JUBA, Sudan — Members of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in southern Sudan are facing allegations of raping and abusing children as young as 12, the Daily Telegraph has learned.
The abuse allegedly began two years ago when the U.N. mission in southern Sudan moved in to help rebuild the region after a 23-year civil war.
The United Nations has 10,000 military personnel in the region of all nationalities, and the allegations involve peacekeepers, military police, and civilian staff.
The first indications of sexual exploitation emerged within months of the U.N. force's arrival, and the Daily Telegraph has seen a draft of an internal report compiled by the U.N. children's agency UNICEF in July 2005 detailing the problem. But the United Nations has not publicly acknowledged the problem, and when contacted repeatedly by the Telegraph, U.N. headquarters refused to comment.
The allegations will be deeply embarrassing to the new U.N. chief, Secretary-General Ban, as the U.N. is pushing to be allowed to launch a new peacekeeping mission to help end the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's northwestern region, Darfur.
The Telegraph has learned that the Sudanese government, which is deeply opposed to the deployment of U.N. troops to Darfur, has also gathered evidence, including video footage of Bangladeshi U.N. workers having sex with three young girls.
This paper has gathered more than 20 victims' accounts claiming that peacekeeping and civilian staff based in the town are regularly picking up young children in their U.N. vehicles and forcing them to have sex.
It is thought that hundreds of children may have been abused. "I was sitting by the river the first time it happened," Jonas, 14, said. Jonas is one of more than 20 children who told the Telegraph they had been abused this way. "A man in a white car drove past and asked me if I wanted to get into the car with him. I saw that the car was a U.N. car because it was white with the black letters on it. The man had a badge on his clothes. When he stopped the car, we got out, he put a blindfold on me and started to abuse me. It was painful and went on for a long time. When it was over, we went back to the place we had been," he "pushed me out of the car, and left."
Jonas now returns to the same place regularly in the hope of being picked up and paid something for his services.
"I know it is a terrible thing to do, but I see the U.N. cars around late at night by the drinking places, and I sit there in the hope of being picked up. If I get $3 a day, then that is a good day."
The other children interviewed describe the same scenario. One boy, 13 years old, reported being enticed into a U.N. car with the offer of cash and then abused before being dumped without any payment. Nongovernmental organizations and rights groups in the region have gathered similar verbal testimonies. But no medical reports are available to confirm the children have been abused. The limited local medical services and the children's poverty and fear are thought to explain why doctors have not been involved. The British regional coordinator for UNMIS, James Ellery, has refuted the claims, arguing that no substantiating evidence exists.
"I will refute all claims made on this issue," he said in an interview last May. "We investigated all allegations made, and no evidence was forthcoming. None of these claims can be substantiated. This is the most backward country in Africa, and there are lots of misunderstandings as to the U.N.'s role. Over 90% of people here are illiterate, and rumors therefore spread very quickly."
Mr. Ellery insisted that his organization was following correct codes of conduct.
"We provide regular briefings on the U.N. code of conduct. Nobody employed by the U.N. is meant to have sexual contact at all with any local person," he said. He did, however, appear to acknowledge that the organization might not be able to ensure that all its staff behave according to standards.
"We are applying a standard of morality that is very, very high, but we cannot expect that soldiers when they go abroad are going to behave themselves as we think they should. There are a wide range of countries being represented in the U.N. forces, and amongst these, there is always going to be a bad apple."
The Daily Telegraph has learned that a number of complaints have been made about the behavior of U.N. personnel stationed in Juba. Yet those accused have not been tracked down, nor has there been any attempt by the United Nations or local officials to interview those making the accusations.
The fledgling Southern Sudanese government is believed to be too concerned to maintain good relations with the United Nations to challenge the organization. An unfinished copy of the internal UNICEF report, seen by the Daily Telegraph, shows that the United Nations has been aware of the problem for more than a year.
"Evidence suggests that UNMIS staff may already be involved in sexual exploitation," the report says. "U.N. cars have been staying into the early hours of the morning, as late as 6 a.m., at a restaurant/disco called Kololo in Juba … adult informants reported seeing a UNMIS car stop along a main road in Juba to pick up three young girls."