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UN peacekeepers 'traded food and medicine for sex'

About a third of alleged sexual abuse involves minors under 18.

Haiti UN Source: AP/Press Association Images

MEMBERS OF A UN peacekeeping mission engaged in “transactional sex” with more than 225 Haitian women who said they needed to do so to obtain things like food and medication according to a new report obtained by The Associated Press.

The draft by the Office of Internal Oversight Services looks at the way UN peacekeeping, which has about 125,000 people in some of the world’s most troubled areas, deals with the persistent problem of sexual abuse and exploitation.

The report, expected to be released this month, says major challenges remain a decade after a ground-breaking UN report first tackled the issue.

Among its findings:

  • About a third of alleged sexual abuse involves minors under 18.
  • Assistance to victims is “severely deficient.”
  • The average investigation by OIOS, which says it prioritises cases involving minors or rape, takes more than a year.
  • Widespread confusion remains on the ground about consensual sex and exploitation.

To help demonstrate that, investigators headed to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

A year ago, the report says, investigators interviewed 231 people in Haiti who said they’d had transactional sexual relationships with UN peacekeepers. “For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby care items, medication and household items were frequently cited as the ‘triggering need,’” the report says. Urban and suburban women received “church shoes,’ cell phones, laptops and perfume, as well as money.

“In cases of non-payment, some women withheld the badges of peacekeepers and threatened to reveal their infidelity via social media,” the report says. “Only seven interviewees knew about the United Nations policy prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse.” None knew about the mission’s hotline to report it.

Haiti Elections UN peacekeepers from Brazil patrol during legislative elections in Port-au-Prince in 2009. Source: AP/Press Association Images

For all of last year, the total number of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against members of all UN peacekeeping missions was 51, down from 66 the year before, according to the secretary-general’s latest annual report on the issue.

The draft report doesn’t say over what time frame the “transactional sex” in Haiti occurred. The peacekeeping mission there was first authorised in 2004 and, as of the end of March, had more than 7,000 uniformed troops. It is one of four peacekeeping missions that have accounted for the most allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in recent years, along with those in Congo, Liberia and South Sudan.

HAITI UN Source: AP/Press Association Images

One of the U.N. staffers who produced the report would not comment Tuesday, saying it was better to wait until it was released publicly. A spokesman for the peacekeeping office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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