There is a saying that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones … it seems the perfect advice to the swanks of the UN who find themselves plagued with scandals involving financial, sexual & human rights. The UN is faced with the same sets of allegations that they have been accusing member states of committing. The scandals raise one simple question only – Does the UN have any moral right to point its accusing finger upon any member state before they put their own house in order?
The UN Charter was signed on 1st October 1945. The ambitious preamble to the Charter read “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights... to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress."
The UN’s celebration of 60 years existence was no easy journey. It rode the storms of division that highlighted conceptual differences between Western & Eastern thought & countries that bore clear demarcations of where each was aligned to & obviously raised what type of rights to include in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was towards the 1960s that many third-world nations too joined UN member status.
Yet, 60 years on the UN sees itself far from succeeding the scourge of war …instead it is embattled in internal scandals that is rocking its very foundations & as each new scandal emerge it questions the integrity of an establishment that was to perform “miracles” in a world that is enveloped in global crisis.
One of the biggest scandals that was to rock the UN & involve member states as well was the infamous oil-for-food program that arose following the US coalition invasion upon Iraq. It brought to light exactly the bureaucracy & the greed for money that prevailed above any desire to salvage malnutritioned children, innocent women or a nation that had to suffer because of a single man & the coalition leaders desire to usurp power of an independent nation for the oil & to secure a stronghold on the Middle East with western vested interests.
The people of Iraq had to face severe hardships as a result of the sanctions placed. The Oil-for-food program set up on 14th April 1995 approved by the UN Security Council under Resolution 986 allowed Iraq to sell a certain amount of oil each year & the profits from the sale was to be used to buy food, medicine & other necessities for the Iraqi people. What really happened was quite the opposite. Oil was given to politically connected people including the head of the oil program himself (Benon Sevan). All those involved in the scam (including the former UN Secretary General’s son Koju Annan) got rich by more than $195,000 from the UN oil-for-food contractor Cotecna Inspection.
It makes one wonder whether Saddam was really the criminal as portrayed by the very people who seemed to have such close links with him.
Paul Volcker’s findings were surprisingly more alarming than expected & revealed to the world that the UN had a closet full of skeletons themselves. Let us include some of the key findings of that report:
· $1.8billion in illicit kickbacks from companies collected by Saddam Hussein
· Illegal financial kickbacks from 66 UN member states
· Illicit surcharges by 40 UN member states
· Illegal oil surcharges paid to 139 companies
· “Humanitarian kickbacks” involving 2,253 companies worldwide
· Russia received $19billion in oil contracts while France received $4.4billion
· India’s then Foreign Minister Natwar Singh & other Congress Party members also alleged to have facilitated allotment of 4million barrels of oil to a Swiss energy contractor – Masefield AG. Natwar Singh resigned in December 2005 after he was stripped of his ministerial duties by PM Manmohan Singh.
· British parliamentarian George Galloway accused of profiting through the allocation of over 18million barrels of oil.
Here are a few of the other scandals that involve the UN, its personnel & those involved in peacekeeping & military efforts through the UN. To avoid making reading cumbersome, only a few of the high profiles cases have been listed though the UN list of corruptions is too many to name individually.
· (30 April 2008) T. Prabakaran employed with the UNDP (UN Development Program) in Sri Lanka was arrested at a security point in Vavuniya & is being accused of transporting a pistol (from Kilinochchi to Batticoloa) to a contact of the LTTE. The payment for the transportation of the pistol in a UN vehicle was Rs.50,000 (USD 500) In view of the present conflict in Sri Lanka, it makes one wonder how many other UN vehicles would have transported such “needs” to the LTTE through UN officials & also ponder as to “what else” these UN vehicles & UN employees would have transported over the years to the LTTE?
· BBC – April 2008 Pakistani peacekeepers in the eastern town of Mongbwalu were involved in the illegal trade in gold with the FNI militia, providing them with weapons to guard the perimeter of the mines. Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the FDLR, the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, which is now living in eastern Congo. Indian soldiers traded gold with these killers, bought drugs from them and - astonishingly - flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory. These allegations are contained in the report of an investigation dated February 2008.
