DR Congo

DRC: MONUC - Sexual exploitation and abuse - End of assignment report

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Jane Rasmussen, Personnel Conduct Officer, MONUC
1. Brief Chronology of sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) was established in late 1999.

From early on in the life of the mission, there were reports of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that prostitution was present but not widespread when the mission first arrived, in contrast to 2004.

A number of investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse were made between 1999 to 2004. However, some accounts suggest that, overall, senior management in the Mission did not take the issue seriously. Some staff allegedly reported incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and claimed they were not followed up by a formal investigation. The issue of children fathered and later abandoned by MONUC members of military contingents was raised at senior management meetings on a number of occasions in 2003 and 2004. However, no action was taken by the Mission.

Over the years, the failure to, and to be seen to, adequately investigate a number of very serious high-profile and high-level allegations as well as to take disciplinary measures and pursue criminal prosecution for sexual crimes contributed to a general atmosphere of impunity in the Mission.

Moreover, many of the mission's personnel were complicit in the problem - either directly or indirectly. In other words, many officials in the mission had either: (1) participated in acts that violated UN standards of conduct relating to sexual exploitation and abuse; or (2) had known about such acts and actively covered up for their friends and colleagues; or finally, (3) had known of such acts and chosen to look the other way.

The complicity, direct or otherwise, of many mission personnel explains in part the strong resistance prior to 2004 to addressing the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel in MONUC.

As a response to the early allegations and cases, a MONUC Code of Conduct specifically on sexual exploitation and abuse was adopted in 2002.

In September 2003, DPKO Headquarters provided training to senior management in MONUC's military, civilian police and civilian administration on the DPKO Disciplinary Directives that had been promulgated in July 2003. Through this training, it was recommended that the Mission recruit a full-time Personnel Conduct Officer to address misconduct issues.

2. Appointment of a Personnel Conduct Officer

Prior to April 2004, there had been no Personnel Conduct officer in MONUC. This meant that there was no entity in the mission that had comprehensively centralized information and reports on sexual exploitation and abuse in the mission.

On 15 April 2004, a "Senior External Affairs Officer, Standards of Conduct", reporting directly to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), was appointed, in effect becoming a Personnel Conduct Officer.

Immediately after the arrival of the Personnel Conduct Officer, the SRSG received an as yet unpublished article by Kate Holt, a journalist with the British newspaper, The Independent. The article described MONUC soldiers having sex with underage girls, including a 13 year-old, in the camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Bunia.

The SRSG immediately dispatched the Personnel Conduct Officer to Bunia for a week to conduct a preliminary assessment of the overall situation with regards to the allegations in that article and sexual exploitation and abuse generally.

During her week-long visit to Bunia, the Personnel Conduct Officer held meetings with the Child Protection Advisor, the Head of the Bunia Office, MONUC military personnel, civilian security staff, Congolese government officials and underage Congolese girl prostitutes, their family members and neighbors. The Personnel Conduct Officer concluded that the allegations in the article were credible and found that the problem of underage prostitution with MONUC troops seemed widespread.

3. Investigations

Following the report by the Personnel Conduct Officer, on 10 May 2004, the SRSG ordered a special emergency month-long rapid response pilot project. The project consisted of ad-hoc investigative and prevention teams, as well as a public information campaign and special expedited procedures for disciplinary mechanisms that would allow the SRSG to remove suspects from the mission area pending investigation.

At the same time, the SRSG and the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations requested the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to undertake a full investigation. The results of the OIOS investigation are available as a General Assembly document (A/59/661).

MONUC's rapid response investigative team collected 68 initial reports of incidents. These were then handed over to the OIOS team.

The OIOS team worked independently of MONUC, although several MONUC personnel were seconded to OIOS to assist in the four month-long investigation that lasted from May to September 2004.

In the meantime, the Personnel Conduct Officer received increasing numbers of reports of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse in other parts of the mission.

Working with the ad-hoc investigative teams composed of Civilian Police, Military Police and civilian staff, and in conjunction with the Child Protection and Security section, the Personnel Conduct Officer conducted preliminary assessments of those reports. However, the assessments were hampered by limited time, resources and logistical means.

At the same time, international media interest in the sexual exploitation and abuse issue in MONUC grew with the publication of further articles on Bunia, Goma and Kalemie. The articles centred on allegations of widespread child prostitution with MONUC military.

The Personnel Conduct Officer gradually compiled a list of various reports and rumors of sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the mission, receiving the information principally from the Congolese public, MONUC security staff, MONUC military, the MONUC Gender Advisor's Office, MONUC Child Protection Advisors and MONUC staff generally.

The Personnel Conduct Officer also started systematically reviewing files on sexual exploitation and abuse in the administration section under Boards of Inquiry, in the Child Protection section and in the Security section. The Personnel Conduct Officer saw very limited information on sexual exploitation and abuse in files of the Military Police and the Military Legal Advisor's office.

In general, the Military Police investigations of sexual exploitation and abuse did not seem very thorough. In one case in Bukavu, the investigation seemed to consist entirely of short statements from MONUC military saying that they were not aware of any sexual exploitation and abuse in their area, with no other types of witnesses or informants questioned.

The Personnel Conduct Officer also noted that civilian security agents were usually very knowledgeable about sexual exploitation and abuse in their respective areas of security coverage due to their extensive contacts with the Congolese community. However, most incidents mentioned by these security agents were apparently not documented in written reports.

