United Nations bars 16 peacekeepers from Benin following Ivory Coast sex abuse claims


The United Nations has barred 16 peacekeepers from the Republic of Benin after a Wikileaks cable revealed that they had traded food for sex with underage girls in West Africa.

The revelation comes from a US Embassy cable written in January last year. It focuses on the behaviour of Beninese peacekeepers in the town of Toulepleu in Ivory Coast. The aid group Save the Children UK conducted a random poll of ten underage girls in 2009 and found that eight had regularly performed sexual acts in exchange for food and other basic needs.

According to the cable, parents encouraged their daughters to sleep with peacekeepers so that they would provide food for them.
“Eight of the ten said they had ongoing sexual relationships with Beninese soldiers in exchange for food or lodging,” the author of the cable wrote.

On Thursday UN spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said that 16 Beninese peacekeepers, including ten commanders, are now barred from serving with the United Nations after a year-long probe into the incidents. They “failed to maintain an environment that prevents sexual exploitation and abuse,” he said.

UN Deputy spokesperson Eduardo Del Buey told journalists that in January this year the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) submitted a report looking into the incident. In April the UN requested the Beninese authorities to take disciplinary action against six identified soldiers and discipline another ten commanders and senior officers.

Bonnardeaux said that, since 2007, UN staff in the Ivory Coast have been accused of sexual abuse on 42 occasions. Sixteen of the allegations involved minors.

The revelation is just one of many to surface regarding the misbehaviour of UN peacekeepers. Sexual misconduct has been reported in the Congo, Cambodia and Haiti.

Most recently, yesterday the UN mission in Haiti faced allegations that Uruguayan UN troops raped an 18-year-old local man, in the latest incident to threaten the reputation of U.N. peacekeepers in the poor Caribbean state.

A video shot by a cellphone shows laughing Uruguayan marines pinning the young Haitian face down on a mattress and apparently assaulting him sexually. The incident allegedly took place on July 28, according to regional police chief Fritz Saint-Fort.

Haitian authorities, the U.N. Mission in Haiti and Uruguay’s Defence Ministry have launched an investigation into the video. The four troops suspected of being involved have been detained and Uruguay’s Navy has replaced the head of its naval contingent with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

UN peacekeepers in Haiti have faced public anger before, notably over allegations that Nepalese UN troops brought a deadly cholera epidemic to the country after their camp latrines contaminated a local river. This sparked riots last year against the 12 000-strong UN peacekeeping contingent.