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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of International Organization Affairs > Reports to Congress, U.S. Votes, Fact Sheets, Testimony > Other Remarks > 2002

The UN and the Sex Slave Trade in Bosnia: Isolated Case or Larger Problem in the UN System

Nancy Ely-Raphel, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights
Washington, DC
April 24, 2002

It is a privilege for me to appear before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. First I would like to introduce Robert Gifford of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and William Imbrie of the Bureau of International Organizations. The question that concerns us today is the extent to which United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, relief workers, police forces or those with UN or other relief agencies might be involved in trafficking in persons or sexual misconduct and, if they are involved, whether it is the result of a systematic problem in the UN system. Our message today is one of zero tolerance.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this topic, which has received substantial play in the media over the last several months. The press attention has brought to the forefront the problem of trafficking, which has received far too little attention in the past. Building an awareness of the problem is undoubtedly one of the first steps we must take in trying to combat it.

The State Department has initiated a zero tolerance policy with respect to immoral, unethical and illegal behavior. This includes involvement in trafficking or in prostitution. All U.S. police personnel are briefed by the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau prior to their departure. Specifically, involvement in such activities will result in immediate termination of an officer's contract. Failure on the part of U.S. CIVPOL officers to report such activity is considered just as seriously, and will result in termination. When an officer is terminated for cause, he or she must pay their own airfare home, loses their completion bonus, and is not eligible to participate in any future missions.

Starting last year, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons began to participate in pre-deployment briefings for U.S. police personnel. The Balkan wars, which dominated the region over the last decade, and the rampant organized crime and corruption which flourished in the absence of a functioning rule of law structure, has enabled traffickers to work largely undeterred by law enforcement and the judiciary. Due to the severe conflicts which dominated reporting on the region much of the last decade, trafficking in East European women to and through the Balkans has been a largely unpublicized tragedy that attracted little public awareness in the United States, apart from those groups devoted to their relief. I believe that educating American police officers assigned abroad - or indeed the American public - about all aspects of the trafficking problem is a simple but fundamental step in banishing ignorance, indifference or even apathy and instilling the fullest possible recognition of the gravity of the problem. Our briefings raise awareness of the problem, which many of our police may not have previously encountered in their law enforcement careers. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor also participates in these briefings and provides information on international human rights standards and norms, as well as the impact of trafficking in persons.

Upon conclusion of these briefings, all CIVPOL candidates sign a DynCorp letter of agreement stating that they understand what trafficking is, pledge not to engage in trafficking, and know they will be dismissed if they violate the agreement.

The briefing procedure has been in place for a year and we are not aware of any incidents that have brought complaints of such activity against U.S. CIVPOL who have deployed since then.

There were, however, several instances of sexual misconduct among officers who deployed prior to the institution of these trafficking briefings. When these instances occurred, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs followed through with its zero tolerance policy and the individuals were terminated. INL also referred several cases of serious misconduct by U.S. CIVPOL officers to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

We need further work in the area of prosecution. To date no American civilian police officer has been prosecuted due to lack of jurisdiction of U.S. courts. The Criminal Division at the Department of Justice and the State Department are looking closely at how to resolve this problem. While we would refer you to the Justice Department for details, I understand that the Criminal Division is currently drafting a proposed amendment to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) of 2000 that would extend federal jurisdiction to include all U.S. government employees and contractors who work in a law enforcement capacity abroad. This would enable the Justice Department to prosecute any criminal offenders identified among the U.S. civilian police cadres serving abroad.

The misconduct of the few rather than the honorable work of the many has obviously raised concern about the integrity of the system. It is important to remember that the vast majority of our officers are performing with distinction. At considerable risk to their own lives they have helped restore peace and the rule of law to societies torn apart by violence and to victims left helpless in the aftermath.

In the United Nations, several UN organizations monitor and investigate misconduct by civilian police officers serving abroad. They include the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) at UN headquarters in New York and internal affairs investigative units within the separate Civilian Police missions.

The mandate of the OIOS is, in fact, broader -- to prevent and detect waste, misconduct, abuse, and mismanagement in the operations of the UN. In the case of CIVPOL issues, OIOS normally gets involved only if it seems that the internal affairs units need particular supervision or oversight. If the evidence gleaned from an OIOS investigation of a CIVPOL officer or any other UN employee shows that someone has violated laws or standards of ethical conduct or has been responsible for misconduct, waste, abuse, or mismanagement, OIOS makes recommendations to the concerned program manager, which may include consideration of referral to a national jurisdiction for criminal prosecution and/or to the Office of Human Resources Management for consideration of disciplinary action. We believe that OIOS has become a highly effective oversight body in the UN, helping to instill a culture of accountability and management effectiveness.

