UNMEE Abusing the Welcome of a Generous Population
By: Ghidewon Abay Asmerom
May 10, 2004

Despite the dark record of UN peacekeepers around the world, many Eritreans have been willing to give UNMEE the benefit of the doubt. Considering how the Cessation of Hostilities has held for four years without a hitch many had thought UNMEE might be the first UN Mission to boast of a success story. Of course UNMEE had nothing to do with this success. If the Cessation of Hostilities is holding it is only because both Eritrea and Ethiopia are willing to honor it not because there are UNMEE peacekeepers separating them. In the past three and half years f UNMEE has been successful in one thing: in efficiently squandering close to a billion USD.

In fact as we all remember UNMEE had started its mission on the wrong track. It was barely three months into its mission when reports of a group of Danish peacekeepers sexually abusing a 13-year old Eritrean girl in Massawa surfaced in the news. That was February 2001. Did we hear a word from UNMEE? Not at all! Later on came reports of UN Peacekeepers caught red-handed making porno movies in Eritrea. Did the world read of a press release from UNMEE expressing regret, apology or outrage of the actions of its peacekeepers? Not even a sentence. Of course it has also been common knowledge that UNMEE staff members were in the business of making huge profit by illegally trafficking people across the border into Sudan and Ethiopia. It is clear several UNMEE officials and peacekeepers are in Eritrea not because they believe in peacekeeping but for the money. “Peacekeeping is a lucrative business and that is why I am here” was exactly what an Italian Carabanieri admitted to a group of us in 2001. The recent news (January 22, 2004) of a Slovak Colonel who took bribe for a promise of prolonging a peacekeeper’s stay with UNMEE is also a case in point.

UNMEE officials, starting with Legwaila Joseph Legwaila seem to have missed the wisdom of the words of one of their own, S Tharoor, who had written a decade ago.

“the only way peace keepers can work is by being trusted by both sides, being clear and transparent in their dealings, and keeping lines of communication open. The moment they lose this trust, the moment they are seen by one side as the 'enemy', they become part of the problem they were sent to solve."

By behaving the way they are behaving, UNMEE peacekeepers and officials are becoming a problem and a source to instability rather than securing peace in the very region they came to keep peace. When UNMEE officials take no action as their peacekeepers or officials tear Eritrea’s nakfa notes and use them as toilet papers, when Legwaila Joseph Legwaila and company look the other way as UN vehicles and helicopters smuggle out fugitives from the law for money, when UNMEE leaders encourage their members to serve as spies, and when UN officers keep quite when their peacekeepers sexually exploit women and children, they should know that they are becoming part of the problem not the solution. They are disturbing the very peace they came to uphold.

It is a matter of record, wherever UN peacekeepers stepped foot, be it in Bosnia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone or Somalia their behavior has been the same: sexual exploitation of women and children (children as young as 12 and 13 year olds), torture and murder of civilians, and criminal abuse of their diplomatic immunity by using UN planes, helicopters and vehicles which are exempt from border searches to traffic sex slaves, guns, drugs and other contraband. These are well documented facts. All those who are interested need to do is start with the following sample articles from: (1) The New York Times, January 7, 1996; (2) The Washington Times, August 9, 1996, (3) The New York Times, January 18, 1997; (4) The Washington Post, June 16, 1997; (5) The Washington Post, June 18, 1997; (6) The Village Voice, June 24, 1997; (7) Electronic Mail & Guardian, July 3, 1997; (8) The Village Voice , July 15, 1997;

This week the world is being bombarded by pictures depicting sexual abuse, torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of some bestial US soldiers and interrogators in the Abu Gharib prison. However, no less atrocities have been and are being committed by UN peacekeepers around the world as well. Many of us are aware of the atrocities Italian, Canadian, and Belgian peacekeepers committed in Somalia and Bosnia. Those atrocities were as obscene, horrific, and inhumane as those coming out of Abu Gharib this week. UN peacekeepers’ atrocities in Somalia included, but were not limited to, roasting a living Somali child over an open fire, placing wires from a radio transmitter on the genitals of a Somali man, violating a Somali woman with a flare, and making a child eat vomit and worms. All these happened while other peacekeepers were watching and taking photographs. What was the reaction of UN officials to these acts? Like what UNMEE is trying to do these days in Eritrea: denials and cover-ups. For this reason we shouldn’t be surprised when we see UNMEE officials deny their criminal behavior and attempt at a cover-up; it is part of the UN culture that groomed them. It has also to be remembered that at the very time some of these atrocities were being committed the top person in charge of UN peacekeeping operation around the world was none other than the man who appointed UNMEE’s officials, Kofi Annan.

There might have been those who believed UNMEE was not condemned to fail like the other UN peacekeeping missions, but it looks UNMEE too is sliding down the path of failure. For many an extended stay in Eritrea is a money making business. No one should expect them to correct the wrongs of UNMEE. As they are the direct beneficiaries of illegal acts of human trafficking and issuing fake ID cards we shouldn’t expect them to stop it. At the same time none of us should expect them to work positively towards the demarcation of the border, the end of their mandate. It would mean giving up their lucrative business, including the business of fleecing the UN of millions and millions of dollars. UNMEE officials have squandered the trust we had in them and they shouldn’t expect to benefit from our generous cooperation. Not anymore. Everything should have a limit. Many of them should be recognized for who they truly are: "beasts in blue berets" not peacekeepers.