Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post ran a 1000-word March 13 article about U.N. sexual abuse scandals. It began this way: “The United Nations is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct by U.N. personnel in Burundi, Haiti, Liberia and elsewhere, which is complicating the organization’s efforts to contain a sexual abuse scandal that has tarnished its Nobel Prize-winning peacekeepers in Congo.”

But what about Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the former director of U.N. peacekeeping? Does any of this affect him or his reputation? In a curious omission, the story by Colum Lynch, a member of the U.N. Correspondents Association, didn’t even mention the name of Annan.  He was the invisible man in the scandal when he has the most to answer for.

He did report the following however: “The allegations indicate that a series of measures the United Nations has taken in recent years have failed to eliminate a culture of sexual permissiveness that has plagued its far-flung peacekeeping operations over the last 12 years. But senior U.N. officials say they have signaled their seriousness by imposing new reforms and forcing senior U.N. military commanders and officials to step down if they do not curb such practices.”

So U.N. officials have now indicated “their seriousness,” 12 years after these scandals started to emerge. Now this approach, giving the benefit of the doubt to top U.N. officials, is in decided contrast to how the Post and the New York Times have treated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials in the Iraqi prisoner abuse controversy. Two major investigations have cleared Rumsfeld of any role in the abuse but the Post and the Times have both insisted in editorials that the investigation didn’t go far enough.

Is Kofi Annan new on the scene at the U.N.? Hardly. He has been with the U.N. since 1962.   His resum? gets interesting around March 1992, when he began serving as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. He continued in that post until February 1993. The next month, March 1993, he started as Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping and continued in that position until December 1996. His bio states that “His tenure as Under-Secretary-General coincided with unprecedented growth in the size and scope of United Nations peacekeeping operations, with a total deployment, at its peak in 1995, of almost 70,000 military and civilian personnel from 77 countries.” A close observer might notice that Annan’s tenure also coincided with the proliferation of U.N. sex abuse scandals. In fact, Annan was in a key position of power and influence over U.N. peacekeeping during the same period that the sex scandals emerged and grew into a global embarrassment for the U.N. Yet Annan is not held accountable for any of it. 

In regard to the oil for food scandal at the U.N., some have insisted that Annan should take responsibility and resign. In a December 1 column in the Wall Street Journal, entitled, “Kofi Annan Must Go,” Senator Norm Coleman said that “The massive scope of this debacle demands nothing less. If this widespread corruption had occurred in any legitimate organization around the world, its CEO would have been ousted long ago, in disgrace. Why is the U.N. different?”

But the case against Annan over the sex scandals is even stronger. He cannot claim that that he was out-of-the-loop on them because he held critically important positions in peacekeeping during most of the time the scandals were emerging.

His own attitude toward sex scandals was demonstrated when his refugee chief, Ruud Lubbers, was accused of sexual harassment and Annan cleared him. But when more allegations of sexual harassment emerged, Lubbers resigned.

On Fox News Sunday, Annan’s new chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, explained it this way: “?over the subsequent seven months, the story wouldn’t go away. Other allegations surfaced. Mr. Lubbers himself continued to fight to clear his name, and in a way which just, we felt, lost respect for him and the organization he leads. So when we forced his resignation, it was not because of the original allegations, it was because of his conduct since then, which was not becoming for someone who has to have the moral stature to represent the world’s refugees.”

When host Chris Wallace asked about the sex scandals involving U.N. peacekeepers, Brown replied, “Well, it’s devastating. It’s a terrible set of allegations, that peacekeepers sent to keep the peace in poor, weak countries with vulnerable people who have not been able to have their rights protected for years, that some of them behave in this way. I mean, it completely undercuts our mission, and we recognize that.” He then went on to insist that Annan was on top of the problem and would not tolerate sexual abuse. “And the secretary-general has made it clear that use of prostitution, sex with under-age children, that fraternization beyond strict limits, all of this is not allowed and will be a cause for peacekeepers to be sent home and, in some cases, to make them criminally prosecuted,” said Brown. “So he’s coming down on it hard, and he’s sent the equivalent of his vice president, the deputy secretary-general, out to the main missions over the last few weeks to lay down the law, make sure everyone understood it.”

Coming down on it hard? Annan began his first term as Secretary-General on January 1, 1997. He started his second term on June 29, 2001, and it ends on December 31, 2006. Before that, as we noted, he was a key official in charge of U.N. peacekeeping operations and used that fact to highlight his ability to manage 70,000 troops worldwide. The sex abuse began around 1992, the same year Annan took over as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Why isn’t he held accountable for this?

Just call him the Teflon U.N. Boss.

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