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October 14, 2002

U.N. adds new cases of sex abuse
By John Zarocostas
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

     GENEVA — The United Nations' investigating arm has cleared several U.N. workers of charges of sexual abuse against West African refugee children but has substantiated 10 new cases against aid workers, officials said.
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     The final report, already presented to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is expected to be released "in the coming days, or weeks," said a senior U.N. official, who asked not to be identified.
     One of the 10 new cases involved a volunteer working for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the preeminent world refugee agency, while the other nine cases involved personnel from nongovernmental agencies.
     The probe was ordered a day after the UNHCR and a major children's charity reported accusations in February of extensive sexual exploitation of refugee children in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone by local employees of more than 40 private aid organizations and U.N. agencies.
     At the time, Mr. Annan and UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers said they were shocked and distressed by the reports. Mr. Annan called for a full investigation and stressed the policy of zero tolerance for such acts.
     While no complaint against any U.N. staff member was substantiated in the investigation by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the OIOS probe has been criticized by senior U.N. and Western diplomats as too limited in scope.
     "They narrowed down [the terms] of the investigation," said a senior U.N. official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified.
     Mary Kallamur of the Geneva-based Humanitarian Accountability Project said her main concern was that the terms of reference of the OIOS investigation "have not been made public."
     Senior U.N. and Western diplomats familiar with the OIOS investigation said staff of the World Food Program and U.N. peacekeepers in West Africa, or UNAMSIL, were not part of the investigation. Both agencies had been listed in the original joint report by UNHCR and Save the Children UK, which has not been fully released.
     That report was compiled by a three-member team, which included a well-regarded Zambian expert on trauma and sexual violence with vast experience in conflict zones.
     The OIOS team sought comments from the World Food program and UNAMSIL, as well as other agencies, and included them in the report.
     In the meantime, pressure has been renewed on UNHCR and the global humanitarian community to improve their track record in shielding refugee children from sexual exploitation.
     "UNHCR and all humanitarian organizations must take adequate measures to prevent all sexual exploitation by their personnel everywhere and hold all perpetrators of such abuses duly accountable. We expect UNHCR to be adamant in its practice of management accountability," Kristin Ormen Johnsen, Norway's state secretary for development, told a UNHCR executive session.
     Similarly Johan Molander, Sweden's ambassador and chairman of the UNHCR executive committee, said sexual exploitation of refugee children and women by humanitarian workers "is by no means a West Africa problem alone."
     Mr. Molander said only by recognizing that the problem is global can the goal of zero tolerance be achieved.
     Mr. Lubbers told delegates in Geneva last week that his agency has taken a series of remedial steps to strengthen the protection of refugee women and children against abuse.
     Mr. Lubbers, a former prime minister of the Netherlands, also downplayed the findings of the February report of widespread exploitation, which his agency commissioned.
     He acknowledged that the issue of sexual exploitation was "very real" but said the original report contained many generalizations that "have unfairly tarnished the reputation and credibility of our staff."

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