Letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
May 1, 2008
Mr. Ban Ki-moon
New York, NY 10017
We write regarding the investigation broadcast on BBC radio and television on April 28, 2008, into serious failures by the United Nations’ internal investigation arm, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). The BBC programs demonstrated that OIOS failed to fully investigate UN peacekeepers implicated in gold and weapons smuggling in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. We urge you to follow up on these reports and to look into important failings of OIOS as speedily as possible.
The allegations against some Indian and Pakistani peacekeepers in Congo are serious. If they are not adequately addressed, such abuses are likely to undermine the reputation of the United Nations. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly acknowledged the important and positive role played by UN peacekeepers in Congo and elsewhere. We have urged that peacekeeping forces in volatile zones such as Congo and Darfur remain strong. Peacekeepers worldwide play an essential and invaluable role. But the United Nations’ failure to seriously investigate and see to the punishment of UN peacekeepers responsible for crimes does nothing to help keep the peace. On the contrary, it undermines peacekeeping efforts not only at the scene of the crime, but in operations elsewhere.
Information received by Human Rights Watch, confirmed by the BBC’s investigations, suggests that serious allegations of illegal behavior by UN peacekeepers in Congo have been ignored, minimized, or shelved, and that there is rarely accountability for the crimes that are acknowledged. The OIOS is responsible for the investigation of offenses by UN peacekeepers. Yet external reviews prepared by outside experts in 2007, seen by Human Rights Watch, indicate that OIOS is unable to effectively carry out investigations or promote accountability.
Human Rights Watch requested a meeting in September 2007 with Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General with responsibility for the OIOS, to discuss our concerns. The request was refused as the meeting was considered unnecessary.
We welcome your April 8 speech to the UN General Assembly in which you renewed your commitment to open the United Nations to scrutiny and to ensure accountability. We hope you will agree that investigations should be as robust as possible and that they must be acted upon, not buried. Justice should be done and seen to be done. Neither is true on the cases relating to UN peacekeepers in the Congo as described below.
We hope that the response to these revelations will not be to seek out the whistleblowers, but to address the underlying problems effectively and speedily.
Allegations against Pakistani
Peacekeepers Human Rights Watch first brought detailed information of gold-smuggling by Pakistani peacekeepers to the attention of UN officials in Ituri, eastern Congo, in December 2005. This information led to the launch of an OIOS investigation with which Human Rights Watch cooperated closely. More than a year after the investigation began the report was still not completed. Only after a May 2007 BBC report publicly highlighted the allegations, said that the report was blocked, and quoted a UN official as saying there was “a plan to bury [the report],” did OIOS conclude its delayed investigation. In July 2007 the OIOS report (since made publicly available by the US government) found only that a single Pakistani officer failed to prevent peacekeepers under his authority from providing support and security to persons involved in illegal gold trafficking.
Human Rights Watch was baffled by these findings, which seriously downplayed the extent of the problems. According to our research, a ring of Congolese army officers, Kenyan traders, and Pakistani peacekeepers was involved in smuggling millions of dollars of gold from Ituri. The available evidence suggested that the assistance provided by Pakistani peacekeepers went well beyond one individual, a finding confirmed by the BBC in its own investigation.
Furthermore, the OIOS report concluded there was no evidence to back up one of the most serious allegations, that Pakistani peacekeepers had provided weapons and ammunition to the Front for National Integration (FNI), an armed group responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Ituri district, whom UN peacekeepers were supposed to be disarming.
Based on information since received by Human Rights Watch, it seems that OIOS did have evidence in its possession from at least two different and credible sources relating to these weapons charges. Most of this information was not included in the final report. One source was a Congolese army officer who in a signed statement to OIOS investigators revealed that “arms surrendered by ex-combatants were secretly handed back to them by [named Pakistani officer].” The statement goes on to say:
- Repeatedly he saw militia who had disarmed one day, but the next [day] he saw the same armed groups armed again. When asking around why already disarmed militia would become rearmed again, the information he could obtain was always the same, that it was PAKBATT [the Pakistani battalion] giving arms back to the militia.
The same witness provided OIOS with significant details about the trade in gold by several Pakistani officers. He advised the OIOS investigators to speak to a former FNI commander called Kung Fu, who he said had been an important trading partner of the Pakistani peacekeepers.