· March 2008 – AFP, A South African woman accuses Indian peacekeepers (on holiday in South Africa) stationed in DR Congo of rape. The 3 Indian army officers were arrested by South African police but released. 17600 peacekeepers are stationed in DRC & almost a quarter are Indian. Incidentally, the Indian peacekeeping troops are also being accused of trading in gold & guns with Congolese militia (that they were meant to disarm)
· In January 2007, the London Telegraph revealed more than 20 different cases of child sex slavery involving UN staff in Southern Sudan – some peacekeeping & civilian staff were picking up young children in their UN vehicles & forcing them to have sex. The UN has around 10,000 military personnel in the area. The paper revealed that the Sudanese Govt which is opposed to the UN deployment in Darfur has evidence of child sex slavery, including video footage of Bangladeshi UN workers allegedly having sex with three young girls.
· In November 2006, the BBC reported on children (as young as 11) being subject to rape & prostitution by UN peace keepers in Haiti & Liberia. There were also references to food being given in return for sex.
· In a possible major financial scandal (audit covering 5 years of peacekeeping & procurement), the UN suspends contractor & 8 UN staff pending inquiries into waste, fraud & malfeasance (2006) These officers were put on “special leave with pay” despite the likelihood of the fraud being in the range of USD300million. But one year later, six of the eight staffers have been reinstated with no charges against them. A 16-member special Procurement Task Force (PTF) of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) apparently found evidence only against one of the eight staffers, who is currently facing charges of having received kickbacks and a cut-price New York luxury apartment in return for doling out U.N. contracts to a company in India.
· Cases of kickbacks include a former diplomat involved in a peacekeeping mission in Europe receiving a Mercedes Benz car to favor a particular contractor. The UN has spent USD 41billion on peacekeeping operations worldwide. Currently 15 peacekeeping operations are in force & the 2005-2006 budget has reaches over USD 5billion. There are 85,000 personnel serving in UN peace keeping operations.
· UN investigator accepted that (2006) Peacekeepers, spent $10.4 million to lease a helicopter for use in East Timor that could have been secured for $1.6 million, and paid $2.4 million to buy seven aircraft hangars in Congo that were never used in a report filed by them. An additional $65 million or more was spent for fuel that was not needed for missions in Sudan and Haiti, said the report, which called for an investigation into whether U.N. staff members improperly "colluded to award" one U.N. supplier an $85.9 million fuel contract for the Sudan mission.
· French senior U.N. official, Didier Bourguet who worked at Goma airport as part of the UN’s $700 million-a-year effort to rebuild the Congo, was discovered to be the leader of an internet pedophile ring which produced three pornographic videos now on sale in the Congo. In March 2005, there were 82 women and girls who had been made pregnant by Moroccan men and 59 more by Uruguayan men
· Alexander Yakovlev, a former UN procurement officer, pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiracy, wire fraud & accepting nearly $1million in bribes from a Swiss company bidding for oil in Iraq. Most of the kickbacks were as a result of disguised sale of humanitarian goods in which contractors paid inflated “transportation fees” & “after sales service charges”.
· (BBC) Russian national Vyacheslav Manokhin, 45, a UN translator in New York, has been arrested on suspicion of visa fraud is accused of using his position to provide false documents to support US visa applications since April 2005. U.N. spokesman said the U.N. informed U.S. authorities on July 27, 2007 that it had waived diplomatic immunity for Manokhin, but he has not been suspended
· September 2005, US federal prosecutors indicted the head of the U.N.'s own budget oversight committee, a Russian named Vladimir Kuznetsov, on charges of laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes paid by companies seeking contracts with the United Nations.