The penalty for violating the law or a UN rule or regulation depends upon the severity of the violation. A CIVPOL officer may be reprimanded or repatriated and discharged. Any criminal prosecution is usually the responsibility of the accused officer's own country. In some cases the UN has waived the accused officer's immunity and enabled the host country where the criminal act was committed to bring criminal charges.

The UN Office of Internal Oversight is presently conducting an investigation of serious charges of sexual exploitation of refugees and displaced children in West Africa, that were made during a survey conducted jointly last autumn by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Save the Children Fund. The assessment mission looked at the issue of sexual exploitation of children in the broadest sense. The team collected some specific allegations against individual local employees of relief agencies.

The survey, made public in February, was conducted in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia where 1,500 people were interviewed. Sixty-seven local employees of forty-two UN, non-governmental and host government agencies were accused of using their positions to elicit sexual favors from children, primarily adolescent girls. Food, assistance allotments and other refugee benefits were alleged to have been withheld as bribes for sexual favors. Peacekeepers in Sierra Leone were similarly accused. The survey indicated that UNHCR and NGO local hires, rather than international staff, were involved. The Office of Internal Oversight's investigation continues; teams have visited both Guinea and Sierra Leone and conducted extensive follow-up interviews. The team reported its findings and allegations to senior UNHCR officials who immediately involved the UN's investigative services. I understand there will be an investigation in Liberia when security conditions permit.

Following the February release of the UNHCR report, the State Department and the Agency for International Development immediately responded, insisting that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees hold a public briefing to declare its findings and immediately suspend those accused pending a thorough investigation. The briefing was held in Geneva on March 1. We demanded that UNHCR take immediate measures to make structural changes to protect refugee victims and prevent any further abuse of children in West Africa or elsewhere in the world. Such changes should include an enforceable code of conduct, better training, better management oversight by all agencies, and a thorough review of staff and programs. We will follow through to ensure this happens.

The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) now requires all newly-arrived peacekeepers to take a sensitization program which includes briefing on appropriate sexual conduct by UNHCR and UNAMSIL's human rights office. Official policy is to expel any peacekeeper found to be involved in such activity, fully informing the sending government of the reason, with a recommendation for disciplinary action. Following the release of the UNHCR/Save the Children report, UNAMSIL instructed all field commanders to remind troops of this code of conduct.

We repeatedly have made clear to both UN headquarters and to individual peacekeeping and relief missions that we expect all allegations of misconduct by UN personnel, particularly involvement in trafficking in women and children, to be thoroughly investigated and full and appropriate disciplinary action taken. We take allegations and reports of abuse of authority and trafficking by individuals assigned to the UN missions around the world very seriously. Even one substantiated claim of peacekeepers' and relief workers' involvement in such activities is one too many. This kind of behavior contradicts the principles on which the United Nations was created.

The identification of those individuals who abuse their positions of trust to take personal or criminal advantage of those entrusted to their care is a continuing struggle. So long as poverty, misery, deprivation and anarchy exist side by side with economic resources committed to their relief by the international community, there will be those employees who will exploit their legal or relief responsibilities for their personal indulgence or monetary gain. Thus we must continue to insist on stringent and exacting safeguards against such abuses, as well as swift and effective corrective action whenever such abuse is uncovered.

This hearing is about trafficking and the UN, but because Israel may come up, I would like to say for the record the Government of Israel has undertaken initiatives to eradicate trafficking. These initiatives include: legislative amendments to improve the treatment of trafficking victims and to provide tools for law enforcement to successfully investigate and arrest traffickers; training for police and prosecutors; improved cooperation with non-governmental organizations; and signing relevant international conventions. In recent meetings, Israel provided data supporting increased efforts to combat trafficking. It appears that all branches of the Israeli government are actively involved in the battle against trafficking in persons and are striving toward increased interagency cooperation.

I would like to close where I began, and that is with our message that we have a policy of zero tolerance. Trafficking of persons is a serious human rights violation that we are working hard, and dedicating resources, to fight. We hope to continue to work with this Subcommittee toward this important goal. Thank you for holding this hearing which provides us with a public forum to emphasize our zero tolerance policy.



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