Haiti Outrage: UN Soldiers from Sex Assault Video Freed

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Sexual Misconduct by UN Peacekeepers in Congo

In 2005, ABC News revealed widespread sexual misconduct by UN peacekeeping troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Undercover video showed UN officials with prostitutes, and UN troops were accused of trading food for sex with underage girls and boys. In Bosnia, in the late 1990s, UN troops were alleged by local officials to be forcing women into prostitution. Few if any were punished. In Ivory Coast, in 2009, the aid group Save the Children UK alleged UN troops from Benin regularly engaged in sex with children in exchange for food or lodging.

"These incidents are very bad for the UN, there is no doubt about that," Banbury, the UN assistant secretary general who oversees the peacekeeping and special operations missions around the world, told ABC News.

Banbury is in Haiti this week, his second trip there since the allegations surrounding the Uruguayan soldiers first surfaced.

He conducted a lengthy interview with ABC News about the case last summer, expressing his desire to improve the strained relationship between UN peacekeepers and Haitian citizens. With their distinctive blue helmets and berets, the UN peacekeeping troops are intended to be in Haiti to provide security, and to improve living conditions there -- work that is badly needed in a nation that struggles to consistently provide some of the most basic human necessities.

"We are committed to helping people in need of assistance," Banbury said.

So what would he say to the 18-year-old who is seen being attacked on the grainy cell phone video, Banbury was asked?

"I say that I'm terribly, terribly sorry you were subjected to that absolutely terrible treatment -- unacceptable treatment," he replied. "And the United Nations is committed to ensuring that justice is done in this case."

But Banbury also acknowledged in the interview that the UN lacks the power to, on its own, punish peacekeepers accused of crimes. And it cannot always count on the troops' home countries to take action against their own soldiers.

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"Sometimes we can," he said. "Sometimes we can't."

Ansel Herz is a freelance journalist based in Haiti since 2009 who has written for The Nation, Reuters Alertnet, Inter-Press News, Haiti Liberte and other outlets.

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