepers in Liberia.
The OIOS report, to be published this coming Monday, said a survey of 489 women between the ages 18 and 30 in the Liberian capital, Monrovia found that a quarter of them said they had sex with UN peacekeepers, usually for money.
Acting chief public information officer Elavanalthoduka said the mission has put in place an extensive awareness program for its peacekeepers to minimize such misconduct.
“The important to note here is that we take these allegations very seriously. And we adhere to the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. And we thoroughly investigate any such allegations and take appropriate measures,” he said.
Elavanalthoduka said UNMIL has observed that sexual misconduct allegations against peacekeepers have decreased over the years because of the measures the mission has put in place.
“Our statistics is that over the years such misconduct has gone down considerably in Liberia. So yes, there could be the possibility of such misconduct around the peacekeepers. We are investigating that; we are in touch with the OIOS office to have further information so that we can take our investigation further and take appropriate action. The most important thing to know here is that we have a zero tolerance policy toward such misconduct,” Elavanalthoduka said.
He said the mission has an “extensive” outreach awareness campaign for new peacekeepers which emphasizes sexual misconduct.
“We also have periodic training for peacekeepers across the country highlighting the importance of adhering to the Secretary General’s policy on zero tolerance against sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers involving the local population, and it has paid dividend over the years, and we have seen substantial decrease in such allegations over the years,” he said.
The report alleges that the “United Nations is downplaying the scale of the problem by underreporting cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeeping personnel.”
Elavanalthoduka said UNMIL is not disputing the fact that there could have been some incidence of misconduct by peacekeepers, and it is in touch with the OIOS for further information.
“We can assure you that if we find that these allegations are true, we will take immediate and strict measures to make sure that those perpetrators are dealt with appropriately,” he said.
During Liberia’s 14-year civil war, it was estimated that thousands of children born to Liberian women were fathered by Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers who were part of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peace keeping force. These children were left behind in poverty and eventually became a liability to not just the mothers, but to society as whole.
Tiawon Gongloe, formerly Liberian solicitor general and now a practicing human rights lawyer, said a UNMIL peacekeeper or any UN expatriate employee who fathers a child by a Liberian woman has a legal obligation to support that child.
“To prevent what happened to the ECOMOG and UNIMIL children that were left behind, the UNMIL hierarchy should call upon the Liberian women who have children for United Nations employees to compel those people to make arrangements how their children will be supported,” he said.
But too often the Liberian mothers do not know when the peacekeepers are leaving the country. Gongloe said the UNMIL and the Liberian Ministry of Gender Affairs must work together to make sure the children have a future.
“It is the responsibility both of the government through the Ministry of Gender and Development and the UNMIL office through the SRSG, the Special Representative of the Secretary General here. So she and the government of Liberia acting through the ministry of gender should collaborate and cooperate to make sure that those children are not abandoned,” Gongloe said.