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The United States Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks reveals United Nations peacekeepers engaging in sexual misconduct with underage girls in Ivory Coast. Written in January 2010, the cable highlights the inappropriate actions of Beninese peacekeepers located in the poverty ridden western town of Toulepleu.
According to the cable, parents encouraged their daughters to sleep with the peacekeepers so they would provide for them. In 2009, Save The Children U.K., an aid organization, conducted a poll of 10 girls in Toulepleu.
“Eight of the 10 said they had ongoing sexual relationships with Beninese soldiers in exchange for food or lodging,” the diplomat wrote in the cable, citing information shared with the embassy by a protection officer. Hamadoun Toure, U.N. mission spokesman, said the UN is concerned about the allegations and are taking the matter seriously.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy. We are here to protect the population, not engage in such things,” Toure said. The mission released an official statement on Thursday night concerning the misconduct. It stated said that authorities have formed a campaign with the soldiers to deal with what appears to be an ongoing problem. He said UN officials have traveled to the west on a “fact-finding mission.”
After receiving the reports two weeks ago, the Ivory Coast mission informed UN Headquarters, the Ivorian government and the home countries of the accused soldiers, according to the statement. The UN declined to mention the soldiers’ countries, citing confidentiality. Toure said any guilty soldiers would face repatriation and punishment from the judicial system in their own countries.
Earlier last week, UN spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux confirmed that 16 Beninese peacekeepers, 10 of which were commanders, engaged in sexual misconduct. According to the Associated Press, Bonnardeaux said that authorities “failed to maintain an environment that prevents sexual exploitation and abuse.”
Bonnardeaux added that 42 allegations of sexual abuse by UN staff in Ivory Coast have been reported since 2007. Sixteen of these cases involved minors. According to UN records, no new incidents have been reported this year. “If these allegations are founded, it would be the responsibility of the countries from which these peacekeepers come to take appropriate action against those involved,” the UN said in a statement.
Sexual misconduct by UN troops has been reported in a number of countries including Congo, Cambodia and Haiti. New abuse allegations against UN peacemakers in Haiti came to light on Friday.
According to an Al Jazeera article written Saturday, peacekeepers in Haiti face allegations of sexual abuse. The UN is investigating accusations that Uruguayan soldiers serving with the world body’s peacekeeping force in Haiti sexually assaulted an 18-year old man. Footage of the incident was captured by a mobile phone and was circulated throughout the country.
“We’re aware of this alleged incident. As soon as it was brought to our attention we immediately launched an internal investigation,” said Eliana Nabaa, spokeswoman for the UN’s Haiti peacekeeping mission, said on Friday. Nabaa echoed a message very similar to Toure’s remarks on the abuse in the Ivory Coast.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse and we take it extremely seriously. If the allegations are proved, the soldiers must be brought to justice,” Nabaa said. A Haitian magistrate told the Agence France-Presse on Friday that he had turned the case over to prosecutors after viewing the evidence.
The alleged victim and his parents gave depositions in a courthouse in Port Salut, the southern seaside town where the attack is said to have occurred. The Haitian magistrate added that he was also investigating allegations of sexual relations between Uruguayan peacekeepers and young Haitian females who had become pregnant.
Bonnardeaux said the troops involved in the alleged incident in Haiti have been confined to their barracks while the investigation is conducted.