Friday, May 23, 2008

Can't the UN Do ANYTHING Right?

I've spent a fair amount of time on this blog bashing the United Nations. From its insistence on championing sovereign equality to making Zimbabwe the chair of the Sustainable Development Commission to the absurdity that is the Human Rights Council, the UN provides no end of opportunities to ridicule it. But, I am willing to give credit when its due. In my classes, if not on this blog, I often discuss how one thing that the UN is good at is peacekeeping. The UN is really good at peacekeeping, in fact, and may be the only actor really capable of doing it. Peacekeeping, as opposed to peace building, peace making, or peace enforcement, happens when two warring parties are ready to end the conflict between them, but do not have sufficient mutual trust to lay down their arms. A neutral third party is needed to, almost literally, stand in between the warring parties, to ensure that the terms of the settlement are followed and to reassure each side that the other is adhering to the rules. The UN, as a non-state actor with a reputation for neutrality and impartiality, is very good at doing this, and is capable of drawing peacekeeping forces from smaller, non-aligned states. From the Sinai to the Golan, from Cambodia to Cyprus, UN peacekeepers can take pride in the fact that their efforts have helped end numerous conflicts around the world.

Which is what makes this piece in today's New York Times so distressing. Written by Matthias Basanisi, a former deputy chief investigator with the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services in Congo, the piece asserts that there is credible evidence of "gold smuggling and arms trafficking by [UN] peacekeepers in Congo." Basanisi was previously in charge of the investigation into these allegations, but claims that:

the investigation was taken away from my team after we resisted what we saw as attempts to influence the outcome. My fellow team members and I were appalled to see that the oversight office’s final report was little short of a whitewash.

The reports we submitted to the office’s senior management in 2006 included credible information from witnesses confirming illegal deals between Pakistani peacekeepers and warlords from the Front for National Integration, an ethnic militia group notorious for its cruelty even in such a brutal war. We found corroborative information that senior officers of the Pakistani contingent secretly returned seized weapons to two warlords in exchange for gold, and that the Pakistani peacekeepers tipped off two warlords about plans by the United Nations peacekeeping force and the Congolese Army to arrest them. And yet, much of the evidence we uncovered was excluded from the final report released last summer, including corroboration from the warlords themselves.

Basanisi claims that the impetus for the cover-up is an unwillingness to offend Pakistan and India, two countries that provide large numbers of troops for UN peacekeeping missions.

Beyond the criminality and sheer audacity of these actions (not to mention reports of rape, pedophilia, and prostitution), it is absolutely imperative that the UN not only address these allegations, but move swiftly to punish those responsibility. The success of the UN in peacekeeping rests on its reputation; only if peacekeepers are seen to be unbiased, neutral, and fair can their missions succeed. If actors worry that UN peacekeepers will give preferential treatment to whichever side can pay more and that the UN itself will do nothing in response, it will become less and less likely that warring parties will be willing to end their conflict and allow peacekeepers to deploy. This scandal is about much more than criminal actions; it threatens to undermine one of the vital tools for ending conflict that the international community has at its disposal.


Diodotus said...

Corruption and crime among peacekeepers is nothing new. Certainly sexual exploitation and violence has a long history among UN missions.

Still, this doesn't detract from your earlier important point that they're good at what they do. The US military also behaves badly at times, but it's really good at doing certain things. (Like, winning conventional wars.)

Sudipta Das said...

I have completed my graduation in 2003. Now I am trying to go back to school and I have been on the internet searching, aimlessly it seems at times, and I have no idea where to get help to further my education. I know to apply for FAFSA, but I am desperately looking for grants. Can anyone point me in the right direction? Only mature and genuine responses will be greatly appreciated. Please help seriously.
Sudipta Das
Free money