April 18, 2005

U.N. Officials Speak On Abuse Charges

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Two experts in international law spoke Friday in Anabel Taylor Hall on recent allegations of sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers.

Prince Zeid Raad al Hussein, Jordan’s ambassador to the U.N., who was commissioned by Secretary General Kofi Annan to investigate the allegatoins of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was scheduled to speak but cancelled due to a family emergency.

Anna Shotton, an adviser to the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Anthony Miller, legal adviser to Prince Zeid, shared their thoughts on the progress the U.N. has made since the scandal and the challenges that face the organization in the future.

The scandal emerged in early 2004, when a journalist from The Independent reported that U.N. peacekeepers had sexually exploited local women and young girls while stationed in Bunia, Congo. According to the report, peacekeepers raped victims as young as 12 years old, often providing victims with food or money to disguise the rape as prostitution. Many of the peacekeepers fathered children whom they later abandoned.

The U.N. has come under fire after a number of similar scandals have surfaced, leading some to question whether the organization can handle its expanding role in international peacekeeping.

“The U.N. is using momentum from the scandal to put in place and establish much-needed reforms,” Shotton said.

According to Shotton, the U.N. is trying to strengthen its managerial accountability and bolster its disciplinary rules to prevent similar abuse from taking place in the future. “The U.N. has not been sitting idly on its hands since the allegations came out of the Congo,” she said.

Among the recommendations Prince Zeid presented to the U.N. were the increased use of DNA evidence to identify perpetrators, the implementation of a uniform set of standards for all peacekeepers, and an increased role for women on peacekeeping missions.

Miller later addressed the difficulties that arise when peacekeepers from myriad nations coalesce under the U.N. flag to carry out a mission. Each of the troops comes from a country with a judicial system different from that of the country he serves in, and different from those of other member nations.

“When you take a U.N. peacekeeping mission and you have people with varying juridicial status, it gets very difficult, A, to apply a set of rules, and B, to enforce them,” Miller explained.

Miller also spoke on the difficulties of investigating individual peacekeepers without infringing on the sovereignty of their home countries.

“One of the most senstive issues to raise with member states is the conduct of their troops becauase you start to deal with issues of sovereignty,” he said.

Miller noted the importance of scandals like these coming to light. Had the scandal not surfaced, it is unlikely that the U.N. would have seriously examined its flaws and shortcomings, he explained.

“What is important is that these stories come out. Only when there’s publicity will there by remedy or action,” Miller said. “It seems like the U.N. is looking at the past, saying, ‘mea culpa,’ and moving forward.”

The event, co-sponsored by Cornell Law School’s Briggs Society of International Law and Berger International Legal Studies Program, drew a crowd of law professors, undergraduates, law students and several visiting admitted students.

“The thing I didn’t think about before this talk is how many lines of questioning come out of [Prince Zeid’s] report. There arise issues of sovereignty, but there are also questions of gender, the role of peacekeepers, and many other issues,” said Kaleb Honsberger law ’06, vice president of the Briggs Society.

Beyond the questions the lecture raised, others in attendance found the event very enlightening.

“I thought the event was extremely timely. It’s exremely important not only that something is being done but also that people are being made aware of the problem. This is the type of event that can facilitate that,” said David Miller law ’06, speakers and symposium coordinator for the Briggs Society. “Mr. Miller and Ms. Shotton did a great job in highlighting the difficulties and disecting possible solutions to the problems at hand.”

Archived article by Joshua Goldman
Sun Staff Writer