Further information which corroborated the statement from the Congolese army officer came from a UN translator who worked with the Pakistani peacekeepers. In a statement given to OIOS investigators in June 2006, the translator explained how he was asked in 2005 to interpret a meeting between a Pakistani officer and FNI militia commanders Kung Fu and Dragon. In the statement given to OIOS, the UN translator said the Pakistani officer warned him “not to say a word to anybody about what he was about to hear.” The statement said that during the meeting the Pakistani officer asked Kung Fu, “What about the weapons I gave you, what about the weapons MONUC gave you?” To which Kung Fu replied that he “had share[d] them out to different [militia] positions.”
The same translator’s statement goes on to say:
- The [Pakistani officer] also asked Kung Fu ‘what about our business’ and Kung Fu replied ‘I will bring you some later’. The witness when asked what they meant by business said they were referring to gold. Witness claimed that everyone in Mongbwalu knew Kung Fu and Dragon were dealing gold [with] PAKBATT [the Pakistani battalion].
In its final report OIOS gave less weight to the information provided by the UN translator because he had not personally seen the Pakistani officer giving weapons to the FNI commanders; the report appears not to refer to the information provided by the Congolese army officer.
Yet the information given by the two witnesses to OIOS was corroborated when on May 25, 2007, former FNI commanders Kung Fu and Dragon issued a public statement confirming they received weapons and ammunition from Pakistani peacekeepers in 2005 and traded gold with them. This new information should have merited immediate follow-up by OIOS and inclusion of the information in their final report; it did not. It is our understanding that OIOS did not even seek to interview these commanders following their public statement. The two commanders repeated their claims again in an interview with the BBC broadcast on April 28.
In a public statement in response to the BBC allegations, the UN spokesperson responded on April 28 that “much of the new information presented by the [BBC] report is either hearsay or comes from sources, such as the militia leaders, whose integrity and motivation are highly questionable.” This ignored the fact that OIOS did not interview the militia leaders after their statement was released to determine the motivation or the veracity of their claims. Instead, the claims were dismissed out of hand. And yet, taken in conjunction with the information received by OIOS from the two independent sources described above in relation to alleged weapons trading by Pakistani peacekeepers, this new information appears at the very least to require further investigation.
The Pakistani authorities, meanwhile, continue to claim their soldiers have been completely exonerated. This is a disingenuous claim since OIOS found that at least one of their officers was involved in illegal gold trading and a separate UN Board of Inquiry, convened by the UN peacekeeping branch, found that five Pakistani peacekeepers had obstructed the OIOS investigation. In a written response to the BBC in advance of the April 28 television program, Pakistani military authorities said the allegations were based on “ill founded evidence” and were “unfounded propaganda.” Pakistani authorities said that, “after taking a dispassionate view of the proceedings and evidence,” they concluded that their “officers in the chain of command and troops under their command were neither involved in any wrong doing [nor] violated high standard of code of conduct exemplified by Pakistan Army.” They denied Pakistani peacekeepers prevented OIOS investigators from carrying out their investigation, claiming the investigators had an “attitude against all norms of UN working” which was “pointed out to them,” though they did say appropriate disciplinary action would be taken against those officers for behaving in a way that was “not in line with the traditions of Pakistan Army.” On the charges of illegal gold trading and arms trading, not one Pakistani peacekeeper has been held to account.
Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, on July 23, 2007 with a copy to Under-Secretary-General Ahlenius, head of the OIOS, expressing our concerns about the OIOS investigation and urging that the case remain open because no accountability had been demonstrated. In his reply, Mr. Guéhenno accepted that the abuses still needed to be addressed by the troop-contributing country, Pakistan. In his response to the BBC on April 15, 2008, Mr. Guéhenno repeated that he had requested the Pakistani authorities to take appropriate action against the officer, but did not indicate whether this had in fact taken place. He said that the individual would “not be accepted in any current or future peacekeeping operations.” However, in light of the response given by the Pakistan authorities noted above, it appears unlikely the individual will be held to account.
The UN spokesperson has said that the BBC’s findings are not new and have already been investigated by OIOS. Certainly, the allegations against the Pakistani peacekeepers are not new. But this is precisely what makes the case so troubling. More than two years after the information was first passed to the United Nations, not a single peacekeeper has been held to account and no thorough investigation of the serious charges of weapons trading with murderous armed groups has been conducted. This is shocking and unacceptable.
