The UN, No Forum for Women's Rights

The shadows of children raped by United Nation (UN) peacekeepers in the Congo and the women molested by a top UN official fall across the www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/Review/english/49sess.htm 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). From February 28th to March 11th, the UN will meet in New York City to review global progress on the “women’s human rights agreement” known as the www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/ Beijing Platform (1995). Over 6,000 advocates of women’s rights will attend.

How can a self-respecting woman, let alone a feminist, legitimize the UN through her presence? The www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/ CSW should be in the forefront of those crying out for justice and UN accountability. Instead, the CSW will almost certainly call for expanding the UN’s power and funding.

Rage will be directed instead at President Bush who has already created www.manilatimes.net/national/2005/feb/27/yehey/opinion/20050227opi5.html pre-meeting controversy. On Thursday, the Bush administration signaled its refusal to renew an unconditional commitment to the Beijing Platform a declaration of women’s rights promoted by the Clintons, which many consider to be a radical feminism’s global agenda.

Bush is balking because the declaration is seen to legitimize abortion as a “human right.” Given the wide-spread reports that the UN’s was complicit in China’s forced abortion policy, the administration’s caution about how the Platform will be interpreted and implemented is justified.

But if abortion is center stage, a more fundamental question still remains. But what moral standard is the UN a proper stage on which to negotiate women’s rights? How much blood and corruption has to splatter before the UN’s moral authority is washed away?

Its credibility on human rights has been broken beyond repair by the food-for-oil scandal that, as www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,132832,00.html a FOX News series stated, “ended up with Saddam Hussein pocketing billions to become the biggest graft-generating machine” in history.

Its integrity on women’s rights was destroyed in 2001 scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=160672003 by the surging traffic in under-aged prostitutes in Bosnia. The traffic was not only created by the arrival of tens of thousands of male UN personnel who sought prostitutes but also by behind the scene involvement by UN personnel. www.ifeminists.net/introduction/editorials/2002/0122.html The female staff member who blew the whistle was first fired and then exonerated by unfolding evidence.

The intervening years have not improved the UN’s record. Approximately 50 U.N. personnel currently face some 150 allegations of sexual abuse, most of them involving children, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The situation has been labeled www.canadafreepress.com/2005/media022505.htm “the sex-for-food scandal” because children traded sex for the handful of food they needed to live.

Reports from the Congo surfaced last year. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1413501_1,00.html An article in December’s London Times stated, “When the police arrived the man was allegedly about to rape a 12-year-old girl.” The accused serial rapist and pedophile was a UN expert in the $700 million-a-year effort to rebuild the war-ravaged nation. Anneke Van Woudenberg of the Human Rights Watch organization, states, "The U.N. is there for their protection, so when the protectors become violators, this is particularly egregious."

The UN tends to stonewall such accusations despite its “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse. When abcnews.go.com/2020/UnitedNations/story?id=489306&page=1 v ABC’s 20/20 confronted William Swing, head of the Congo’s UN peacekeeping mission, he blamed the problem on a small number of miscreants. He emphasized the remedial measures taken such as curfews and prohibitions against raternization with prostitutes. ABC’s cameras caught a group of peacekeepers out after the curfew with prostitutes at a bar. When Swing commented, “Perhaps my senior management…wasn't aware of it,” ABC pointed out that several from senior management were also at the bar.

Investigative journalist David Ross explains that the abuse is a by-product of the de facto immunity from law enjoyed by UN personnel. Ross writes, “Peacekeeping troops come from U.N. member states and are only accountable to their own governments. U.N. civilian employees enjoy immunity from local prosecution and as a result tend not to face charges in countries where they are stationed.” Perhaps this explains why investigative www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=3&art_id=qw1109359262176B252 reports now suggest that sexual abuse by UN “peacekeepers” is worldwide.

This could be good news. If there is a structural “incentive” to abuse, then abuse could be minimized by changing the structure. But reform requires the one thing that the UN seems determined to avoid: taking responsibility.

Consider the news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4278871.stm Lubbers scandal that played out earlier this month. Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was accused of “unwanted physical contact” with a female staff member in December 2003. The scandal emerged only after the Independent, a UK newspaper, published details of a confidential report (July 2004) from the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services which pointed to a pattern of sexual harassment. Until then, Secretary General Koffi Annan declined news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3963639.stm to act.

The Independent’s expose was published on February 18th; news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4282333.stm on February 20th, Lubbers resigned at Annan’s request.

The UN is no more forthcoming on the sex-for-food scandal. In response to a michellemalkin.com/archives/001530.htm blistering commentary by Michelle Malkin entitled “"U.N.'s Rape of the Innocents," Jane Holl Lute -- Asst. Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations repeated www.nypost.com/postopinion/letters/22104.htm the standard line. A zero tolerance policy is being enforced. Moreover, she called Malkin “negligent” for not reporting on the UN’s remedial measures.

This is not an agency that shoulders responsibility.

Which returns to the question, why are feminists pretending that the UN is a proper stage to discuss women’s rights? No self-respecting woman would walk through its doors.

©2007, Wendy McElroy

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Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including her latest book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century. She lives with her husband in Canada. E-Mail. Also, see her daily blog at www.zetetics.com/mac

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