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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should urgently address the failings of the investigating arm of the United Nations and ensure that UN peacekeepers responsible for abuses are held to account, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban, Human Rights Watch provided detailed information from several UN documents, never before made public, that serious allegations of wrongdoing by Pakistani and Indian peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo were ignored, minimized or shelved by the UN’s Organization of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

“UN peacekeepers around the world play an invaluable role,” said Steve Crawshaw, UN advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But the UN’s failure to investigate its own crimes does nothing to keep the peace. Instead, it undermines peacekeeping efforts and the reputation of the UN itself.”

The OIOS is a branch of the United Nations responsible for investigating offenses by peacekeepers and other UN staff. Internal reviews of the organization prepared by outside experts in 2007 indicate that OIOS is unable to effectively carry out investigations or promote accountability. The reviews conclude that “major reform” is required.

Human Rights Watch first informed the UN about misconduct by Pakistani peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in December 2005. OIOS launched an investigation into allegations of illegal gold trafficking and gun smuggling by peacekeepers, but its final report found only that a single Pakistani officer had been involved in illegal gold trafficking and found no evidence for gun smuggling.

Human Rights Watch’s own research and information it has since received indicates that the OIOS seriously downplayed the extent of the problems. Witness statements to OIOS investigators detailed the rearming of Congolese militias and showed that more than one Pakistani peacekeeper was involved in the gold trading. The militia commanders themselves later publicly stated they had received weapons from Pakistani peacekeepers. OIOS did not follow up on this information, nor was it included in their final report.

“The failure by OIOS to follow up on the serious allegations of the re-arming of murderous militia groups is extraordinary,” said Crawshaw. “The UN must improve how it polices itself, or it risks fostering conflict rather than ending it.”

Human Rights Watch also described how some Indian peacekeepers in eastern Congo allegedly engaged in illegal transactions with armed groups. A preliminary OIOS assessment report from February 2008 lists 44 allegations, of which at least 10 allegations had supporting evidence.

Senior OIOS officials overruled the preliminary report’s recommendation for further investigations. In a stripped-down four-page memo to the UN’s department of field support, OIOS concluded 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. All other allegations, including repeat allegations of weapons-trading with armed groups, were ignored.

On April 28, the BBC broadcast its own investigation into these allegations and also found OIOS had seriously failed in investigations.

“We welcome Ban Ki-moon’s commitment to transparency and accountability,” said Crawshaw. “But this must be translated into action to ensure that UN peacekeepers who commit crimes don’t go scot-free.”

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