Allegations against Indian Peacekeepers
The failure of OIOS thoroughly to investigate and promote accountability of peacekeepers involved in illegal behavior is not unique to the allegations against the Pakistani peacekeepers. Human Rights Watch has received information of allegations that some Indian peacekeepers in Congo have engaged in illegal transactions with armed groups in North Kivu, eastern Congo, including the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), some of whose leaders participated in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
A preliminary OIOS assessment report from February 2008 seen by Human Rights Watch lists 44 allegations of misconduct and alleged illegal behavior by Indian peacekeeping troops in North Kivu from late 2005 to October 2007. The report says it found some evidence on at least 10 of the allegations. The report notes: “Some of the allegations are so serious and the potential consequences of taking no action so grave, that they should not be left unexamined.”
The allegations include weapons trading with the FDLR, informing armed groups of possible UN military operations, the smuggling of natural resources including gold and ivory, the unlawful detention of Congolese citizens, and the illicit use of equipment and resources belonging to MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force in Congo. The report concludes that further investigations are necessary since “it seems inevitable that [the allegations] will become the subject of scrutiny by the international media” and that such “exposure has the real potential to damage the reputation of the Indian military, MONUC and the United Nations.”
Despite the report’s recommendations, the OIOS at a senior level decided on February 20, 2008 to pursue only one of the allegations, and reduced a 34-page preliminary investigation report to a four-page memo which was sent to the United Nation’s department of field support. The stripped-down memo concludes that there was sufficient evidence only of the purchase of counterfeit gold and the unlawful detention of a local Congolese resident by three Indian peacekeepers, though it added that Indian authorities “[might] wish to consider other avenues of inquiry.” All other allegations were ignored. It is not even clear if the other allegations were shared with the Indian delegation.
When the BBC raised these issues in its April 28 broadcasts, the UN spokesperson responded that OIOS had again looked into the matter and found no cases of arms trafficking and only a handful of cases of misconduct, including that of the three Indian peacekeepers involved in buying gold. In a statement to the BBC, the Indian authorities said that the OIOS investigation revealed that “all but one of the allegations were based on hearsay or had no credible evidence.” They said they would initiate investigations and take disciplinary actions if necessary, though no time frame was given.
Neither OIOS nor the UN spokesperson acknowledged that this first investigation was only preliminary in nature, nor did they mention that the OIOS investigators had recommended further investigations on a range of charges, including on weapons trading.
Documents seen by Human Rights Watch indicate that the cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo are not isolated examples. Two external reviews conducted by outside experts at the request of OIOS and completed in mid 2007, to date unpublished, conclude that “major change and reform is needed.” One of the reviews concludes that the investigation division of OIOS:
- suffers from an ineffective and unclear structure, lack of independent budget and limited to no administrative support…, poor management, conflicts at the senior management level, lack of communication inside [the division] as well as with stakeholders and clients…, lack of standard operating procedures and constant disagreements with regard to the scope of some of the investigative procedures of the division.
The review also adds that the organization has a “volatile management style” that is “driven by an obsessive and excessive need for confidentiality” and is a “breeding ground for certain senior managers who essentially destroyed the trust and reputation of the division [due to] … their designs for power and control.” The second review uses similar language, describing the environment as “toxic” with “Machiavellian tendencies on the part of supervisors.” The conclusions and recommendations of these two external reviews should be taken seriously, and should result in more action than appears to have been the case until now.
Urgent steps should be taken to review the performance of OIOS and troop-contributing countries responsible for disciplining their troops. The reputation of the DRC mission and responsible peacekeepers around the world, who risk their lives to protect civilians, is at risk of being tarnished if such lack of accountability continues.
UN support for prosecutions, such as by court martial by the troop contributing country in the state where the abuse occurred, may provide more effective redress for victims and deterrence of future abuses. The United Nations should deploy resources at its disposal, and encourage support from member states, to ensure that troop-contributing countries comply with these measures. Human Rights Watch believes you should also urgently review the external reports described above and consider acting on their recommendations.
We thank you for your attention to this matter, and hope you will agree that this is a matter of importance for the standing of the United Nations as a whole.
UN Advocacy Director
cc: Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India;
Mr. Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, Prime Minister of Pakistan;
Mr. Joseph Kabila, President, Democratic Republic of Congo;
Mr. A. K. Antony, Minister of Defense, India;
Mr. Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Minister of Defense, Pakistan;
General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of Army Staff, Indian Army;
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan Army;
Mr. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations;
Ms. Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General, Office of Internal Oversight Services;
Mr. Alan Doss, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chief of Mission, MONUC