· In 2004 The New York Post reported that the UN was trying to block the publication of a book by three United Nations fieldworkers that detailed sex, drugs and corruption inside multiple U.N. missions. "Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth" chronicles the experiences of a doctor, a human-rights official and a secretary in U.N. operations in Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Liberia and Bosnia.
· In a 2003 there were reports on UN staff guilty of raping women in Sierra Leone.
· In 2002 a massive pedophile scandal involving UN were reported by UPI – sexual abuse against West African refugee children in Sierra Leon, Liberia & Guinea. UPI also reported that though senior UN officials were aware they did not take any action but covered up the atrocities.
· Dyncorp, the contractors of the international police force also involved in sex scandals. One Dyncorp employee, Kathryn Bolkovac, was sacked for detailing UN workers’ involvement in the sex trade in Bosnia. Bolkovac was sacked after disclosing that UN peacekeepers went to nightclubs where girls as young as 15 were forced to dance naked and have sex with customers, and that UN personnel and international aid workers were linked to prostitution rings in the Balkans. Dyncorp was ordered to pay Kathryn Bolkovac £110,000 by an employment tribunal, yet both the British and the US governments as well as the UN continue to contract Dyncorp.
· Throughout the 1990s only news agencies revealed reports & news items of peace keeping abuses in Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia & Ethiopia. The UN did not open up any investigation following these reports.
· Financial Times (July 1998 by Jimmy Burns & Frances Williams) reported financial mismanagement in UNHCR that covered fraud, dubious accounting & wasting millions of dollars donated by Western Governments. The report also showcased the UNHCR failure to follow policy guidelines on treatment of refugees (women & children) & the protection of the environment. The report was critical of former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata who was not running the Agency as mandated to.
· Hans Von Sponech, former humanitarian coordinator in Iraq solicited money from companies seeking to do business in Iraq.
Scandals seem nothing knew in the UN & the scandals have plagued practically all the Secretary Generals of the UN – Kurt Waldheim (the 4th Secretary General of the UN) who held two terms in office, was elected President of Austria amid charges that, while serving with the German army in World War II, his unit was guilty of war crimes. Boutros Boutros-Ghali the sixth Secretary General of the UN too found himself involved in a scandal regarding his role in supplying weapons to the Hutu regime that carried out a campaign of genocide against Tutsi tribe in 1994. Boutros-Ghali was the Foreign Minister of Egypt in 1990 & had facilitated an arms deal worth $26million flown from Cairo to Rwanda & these arms were used by Hutus that resulted in hundreds of deaths. By the time he became UN Secretary General, Boutro-Ghali turned a blind eye to the killings of 1994 (book by Linda Melvern – People Betrayed). Kofi-Annan may be remembered as the most involved Secretary General in scandals where during his term of office the oil-for-food scandal took place & his own son was involved while he did not bow down to pressure to resign from his post. The present Secretary General Ban-ki Moon is also involved in controversy in giving $250million deal to Lockheed Martin without calling for any competitive tenders.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights was set up in 1946 in response to the Holocaust. UNCHR is commended for its work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (30 articles covering fundamental rights covering social, political freedom, equal protection of the law, freedom of speech & assembly & the right to property), unanimously adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.
One of the shortcomings of the Declaration was that any member state could gain a seat on the Human Rights Commission (Human Rights Council since 2006) & have equal voting party whether that state violated human rights or not – examples being Sudan, Nigeria. The world has witnessed some gruesome human rights violations publicized enough to have drawn the attention of the UN – however the UN was unable to prevent the slaughter of 7000 Bosnian Muslims though the UN was present in the Balkans since 1993 with a peacekeeping troop of 7600 an easy number for the Serb army to ignore. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda is another example of UN effectiveness – around 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in 100 days. The Isaerali-Palestine issue has dragged for so many years leaving civilian death tolls & a community climatized to violence. The death toll in Iraq is rising at alarming rates mostly due to air raids carried out by US troops. The US airstrikes can kill many Iraqi civilians as can Israeli airstrikes but when there is an airstrike by Sri Lanka Air force on a targeting LTTE training base the UN cries foul believing in LTTE propaganda that the target was an orphanage. It is discrepancies like these that make the UN & its agencies a doubted factor especially where integrity is concerned.
