ABC News' chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross traveled to Africa to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against U.N. peacekeepers stationed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Widespread allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of Congolese women, boys, and girls surround the very same U.N. personnel sent to help and protect them -- and all this despite a so-called zero tolerance policy touted by the United Nations toward such behavior.
Ross spoke with families of alleged victims, adolescents who said they provided sex to U.N. workers, and U.N. officials who said they are disciplining any staff involved in the abuse. But to date, of the hundreds of allegations of sex crimes involving U.N. personnel, only two have faced any kind of prosecution.
Here are Ross's responses to your questions about his investigation:
Gail in New Orleans, La. asks: Exactly who's responsible for policing and disciplining the United Nations? Are there any measures in place to protect the rights of women and children on an international scale in cases involving sexual exploitation? If so, who is responsible for enforcing them?
Ross: The U.N.'s system of accountability appears seriously flawed. Peacekeeping troops come from U.N. member states and are only accountable to their own governments. U.N. civilian employees enjoy immunity from local prosecution and as a result tend not to face charges in countries where they are stationed.
Miranda in Naugatuck, Conn., asks: How can an American citizen help to get the U.N. personnel prosecuted to the extent they need to be? People should not get away with this. Americans and the world are becoming complacent with Africa's issues.
Ross: The U.S. government is one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the ultimate authority over all U.N. operations. A citizen may wish to express its concern to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations as well as the executive branch of our government and urge concrete action by the U.S. mission for changes that make peacekeepers truly accountable for their crimes.
Cindy in Bristol, Tenn, asks: What can we do to help these poor people?
Ross: There are a handful of local, Congolese and some foreign NGO's that are trying to support victims of sexual abuse. You may contact producer David Scott if you would like to pursue this issue.
Penny in Branson, Mo., asks: Will you continue to follow up on this story to hold the U.N. officials accountable in the Congo? Also will you investigate the other places where the U.N. peacekeepers are -- to see if there exist systemic abuses by the U.N. peacekeepers?
Ross: We do intend to follow up on this story, and depending upon developments to look into other aspects of the problem in the U.N. system.
Jessica in Miramar, Fla., asks: Have there ever been past allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. workers in other poor or developing countries? And will any actions be taken against the other staff members involved in the sex abuse?
Ross: Dating back to Cambodia in 1993, where Bulgarian peacekeepers were widely accused of sexually abusing local women, this kind of misconduct has been a common feature of United Nations missions around the world. It is not clear whether U.N. personnel will now be held accountable on a significant or systematic basis.
Aimee in Venice, Fla., asks: What are the chances for those victims to seek legal compensation, i.e. can they sue and win? These are atrocities.