The Moral Authority of the United Nations Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Peter Dennis is a student at NYU Law School. He also worked for the Foundation for International Dignity in the refugee camps surrounding Kenema, Sierra Leone, in 2003. What he saw there, while shocking, is not, unfortunately, surprising. We all know about the reports of sexual abuse, but Dennis writes that's only the beginning.
In fact, abuse at these camps went beyond sexual violations: Injustices of one sort or another were perpetrated by U.N. missions or their affiliated nongovernmental organizations every day in the camps I visited. Corruption was the norm, in particular the embezzlement of food and funds by NGO officials, which often left camp resources dangerously inadequate. Utterly arbitrary judicial systems in the camps subjected refugees to violent physical punishment or months in prison for trivial offenses—all at the whim of officials and in the absence of any sort of hearing.
That's the UN for you. Always there to help. And if you have a complaint about the UN's "help", well then, good luck with that.
The risk to these staff members is low in U.N. refugee camps, because peacekeepers engaged in criminal acts are immune from local prosecution. Therefore, local parties seeking justice must travel to the peacekeeper's home country. U.N. workers from countries with unresponsive legal systems, or those committing unspectacular crimes, can sleep easy. At the same time, local NGO employees who are contracted by the United Nations to work in the camps are covered by a de facto implied immunity. That is, if these individuals are identified as being connected with U.N. operations, they will probably never face charges for their actions by local authorities.
So, quis custodiet ispos custodes? Who watches the UN? Well, the UN does. But not, apparently, very well.
Yet the recent stonewalling over a series of scandals from the United Nations—from oil-for-food to a sexual harassment imbroglio involving a high U.N. official—are typical of a bureaucracy dedicated to self-preservation. This code of behavior travels rapidly down the organizational chart. The message is: Cover your tracks and the United Nations will obstruct your prosecution.
After the 2002 report documented sexual abuse, Annan's steely resolve led to exactly zero criminal prosecutions of U.N. officials for sexual abuse. I expect little difference now that refugee camp conditions have returned to the headlines. As before, Annan has delivered vague statements but prosecuted no one. It appears that the status quo reigns and that those perpetrating all sorts of abuses in refugee camps may continue undisturbed.
And this is the organization that's supposed to the font of moral authority in international affairs? Right.
And the Democrats in the Senate think John Bolton is too critical of the UN.