UN fund for sexual abuse victims grows to $1.5 million

Associated Press

A U.N. fund to help victims of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and U.N. staff has now grown to $1.5 million following contributions from 10 more countries including Sri Lanka, whose troops were implicated in a child sex ring in Haiti.

Critics called the fund "tiny" and said it would only provide general support services rather than payouts to individual victims.

The U.N. Department of Field Support made the announcement Wednesday in New York, a week after a special session was held on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly to address the scourge of sexual violence by U.N. staff and peacekeepers in missions around the world. It was the most detailed accounting to date made public about the fund's contributors.

The new contributions to the trust fund, which had previously been estimated at about $500,000, will initially be used to boost services for victims in Congo, according to the announcement. Projects are also expected in several of the other countries with high numbers of allegations: Central African Republic, Haiti and Liberia.

"These contributions reinforce the Secretary-General's clear commitment to putting the rights and dignity of victims first," it said.

While some young women have managed to confirm paternity in cases of abuse and exploitation by U.N. staff or peacekeepers, individual payments are rare and even then can take years to receive.

The $1.5 million special U.N. fund is limited in scope, emphasized Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has investigated U.N. sexual abuses through its Code Blue Campaign.

"Let's be clear: This 'trust fund' is not what it appears to be. It provides no funds to individual victims," she said Thursday. "Instead, it is a tiny pot of money to be dispersed by the United Nations to fund organizations that provide generalized services in a fraction of the affected communities."

A recent year-long investigation by The Associated Press found that more than 700 of the approximately 2,000 allegations of sexual misconduct since 2004 had taken place in Congo, an enormous African country that is home to the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping mission.

The AP investigation found that the U.N. failed to meet many of its pledges to help victims, some of whom have been lost to a sprawling bureaucracy. Cases have disappeared, or have been handed off to the peacekeepers' home countries — which often do nothing with them.

Justice is even more elusive, because the cases are referred to the alleged perpetrators' home countries. The AP found that even after a U.N. investigation discovered a three-year child sex ring involving Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti, Sri Lanka prosecuted no one.

The South Asian country was among the 10 announced as contributors Thursday though it was not immediately clear how much the nation may have donated as no breakdown was made public. The announcement also noted that $102,000 of the money comes from withholding payments to alleged perpetrators in cases where complaints were substantiated.

Other new contributors to the fund whose peacekeepers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct include Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan. Albania, Canada, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland also have made unspecified donations, joining Bhutan, Cyprus, India, Japan and Norway, the U.N. said.

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