UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 15 -- U.N. peacekeepers threatened U.N. investigators investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in Congo and sought to bribe witnesses to change incriminating testimony, a confidential U.N. draft report says.
The 34-page report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, accuses U.N. peacekeepers from Morocco, Pakistan and Nepal of seeking to obstruct U.N. efforts to investigate a sexual abuse scandal that has damaged the United Nations' standing in Congo.
The report documents 68 cases of alleged rape, prostitution and pedophilia by U.N. peacekeepers from Pakistan, Uruguay, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and Nepal. U.N. officials say they have uncovered more than 150 allegations of sexual misconduct throughout the country as part of a widening investigation into sexual abuse by U.N. personnel that has plagued the United Nations' largest peacekeeping mission, U.N. officials said.
"Sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly prostitution of minors, is widespread and long-standing," says a draft of the internal July report, which has not previously been made public. "Moreover, all of the major contingents appear to be implicated."
The latest disclosure comes as U.N. officials confirmed that a senior U.N. official in Congo was suspended from his job with pay in recent weeks pending an investigation into allegations of "inappropriate conduct." The senior official, a New Zealand national, was accused of being seen drinking with Congolese prostitutes at a bar when the U.N. leadership was trying to address a major sexual abuse scandal, officials said. William Lacy Swing, a former U.S. ambassador who heads the U.N. mission in Congo, declined to discuss the matter except to say the official is no longer in the country.
Swing also declined to discuss specific allegations against national peacekeepers. He conceded, however, that the mission's credibility has been badly damaged in recent months by allegations of sexual misconduct against U.N. personnel in Congo.
"We view this as something very serious that can impede our ability to accomplish our mandate," he said. "There is no question of the dedication of this mission to getting rid of this."
The report alleges that a Moroccan contingent stationed in Bunia threatened a U.N. informant investigating child prostitution. The Moroccan peacekeepers also "spread the word" that a U.N. child-protection advocate looking into allegations of child prostitution and rape by U.N. peacekeepers "had better be careful when she went out at night," the report said.
The report cites cases in which peacekeepers from Morocco, Pakistan and possibly Tunisia "were reported to have paid, or attempted to pay witnesses to change their testimony" regarding alleged sexual abuse. It also charges that Moroccan military officials refused "to provide the names of Moroccan soldiers present at the location" of an alleged rape.
Morocco's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Bennouna, was unavailable for comment last night. A spokesman for Pakistan's mission to the United Nations, Mansoor Suhail, said it is unfair to "defame" the troops before they have faced "a proper investigation and inquiry."
He also noted that Western personnel in Congo and other U.N. missions around the world have also been the target of sexual abuse charges.
"In case the allegations are established, we would like to discipline them," he added. "The Pakistani army's discipline is the strictest."
The U.N. mission in Congo was established five years ago to end the country's war, oversee the withdrawal of seven foreign armies and help prepare for national elections. It employs more than 1,000 civilians and nearly 11,000 peacekeepers from 50 nations.
The crisis has challenged the organization's ability to effectively manage and impose discipline in a large peacekeeping operation. It has also hurt the organization's reputation as it confronts charges of corruption in its management of Iraq's prewar oil-for-food program.
The Washington Post first reported last month on a separate U.N. report that found sexual exploitation by U.N. personnel in Congo "appears to be significant, wide spread and ongoing."
The latest report says that allegations of sexual misconduct were initially leveled in summer 2003 against U.N. personnel based in Kindu and Kisingani. But the U.N. report says the abuse worsened in Bunia, where more than half of the United Nations' troops are stationed.
While most cases of sexual misconduct involved U.N. peacekeepers soliciting prostitutes, the report cites three cases of alleged rape by Nepalese peacekeepers, including the alleged abduction and rape of a 10-year-old girl in a U.N. armored personnel carrier in April.