The name of Lousie Arbor immediately comes to mind no sooner UN Human Rights is mentioned. She was the High Commissioner for Human Rights - a term of office filled with many a faux-pas. In Kosovo her faux pas was to proclaim the Serbian leader of committing genocide for deaths that had been doctored to effect a NATO intrusion. In Rwanda her faux pas came in the cover up of the murder of the deceased President of Rwanda, the President of Burundi and many other persons who were assassinated on April 06 1994 by RPF – pointing the accusing finger at Louise Arbor is Lead Counsel Christopher Black who is defending General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, former Chief of Staff of Rwandan Gendarmerie indicting Paul Kagame and the RPF.
Of the lesser crimes can be mentioned the many atrocities involving UN personnel - a Somali child locked up in a storage container for over 48 hours for stealing food from the UN paratroopers – the child died subsequently. A Belgian soldier apparently had forced a Somali boy to eat pork, drink salt water & eat his own vomit. In another case, a UN soldier was accused of murdering a boy who he was urinating upon. The many incidents of rape, torture & murder came to light during the investigation in 1995 of Canadian paratroopers in Somalia. A magazine in Milan posted photographs of Italian soldiers torturing Somali youth. Is this what the UN has been mandated to do?
The cases of UN personnel involved in sexual scandals ranging from pedophilia, prostitution, rape are rising & cover peace keeping missions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea & Haiti. In Congo there are many allegations involving UN personnel: a French Logistics expert was even accused of making pornographic videos of young girls, while 2 Russian peacekeeping pilots based in West Congo had taped sex sessions with minors & paid them with jars of jam. A soldier accused of rape was kept in hiding by Moroccan peace keepers for a year in North Congo, while 2 UN officials (a Canadian & a Ukrainian) were accused of impregnating local women. UNICEF has reported in 2005 that they have treated over 2000 victims of sexual violence. It is most interesting why UN should provide free condoms to its peace keepers?
It is worthy to note that while individual member states provide troops that make up the UN peace keepers, it is the lack of management policies & systems in the UN that contribute to violations by the peace keepers & which have led to the many scandals involving sexual abuses. There have even been instances of peace keepers paying or attempting to pay witnesses to change their testimony in cases of alleged abuse. UN rules apply only to its officials & do not apply to military personnel who come under the jurisdiction of their own Government, leaving hardly any room for the victim to obtain justice.
* June 2004, Emergency Sex & Other Desperate Measures, a book co-authored by 3 UN peacekeeping & humanitarian workers was released (Kenneth Cain, Heiti Postlewait (UN administrator), & Andrew Thomson (UN physician). The book gave details of mismanagement, misconduct & corruption in the UN’s peacekeeping & humanitarian missions. Cain had left the UN before the book’s release. However, following the release the UN was quick to inform Andrew Thomason that his contract would not be renewed. UN obviously did not take too kindly to let the world know about its failures, the discontinuing of the contract also signaled a message to all others that disclosure of UN’s fallacies would lead to the same fate. It was a move to silence all others who thought of coming forward to expose the UN for a multitude of scandals.
The UN does have an internal investigative unit – it is known as the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) & was created in 1994. It is currently investigating 250 cases of sexual & financial offences. The Head of the OIOS Inga-Britt Ahlenius admits “We found mismanagement & fraud & corruption to an extent we didn’t really expect”. It obviously revealed that much of the abuse, corruption & scandals had yet to surface. It is believed that the fraud involved in contracts is likely to be around $600 million.
In 2004, the OIOS exonerated Sanjay Bahel, a UN procurement official who was suspected of steering millions in contracts to an Indian state company. However, he was reinvestigated in 2006 & convicted of bribery in 2008. Investigations are also been done on the $250million contract the UN signed with the US defense firm – Lockheed Martin Corp without bidding to build 5 peace keeping bases in Sudan (Darfur). The present UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is under fire for individually awarding the contract without inviting competitive bidding.
