UNITED NATIONS, (IPS) - As the United Nations gears up to dispatch thousands
of new troops into political trouble spots in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean,
its peacekeeping missions are being undermined by a shortage of funds, unpaid
debts and charges of sexual abuse against women and children caught in the crossfire.
The growing problems come as the world body is set to increase its peacekeepers
from the current 53,500 troops to a high of over 70,000 by the end of 2004.
The existing 13 peacekeeping missions
on three continents are expected to rise to 16 – with new deployments in Haiti,
Burundi and Sudan – virtually doubling the U.N.'s annual peacekeeping budget
to a hefty four billion dollars.
Still, the cost of all U.N. peacekeeping is minimal, says Undersecretary-General
for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno, "when you consider that civil
wars cost $120 billion annually."
But the world's poorer nations, who provide the bulk of the troops, are complaining
that the United Nations has fallen behind in its payments for the troops and
equipment from their nations. As of December last year, the world body owed
$439 million to 71 countries currently participating in U.N. operations.
The five biggest debts are owed to Pakistan ($53.2 million), Bangladesh ($47.8
million), India ($32.3 million), Jordan ($29.2 million) and Nigeria ($28.3 million).
As of April, the 10 largest troop contributors to U.N. operations were developing
nations: Pakistan (7,680 troops), Bangladesh (6,362), Nigeria (3,398), India
(2,930), Ghana (2,790), Nepal (2,290), Uruguay (1,833), Kenya (1,826), Ethiopia
(1,822) and Jordan (1,804).
In contrast, Western nations contribute fewer than 600 peacekeepers each on
average, the largest contingents coming from Portugal (558 troops), United States
(562), United Kingdom (550), France (509) and Ireland (485).
"Developing nations are virtually subsidizing U.N. peacekeeping operations,"
a South Asian diplomat told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We cannot
afford to continue providing troops without quick reimbursements," he added.
Santiago Wins of Uruguay says the United Nations owes his country about $14.4
million, which includes payments for troops who served in Cambodia and Somalia
in the 1990s. "We have not been reimbursed for more than a decade," he told
the U.N.'s administrative and budgetary committee in April.
Funds for peacekeeping come from assessed contributions from the 191 U.N. member
states. But as of December 2003, the United Nations was owed over $1.1 billion
in outstanding peacekeeping arrears. The biggest single defaulter was the United
States, which holds a bill for $482 million.
The world body blames the outstanding arrears as one of the primary reasons
for defaulting on payments to troop-contributing nations.
Since Japan is the second largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping, Japanese
Ambassador Toshiro Ozawa complained last week his country would be called upon
to shoulder about $900 million of the peacekeeping burden.
"This is an enormous figure, surpassing Japan's current annual bilateral official
development assistance (ODA) to the African countries," he said. "It may be
true that there is no price-tag on peace, but it is also true that member states'
resources are not unlimited," he complained.
"Should not member states face up to the fact that increased budgets for peacekeeping
do consume resources that might otherwise flow into such areas as development
and poverty alleviation?" Ozawa added.
As a result of the cash crunch, a U.N. budgetary oversight committee last week
cut by more than 50 percent a budget proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan
for the newest peacekeeping mission in Cote d'Ivoire, launched in April. The
original $502 million budget was slashed to $297 million, triggering a strong
protest from the African group of countries.
"The group wishes to emphasize the collective responsibility of the General
Assembly to ensure that the operation (in Cote d'Ivoire) receives adequate human
and financial resources to successfully implement its mandate, which will culminate
in elections in October 2005," said a spokesman for the group.
Cash problems aside, the United Nations has also been hit by a rash of new
complaints about sexual abuse of women and children by peacekeepers, civilian
staff and humanitarian organizations operating either with the blessings of
the world body or under the U.N. flag.
A system-wide investigation was triggered by a report from Annan, who says
that six out of 48 U.N. agencies operating in the field have received reports
of new cases of sexual exploitation or abuse, mostly by blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers,
The agencies that received the complaints include the Department of Peacekeeping
Operations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office
of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. Children's Fund, the World
Food Program and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
"Sexual exploitation, including all forms of trafficking and related offences,
particularly in the case of vulnerable persons dependent on international aid,
is completely unacceptable," said Margaret Stanley of Ireland, expressing the
views of the 25-member European Union.
"It is just intolerable," says Norma Goicochea of Cuba, "because sexual
exploitation and abuse is a serious matter threatening the credibility of the
U.N.'s humanitarian and peacekeeping operations."
In presenting Annan's report before the committee, Assistant Secretary-General
for Human Resources Management Rosemary McCreery said the study represents only
a first step in the process of ensuring compliance of U.N. principles and standards.
She specifically singled out the sexual abuse perpetrated by civilian, police
and military contingents in Kosovo and in the Bunia region in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC). McCreery said preliminary internal investigations
this year had revealed "widespread abuses" in DRC.
She told delegates Annan is seeking the support of member states to ensure
that their military personnel serving with the United Nations are held accountable
for any acts of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Washington Times reported Thursday that a soon-to-be-released book
by current and former U.N. employees contends that Bulgarian peacekeepers in
Cambodia in the mid-1990s were actually former convicts who agreed to serve
six months in the Southeast country in exchange for their freedom at the end
of their term.
The Bulgarians were "drunk as sailors" and "rape vulnerable Cambodian women,"
says the book, Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From
Hell on Earth.
Bulgaria's ambassador to the United States has denied the allegations.
The U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has also continued
to probe individual cases of sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations. But several
delegates told the administrative and budgetary committee the world body is
not doing enough.
The secretary-general's report "had not elaborated extensively on measures
taken to improve the conditions of refugees and vulnerable communities," said
Karen Lock of South Africa.
She said that last year the OIOS had found "that conditions in the camps made
refugees vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation."
"It was hoped that those measures would be reported in greater detail to the
appropriate inter-governmental bodies," Lock added.
Jerry Kramer of Canada complained about the lack of transparency in Annan's
report. When the report noted that "appropriate action" had been taken, it
was not unreasonable for the U.N. Secretariat to be able to answer the question
of what that action was, he argued.
(Inter Press Service)