news/UN: U.N. Plans to Give Condoms to Troops

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Subject: news/UN: U.N. Plans to Give Condoms to Troops
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Apr 18 2000 - 09:45:14 EDT


U.N. Plans to Give Condoms to Troops

By Colum Lynch
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday , March 18, 2000 ; A13

UNITED NATIONS, March 17 ÜÜ Worried by the threat of AIDS among U.N.
peacekeepers, the United Nations has decided to distribute a condom a day to
each of the 16,000 male troops it plans to send to Congo and Sierra Leone
this year.

The decision is the closest the United Nations has ever come to
acknowledging one of the dirty secrets of peacekeeping: that U.N. troops
around the world frequent brothels and are in danger of contracting the HIV
virus that causes AIDS, as well as providing a market for prostitution and
the trafficking of women.

The deployment of relatively highly paid soldiers to impoverished countries
has turned U.N. bases from the Balkans to Mozambique into magnets for
brothels, ranging from tents and wooden hovels to permanent structures, some
with dozens of women, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

The United Nations makes no attempt to police or punish soldiers who visit
prostitutes, leaving it to the peacekeepers' own governments to monitor
their morals.

"The U.N. does not have a policy saying, 'Don't go to a brothel or you will
be repatriated,' " said one U.N. official, speaking on condition of
anonymity. "If brothels are locally accepted, then the United Nations has no
reason to enforce anything on off-duty peacekeepers."

The issue is sensitive not only because it involves sexual mores, but also
because diplomats fear that if peacekeepers are seen to be at risk of
contracting AIDS, countries may hesitate to contribute troops, and if they
are seen as spreading AIDS, war-torn countries may hesitate to accept them.

The decision to distribute condoms to peacekeepers in high-risk countries
came after weeks of pressure by Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to
the United Nations.

On Feb. 28, Holbrooke told a meeting of U.N. diplomats on social issues that
the United States would not support any future peacekeeping operations that
failed to address the threat of HIV infection. "The Security Council must
recognize that deployed peacekeepers are at special risk to both contract
and spread HIV, and should insist the peacekeepers are educated about AIDS,"
Holbrooke said.

Both the U.N. mission in Bosnia and the NATO peacekeeping effort in Kosovo
have contributed to the trafficking of women from the former Soviet Union
and Central Europe to work in forced prostitution, according to Ann Jordan,
an expert on the sexual slave trade at the Washington-based International
Human Rights Law Group.

"The U.N. gives [troops] condoms and some AIDS information and that's all,"
said Jordan. "The message is, it's all right to go out and induce girls in
these countries to be prostitutes."

While the United Nations does not keep track of HIV infections or sexually
transmitted diseases among its troops, Holbrooke testified before Congress
on March 8 that they are a significant problem. During a trip to Asia
several years ago, he said, he learned that "U.N. peacekeepers were coming
to Cambodia to bring peace to the area, but were in fact spreading AIDS."

U.N. officials dispute that statement. "There are no statistics or evidence
supporting the contention that personnel in U.N. peacekeeping operations
have, in fact, spread AIDS," said Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for Secretary
General Kofi Annan. "However, because U.N. civilian and military personnel
in peacekeeping or humanitarian operations can be exposed to the dangers of
contracting or spreading AIDS, the United Nations has been stepping up
preventative measures."

At Holbrooke's prodding, the U.N. Security Council this year has added a
clause to the mandate for all new missions calling for efforts "to sensitize
peacekeeping personnel in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS and other
communicable diseases."

Funding for the condoms may be approved by a U.N. budget committee next
week. They are expected to cost $10 per peacekeeper a month, or nearly $2
million a year for the peacekeeping forces in Congo and Sierra Leone. The
program may be extended to other missions in the future, U.N. officials
said.

In recent years, the United Nations also has distributed booklets
illustrating the use of a condom and encouraging peacekeepers to think twice
before engaging in risky sex.

"Like many of the troops in your unit, you probably feel that having 'casual
sex' is a big part of 'off-duty' time to help you relax and unwind," one
U.N. manual counsels. "You could easily get infected by having sex with a
person you just met."

A senior U.N. official said that the decision to include one condom per day
in the regular supplies for peacekeepers should not be seen as encouraging
daily sex, but that it would be naive to ignore the realities of life among
the troops.

"I think you want to be on the safe side," the official said. "In theory,
you could use one a day. Some people can use more than one a day."
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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