However, all is not well in the UN Internal Oversight Services though according to 2 UN reviews (reported by BBC & by Washington Post). Erling Gristad, in a confidential review in 2007 held that the “command & control, fear-inducing, top-down management style served as the basis for day-to-day operations …. & an obsessive focus on confidentiality & lack of transparency….a paramilitary management culture”. The other report by Michel Girodo criticizes Barbara Dixon who was the UN’s former top investigator (1995 to 2006) and Mark Gough who was the Deputy Director.
The UN has been of late plagued with a plethora of problems – bribes, scandals, procurement deals, kickbacks, peacekeeping mishaps, pornography& sexual scandals. But a few scandals have reached epic proportions – the oil-for-food & the disappearances of the funds earmarked for the tsunami relief in Indonesia - all these debacles lead the way to one conclusion – the UN is corrupt & not what it used to be. That illusion of a powerful neutral entity working towards the greater good of the people, to feed the poor, the clothe the naked, to work towards sustainable peace … the establishment that we once called the UN is today facing its own list of life’s challenges & failing. It has taken a pro-leftist stand courtesy to the former Secretary General, shies from dealing with Israel, and does not take decisive action against countries that experiment with nuclear arsenal while trying to promote environmental sustainability.
It is no exaggeration to assume that the larger members despite all UN members having one vote has a bigger voice within the UN, the bombing on Kosovo by NATO was without UN approval & depicted the UN as completely powerless. It is perhaps for this reason that Kofi Annan backed the Canadian initiated publication in 2001 that introduced the Responsibility to Protect theory – legitimizing military intervention by strong states against weak ones which is really tantamount to another form of modern neocolonialism. There are likely to be many more such deceitful international endeavors that will seek to hoodwink smaller Governments who possess weak & corrupt leaderships with various forms of “incentives” to accept notions such as R2P. With the looming realization that there are likely to be other such sinister designs upon smaller nations it sets the need for these smaller States like Sri Lanka to rise above corrupt governance & be aware of national interests & various “incentives” that these international forces may try to use. However, the politics of yesteryears with sound international relationships & goodwill are no more. Duplicity, manipulations, deceit & corruption is what reigns & it is exactly what ails the UN. Things are not as simple as we would like them to be. It becomes a tiresome endeavor to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, with the manipulations that have taken over global governance, we have to bear witness to deals struck with terrorists & wrong doers purely for the sake of the “larger interest” – or that is the lame excuse given to us the public.
From the controversies surrounding the UN we begin to realize that the notion of an establishment aiming to be “neutral” is perhaps expecting too much. In a world where the public of all the nations of the world are being hoodwinked by Governments & terrorists & all other underworld characters alike can we expect the UN & its employees to be any different? Integrity & patriotism are loose words attractively used on public platforms, stages & media channels these words do not carry any meaning to any of those embroiled in scandals of the proportions that we ready daily. When the very people who are expected to rise about scandals, prejudices & the greed for money are falling prey can we expect any better of those who openly indulge in the same vices?
Cases of abuses have been conveniently put aside through diplomatic speeches & reiterations by the Secretary General that a few bad apples do not affect the whole foundation of the UN. But there seems no end to the scandals plaguing an institution boasting of transparency. The latest is an USD2billion renovation plan which has been questioned by former UN ambassador John Bolton.
It is very unfortunate that the very ills that plague countries & Governments have etched into the UN – the world expected the UN to be different.
Can the good name of the UN be restored? Your guess is as good as mine. After all, "No one will question your integrity if your integrity is not questionable."
It is difficult to convince a man of something if his paycheck depends on his not understanding it. This more or less summarizes the plight of the world where the lack of will for betterment away from strife, wars, etc is purely because of the “paychecks’ or remunerations that supersedes any desire for change.Shenali Waduge