June 27, 2008 -- US-trained peacekeepers were not properly vetted for human rights violations before taking roles in war-torn countries, according to a new government report.
Hundreds of peacekeepers, who are drawn from security forces in countries around the world and trained by the State Department and the Department of Defense, were not properly screened for abuses they may have committed in the past, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
"As a result of these lapses in vetting, it is possible that State and DOD have provided training to security personnel who committed human rights violations," concludes the report, although it does not detail any evidence that such abuses were actually committed by peacekeepers.
The report found that all 81 military peacekeepers from Honduras who received training in 2007 were not vetted before participating in training courses funded by the US-administered Global Peace Operations Initiative. The State Department's most recent human rights report on Honduras found "unlawful killings by members of the police and government agents, beatings and other abuse of detainees by security forces" in the country.
In addition, a 665-person Nigerian battalion trained by GPOI and 16 military peacekeepers and stability police from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Sri Lanka were not screened for human rights violations. Human rights reports on all of those countries detailed reports of extra-judicial killings by security forces.
While the commanders of seven composite units in Niger, Nigeria and Uganda were screened, the individual members of those units were not vetted, according to the report.
The potential for peacekeepers to commit crimes, especially human rights violations, has been highlighted in recent years by UN reports which found that their own peacekeepers have been accused of offenses ranging from sexual abuse of children to arms smuggling.
Currently, the UN is investigating three peacekeepers from India who were accused of gold and ivory smuggling and supplying arms to militias in Congo.
And in 2004, a U.N. report found that a "shockingly large number" of peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo were involved in the sexual abuse of young girls in exchange for eggs, milk or money.
In addition, the GAO report noted that the State Department had not yet spent $3.6 million of the $9 million budgeted for equipment to support the peacekeeping mission to Sudan back in 2005. And it concluded that State was unlikely to meet their goal of training 75,000 military peacekeepers by 2010, noting that nearly 40,000 have been trained to date.
The State Department acknowledged shortcomings in the vetting process in the agency's formal response to the report but noted "we believe that they have been remedied and that the process is effective in identifying and preventing any potential recipients from receiving training where there is credible evidence that they have committed gross violations of human rights."
In its response, the State Department also asserted that it planned on meeting the goal of training 75,000 peacekeepers in the third quarter of 2010.
Spokesmen for the State Department and the Pentagon declined comment on the report.