Thursday, May 06, 2004

UN brothels - coming soon to an Iraqi city near you 

If the Iraqis have low opinion of the Coalition troops, they will love the UN "peacekeepers".

BBC quotes a new Amnesty International report which alleges that the UN personnel in Kosovo is behind just about the only growth industry in that Balkan protectorate: the sexual exploitation of women and trafficking on a quite spectacular scale. "[A]fter 40,000 Kfor troops and hundreds of Unmik personnel were sent to Kosovo in 1999, a 'small-scale local market for prostitution was transformed into a large-scale industry based on trafficking run by organised criminal networks'," says the report.

That many UN peacekeeping missions tend to develop unpleasant side-effects is hardly a news to anyone who's been observing the "international community" in action in recent years. The stories about industrial-scale whorification by the UN personnel have been coming out of the Balkans in particular for quite some time. As you can hardly open a newspaper today without being assailed by news and commentary about the Iraqi prisoner abuse, it's instructive to compare and contrast how the United Nations deals with its own embarrassing stories. Take the case of David Lamb, a Philadelphia cop who's been investigating on behalf of the UN the allegation of peacekeeping personnel involvement in prostitution and women trafficking in Bosnia a few years ago. Lamb had eventually been driven into going to the media after his investigation has been consistently obstructed, sabotaged and eventually quashed by his superiors.

"Within weeks, Lamb said, his preliminary inquiry found more than enough evidence to justify a full-scale criminal investigation. But Lamb and his colleagues said they also faced physical threats and were repeatedly stymied in their inquiries by their superiors, including a senior Ukrainian police officer who ordered an end to the investigation of the Romanians' conduct."

The UN power structures disagreed with the results of Lamb's investigation - there was "insufficient evidence" and besides, "the responsibility for prosecuting U.N. police officers belongs to their home countries, not the United Nations." "The Washington Post" reported that in "nearly every case [of corruption or misconduct], U.N. officials handled the allegations quietly by sending the officers home, often without a full investigation."

Jacques Klein, the U.N. secretary general's special representative to Bosnia, had this to say: "Placing undue and unfair emphasis on U.N. peacekeepers diverts attention away from those ultimately responsible for trafficking. The focus of our efforts should be on corrupt government officials and members of organized crime who perpetrate the trade and allow it to flourish" - forgetting that in many cases this was precisely the accusation against the UN personnel. In the end, the whole scandal was conveniently buried, no prosecutions were made, no disciplinary actions taken. As the Kosovo story shows, these sorts of unsavoury practices still continue while the UN averts its gaze.

Imagine if that had been the US tactic in Iraq. Instead we have 20 separate American inquiries into abuse going on, perpetrators facing all sorts of sanctions for their actions, and US government officials apologising in the media to the Arab world for the mistreating of prisoners. The UN in the meantime continues to bury any embarrassing stories, while basking in a self-generated glow of moral superiority. Go figure.

Iraqi men, understandably, don't like being stripped naked and humiliated; but just wait for their reaction when the UN peacekeepers, that the world community is so keen to see in Iraq, start taking interest in their women.


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