The real UN scandal over the past decade was not the oil-for-food program in Iraq, but the abuse of civilians by UN peacekeepers. Almost 200,000 personnel from more than 100 countries are rotated through UN operations every year.
After the damaging allegations of protectors turned predators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, usually in exchange for food or change money, Jordan's UN ambassador Prince Zeid Hussein wrote a forthright report that led to a new and stringent code of conduct for preventing, identifying and responding to sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers.
The problem persists: UN vehicles are not an uncommon sight in haunts frequented by teenage prostitutes.
Sexual exploitation and abuse are not the only side effects of the large numbers of missions and personnel living and working in isolation, far away from home and family, in conditions of loneliness, and without the discipline of the behaviour-regulating norms and codes of conduct of their home countries.
Most studies of UN operations focus on the stated mandates and implicit goals of the international community and troop-contributing countries, and the success or failure in implementing them. But peace operations also produce unintended negative consequences, caused by the flood of international money - such as increased corruption and inflation, more prostitution, sex-trafficking and underworld criminal activity.
Often the presence of large numbers of people on international salaries creates a shadow economy that drains skills, experience and talent away from the national bureaucracy, as in Afghanistan.
Consider the case of HIV/AIDS. In some of the war-affected countries of deployment in sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV prevalence rate is 40-60 per cent. Soldiers tend to be mainly men of a sexually active age, with money in their pockets far in excess of prevailing local incomes, deployed away from home for six months and prone by temperament and training to risk-taking behaviour. Almost half the Dutch military personnel serving with the UN mission in Cambodia in the 1990s had sexual contact with prostitutes or other local women.
Often soldiers come into contact with young boys and girls who are poor, unemployed and traumatized victims of sexual exploitation during prolonged and vicious armed conflict.
Troops from countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates make up one-third of UN peacekeepers. Some African military forces have infection rates five times that of the civilian population. Some countries, Ghana, for example, conduct compulsory testing before selecting soldiers for mission deployment. Some resist, for reasons of social and cultural sensitivity, others simply lack adequate testing facilities.
The number and seriousness of side effects of UN peace operations increased along with the growing numbers and complexity of the missions after the Cold War. In some cases, when children are raped by soldiers, for example, serious harm is done to individuals and communities that the peacekeepers are meant to protect, the ability of the mission to fulfill its mandate is weakened, the legitimacy of the UN as an organizer of peacekeeping is eroded, and support for the UN as a whole is diminished in both host and troop-contributing countries.
It is not easy to identify proper legal remedies. Many allegations are difficult to prove in a court of law. The offending soldiers are subject to the disciplinary authority of their own military, not the UN.
Often, alleged perpetrators have returned home while victims and witnesses are from host countries with weak criminal justice systems.
Yet, international peacekeepers must be held internationally accountable for criminal acts. Merely repeating promises of zero tolerance and setting up task forces and committees is not enough. In addition to education and training in human rights and international humanitarian law and standards, peacekeepers must be brought within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and made subject to criminal prosecution. Countries that demur from the more stringent standards, codes of conduct and international investigations and prosecution should be excused from contributing personnel to UN operations.