Thursday, May 18, 2006

 

UN Corrpution and Human Rights

A recent report highlights a major problem of the UN in Liberia--the exploitation of local women by people in positions of power. The problem is something that I, and many others I'?ve talked to here, have seen first hand

The problem encompasses not just locally hired civilian workers, but many members of the military contingents to the UN. The UN provides upper-middle class Western pay standards to workers and soldiers that frequently come from countries with much lower standards of living. The result is that the supervisors and Commanders will overlook quiet indiscretions in fear that an investigation will reflect on themselves? something that few are willing to risk.

The recent report by Save the Children- UK, concentrates on the exploitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees in the many camps in the area. The perpetrators in these cases tend to be Liberians hired by WFP and other UN agencies to administer their programs in the country. This is a story that I have heard many times in the two IDP camps in my Area of Responsibility. The report also highlights the practice by other authority figures throughout the country, most disturbingly, local teachers who engage in various forms of bribery in lieu of tuition (which is frequently on the order of $20US per semester), or in exchange for passing grades.

The problem isn?'t just the local hires, though, but to foreign UN workers and soldiers. It is a practice that I had noticed by at least one former member of my team, and is apparently widespread among the peacekeepers and military observers. Most will rationalize having a girlfriend by asserting that no cash is changing hands, but will pay with large amounts of food for the families of the girls, vehicle rides, or implicit promises of visas.

For many UN workers, both Liberian and foreign, the jobs are extremely well paying, and a one year mission as a military observer can provide for a full retirement for a soldier when he returns home. The result is an extreme risk-avoidance, which shows up not only in normal duties, but also in the discipline of fellow workers. Priority is given to avoiding controversy, and not to accomplishing the mission.

In one recent incident, a military observer on another team reported the inappropriate sexual relationships of two fellow team members, and simultaneously requested a transfer to another team, to avoid retribution. This member's chain of command ensured that the investigation was squelched before it even began, and even denied the transfer request, putting him at risk, at the mercy of his teammates. The commander and team leader didn't want the situation to reflect poorly on them.

In a recent article, Claudia Rosen points out the ?fundamental problem "[is] that senior U.N. officials enjoy the privileges of sovereign immunity, but because the U.N. is not a sovereign state, they are spared the accountability that tends to come." But this problem extends not just to U.N. diplomats, but even to low level UN employees working in failed states. There is no functioning local law enforcement system, and few perpetrators are held accountable by their home governments once they've been repatriated.

The only system of punishment that the UN has is repatriation or being fired, and the loss of salary that comes with it. There is no viable system available to hold people responsible for their actions in failed states like Liberia. The result is that the actions of the UN is damaging thousands of young girls, and reinforcing the system of corruption that got Liberia to this state in the first place.


Monday, May 15, 2006

 

Local Art


 
A photo of the border with Guinea, Liberia is on the far side of the creek, and a Liberian customs agent we took with us in the foreground, in Guinea.

A few kids currently living in the Maimu IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp.

A young mother with her child in the town of Beletanla.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

 

Gbaomu Gold Mine

Last week I found yet another gold mine, buried deep in the bush, except this time it was much larger than normal. It was a nice, hard hour plus walk through the bush, and down a rarely used path until we came upon a picturesque creek winding through the forest.

We scrambled along the creed for a ways, over quite rugged rocks and miniature waterfalls until we came to a narrow diversion canal directing water to the side. Following that for a hundred meters, and we stumbled across the first of seven claims. There were a good thirty workers there, and they claimed to produce about 18 grams a day, working entirely by hand.

The miners reported that the mine was over "10 shovels" deep, so considering a standard shovel is about four feet long, that's pretty deep. The workers had dug down about ten feet to the bedrock, and were digging the rock with nothing but hand tools.

The workers are powered by palm wine, provided by the local brewer. Trust me, its sweet, but otherwise tastes like standard moonshine. Our guide, expecting to get some small, small, endulged in a good sized glass of palm wine himself. He was just about stone drunk on the way back, and couldn't stay on the path. We teased him about being drunk, which he denies, and confiscated his kitchen knife, returning it to the town chief when we made it back to Gbaomu.

It is hard to pick out on the photo, but check out the dozen or so gold flakes on the top half of this rock.


 

 

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