‘Whistleblower’ Screening Disturbs Peace at U.N.

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UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)–U.N. peacekeepers’ violations of women they are supposed to protect was brought uncomfortably close to home by the recent screening of "The Whistleblower" at U.N. headquarters earlier this month.

After the Oct. 14 screening, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened a panel discussion by noting "much progress since this dark period portrayed in this film," while also acknowledging there is more work to be done.

But Larysa Kondracki, the movie’s director, quickly contradicted him, saying, "situations have escalated and if you read the news today there are a lot more movies to be made."

The 2010 film–released in U.S. theaters in August–portrays U.N. peacekeepers trafficking and sexually abusing women in Bosnia-Herzegovina following its mid-1990s civil war.

In September, Uruguay recalled five peacekeepers from Haiti after a cell phone video of them sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man began to circulate on the Internet. Uruguay is investigating the instances of abuse and has vowed to prosecute the accused peacekeepers to the fullest extent of the law.

That same month, the U.N. barred and repatriated 16 peacekeepers, commanders and senior officers from Benin after a leaked U.S. embassy cable found they had coerced underage girls in Ivory Coast to perform sex acts in exchange for food.

While the U.N. "sought disciplinary action" against the group from Benin, it has "not received confirmation of the details of disciplinary or judicial proceedings," according to a United Nations Department of Peacekeeping spokesperson.

In 2006 the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations began to document allegations of "sexual exploitation and abuse," a phrase that includes a wide spectrum of abuses from human trafficking to sexual harassment.

Since then, allegations of abuse have dropped dramatically; 127 in 2007; 85 in 2010; and 60 so far in 2011.

Doubtful Statistics

Madeleine Rees, chief of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights from 1998 to 2006 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, doubts those official statistics are telling a true story. Rees is a character in the film for her real-life role as boss and staunch advocate of the movie’s central character, Kathy Bolkovac, who loses her job for trying to stop colleagues from trafficking and abusing women, some of them underage.

Rees attended the screening and said in a follow-up phone interview that the allegations could be dropping because fewer women and girls are reporting abuse.

"I would love to say yes [there has been progress], but I am afraid I am going to say no," she told Women’s eNews in a phone interview following the forum. "Without real institutional changes you can’t make much difference. There’s a lot of talk about this . . . but essentially the problem has always been unless you have a policy which has teeth, which has serious consequences, then the problem is not going to stop."

Rees left Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2006 and stopped working for the United Nations in 2010. In September 2011, the U.N. Dispute Tribunal ruled she was unlawfully pushed out of her job in Geneva.

Both Rees and Bolkovac were invited to the Oct. 14 screening and panel six days in advance, not enough time for Bolkovac to make the necessary arrangements.

Rees said the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers can still be problematic for people within the U.N. system, which delegates most of the responsibility to the member nations that recruit members of their own national militaries and police forces to serve as peacekeepers.

Mandate Disagreement

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom told Women’s eNews that she keeps up-to-date with peacekeepers, but that this issue doesn’t fall within her mandate.

Rees, now serving as the secretary general of the Geneva-based Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, disagreed with Wallstrom on that.

"This is part of her mandate. It’s just men wearing different colored uniforms, that’s all," she said. "There’s just a general reluctance to take this issue on because look at what happens to people who do."

The United Nations condemns all forms of sexual exploitation and requires peacekeepers to undergo training in sexual violence and abuse before they begin their service. But international military immunity means the U.N. can only recall peacekeepers. From there member nations are often charged with investigating the allegations of abuse.

The duty is sometimes neglected, said Ivan Barbalic, permanent representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the U.N., during the post-screening discussion.

"There’s a tendency to cover up and protect even in the fact-finding phase," he said. "There must be participation from headquarters to make sure this is partial and objective."

Movie director Kondracki also noted that top officials in U.N. headquarters should be scrutinized just as carefully as peacekeepers for their moral and legal conduct.

"This is not just about peacekeepers on the ground. We have videos of high-level diplomats walking around U.N. headquarters with people they purchased," she said during the forum.

By that point in the discussion period, Ban had left the room.

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Amy Lieberman is a correspondent at the United Nations Headquarters and a freelance writer in New York City.

For more information:

"The Whistleblower" movie:

United Nations Peacekeeping:

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom:

3 thoughts on “‘Whistleblower’ Screening Disturbs Peace at U.N.

  1. Unaware that this film is so new, and having read Kathy Bolcovac’s story in her book form, also published this year, I watched the film twice while in a plane last weekend. I was horrified all over again at the absence of humanity by these traffickers who are the worst offenders in this dreadful reality, and by the UN and other men who were and are working toward peace and respecting rights. It is quite clear that they all see this as men’s rights, and that women are to be used.
    Women MUST be much more represented in the peacekeeping forces and in the private companies who are given contracts to work in these areas when war is the main focus. By much more represented, I mean at least 50% of the peacekeepers must be women! I mean that when women’s rights are being abused, that this is not only a problem for women, it is also a problem for men, that men must be held accountable for their actions that harm women, whether the harm is done by a local male or a UN male or a male from a private company that has a contract there.
    One of the most significant problems was the immunity of peacekeepers, such that they are able to not be prosecuted in the offended country and when they return home, they are not prosecuted in their home countries because the crime did not occur there, and the old-boys-club makes sure to keep it that way.
    The young teens in this film are just girls who believed they were being helped to get a temporary, respectable job in another country, with a higher salary than they could obtain at home. The UN men who collaborated in the trafficking of them saw them as ‘war-whores’ for whom they had no sympathy and did not see them as they would their own sisters or daughters. Rather, they collaborated in making certain that these young women were tortured and even killed if they began to resist their fate.
    This is a terrible, terrible reality, and people must stop the destruction of young girls and women in war areas through the acts of the warring parties, civilian mercenaries, and UN and private men who are in the nation apparently to help in a non-partisan way. They are not non-partisan to girls and women!
    Kathy Bolcovac was unable to actually help ANY of the abused girls and women in Bosnia; that is the dreadful reality of this! A fact that a somewhat scary male on the plane made known to me, as if to emphasize that to him, the film was about threatening any woman, including me, who believes that any other fate is deserved by women, that men can rough us around all they want. This man was a stranger on the plane, and this non-verbal message was given as he walked in front of me, put on his Harley-Davidson jacket, and left the plane.

  2. A few minutes ago, I left a comment to this, that I hope has been received by Women’s enews. I intended to add another comment, but I clicked the save button instead of the preview button to add the last part of the comment, so, here it is here:
    I worry that this film will be used by dangerous men to push the idea that women cannot successfully resist the abuse of women. Thus, that this film, no matter what good it does, it will also be shown to women by dangerous men to emphasize to vulnerable girls and women that it is hopeless for them to speak out or to resist. Kathy Bolcovac was not successful in helping ANY of the girls and women she attempted to help – that is the other message of this film! It has been reinforced by Ban Ki Moon and the rest of the UN male staff and many of the female staff for whom their jobs are more important than that they make certain that this changes!
    Women need to really, really press this issue! Destroy the bullies and murderers of young girls and women!

  3. When will the world of women begin to deal with the fact that we are ruled by patriarchy and until that changes, women and girls will continue to be abused by men and boys! Enuf moaning and groaning about it – let’s change the world!~It does not need to be this way.