In mid-October 2004, Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno visited MONUC and requested immediate action on sexual exploitation and abuse cases. Consequently, preliminary investigative efforts by the Personnel Conduct Officer on several high-level civilian cases were expedited. This resulted in the suspension and removal from the mission area of three civilian staff.

In late October, Congolese police in Goma raided the home of a MONUC civilian staff member and caught him with a 13 year-old Congolese girl with whom he had allegedly just had sexual relations. They also seized the external hard drive of his computer allegedly containing pornographic photos, including photos of him having sex with children.

The ad-hoc handling of the investigation and legal processing of this case illustrated the unclear nature of proper procedures to follow in sexual exploitation and abuse cases. This had significant political and security implications for the whole mission and highlighted the need for expedited emergency guidelines.

There was considerable international media interest in this case. The UN Secretariat Headquarters in New York became profoundly involved in managing the response. In November, the Secretary-General made a public statement deploring sexual exploitation and abuse in Bunia.

In November, the UN Secretariat Headquarters in New York deployed a special team of three investigators to speed up the investigation of the first three civilian staff members who were suspended.

In December, a larger team was assembled by the UN Secretariat. The team would stay in the Democratic Republic of Congo for three months to investigate as many other pending sexual exploitation and abuse reports as possible.

4. Observations

The problem of sexual exploitation and abuse in MONUC was known and reported long before the May 2004 Independent article on the IDP camp in Bunia. However, reporting, investigative and disciplinary procedures were not clear enough nor sufficiently resourced to respond quickly and appropriately.

Management culture in the mission, both civilian and military, appears to have encouraged sexual exploitation and abuse by not taking the phenomenon seriously, ignoring and suppressing reports, standing passively by as the staff members who reported sexual exploitation and abuse were harassed and ridiculed.

It can be very difficult to prove individual cases of sexual exploitation and abuse because witnesses inside the UN mission and in the Congolese community are often threatened and intimidated. Child prostitutes are particularly vulnerable and moreover often depend upon the food and money received from prostitution with UN peacekeeping personnel for survival.

Information on sexual exploitation and abuse often first surfaces in security incidents, such as:

- Price disputes between prostitutes and MONUC clients, not infrequently leading to physical violence;

- threats by the community or family members of sexual exploitation and abuse victims to MONUC personnel;

- beatings and assaults by MONUC personnel on pregnant girlfriends;

- threats by MONUC personnel to local or military guards who try to enforce curfews and access regulations; and

- vehicle accidents involving the transport of prostitutes, including sexual services while driving.

The Board of Inquiry process for military does not seem to work quickly enough to investigate and make findings on sexual exploitation and abuse incidents before the military personnel in question have rotated out of the mission.

5. Recommendations

For MONUC:

Not only should disciplinary and, if necessary, criminal sanctions be taken for sexual exploitation and abuse but they must also be seen to be taken, by other personnel in the mission, and by the Congolese and international communities.

In a large mission like MONUC, a certain degree of specialization and professionalization in the investigation and adjudication of sexual exploitation and abuse cases is necessary. The investigation into these cases can be difficult as many inside the mission and in the community are often reluctant to talk. Particular care is required in dealing with child victims.

Programs that give support to sexual exploitation and abuse victims, such as social/psychological counselling, medical services, educational and income-generation assistance, need to be strengthened, so that victims perceive and are aware that they have alternatives and so that the Congolese community perceives that the UN cares.

Witness protection programs should be established for all, including for those inside the mission and other UN agencies, for the local population, and for other international actors in the local community.

A personnel conduct officer with adequate staff and resources is needed in order to:

- centralize and analyze the data on the problem;

- make policy recommendations and coordinate the mission response, including

  • early detection mechanisms
  • community outreach
  • victim support programs
  • witness protection
  • training and
  • deployment of specialized investigators when necessary for strategically-selected cases (since, given the current level of investigative resources, there are far too many sexual exploitation and abuse allegations to have a full investigation of each one) .
Cases should be given priority of investigation if they involve allegations of particularly egregious conduct and/or involvement of senior personnel. These cases will have the greatest impact on the perception of the Congolese community, international community and in the mission itself that justice is being done.

In MONUC, there should be a central office under the Personnel Conduct Officer at mission headquarters and at a minimum, two field offices. For the field offices, there should be one in Bunia to cover the Ituri district and one in Bukavu to cover the Kivu provinces, since these are the regions in which the vast majority of MONUC personnel, military and civilian, are stationed.

For peacekeeping operations in general:

Part of the performance evaluation of civilian managers and of military contingent commanders should include an assessment of how successful they have been in detecting, investigating, sanctioning and preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.

Early warning/detection systems need to be put in place utilizing a variety of sources of information, thus enabling essential cross-checking for veracity, in order to spot problem areas before sexual exploitation and abuse becomes deeply entrenched and spreads out of control.

Gender advisors, child protection advisors, human rights officers and civilian security officers can all play a very important role in actively collecting information when it is still at the level of rumors, suspicion and indirect reports.

Civilian security officers are particularly well-placed to do this since in order to assess security threats they have to be in constant contact with the local community, which is the best source of information on sexual exploitation and abuse.

A personnel conduct officer with adequate staff and resources is needed in large missions in order to: centralize and analyze the data on the problem; make policy recommendations and coordinate the mission response, including:

- early detection mechanisms

- community outreach

- victim support programs

- witness protection

- training and

- deployment of specialized investigators when necessary.