Policing the UN

Policing the UN

UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

by BBC's Martin Plaut

In an investigation over 18 months the BBC has found evidence that United Nations has been involved in covering up allegations that some of its peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo dealt in gold and supplied weapons to some of the most notorious militia operating in the country.

The allegations, drawn from confidential UN sources, concern two contingents:

• Pakistani peacekeepers in the eastern town of Mongbwalu were involved in the illegal trade in gold with the FNI militia, providing them with weapons to guard the perimeter of the mines.
• Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the FDLR, the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, which is now living in eastern Congo.

Indian soldiers traded gold with these killers, bought drugs from them and - astonishingly - flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory. These allegations are contained in the report of an investigation dated February 2008.

The UN looked into the allegations concerning the Pakistanis. It concluded that whilst one major had been responsible for dealing in gold - allowing traders to use UN aircraft to fly into the town, putting them up at the UN base and taking them around the town but "in the absence of corroborative evidence", the investigators "could not substantiate the allegation" that Pakistani peacekeepers supplied weapons or ammunition to the militia.

Yet in less than a week the BBC spoke to several eyewitnesses in Mongbwalu who said they had seen the FNI re-armed. We also visited two FNI leaders, known as "Kung-fu" and "Dragon" who had been jailed in the capital, Kinshasa.

Kung Fu, whose real name is General Mateso Ninga said: "Yes, it's true, they did give us arms. They said it was for the security of the country. So they said to us that we would help them take care of the zone."

Cover up

So did the UN attempt to cover up dealings with a group described by Human Rights Watch as "some of the most murderous individuals that operate in eastern Congo"?

UN insiders - close to the investigation - told the BBC they had been prevented from pursuing their enquiries for political reasons. In short, that the Pakistanis, who are the largest troop contributors to the UN in the world, providing 10,000 troops a year for peacekeeping operations, were too valuable to alienate.


The UN operation in the Congo is the costliest in the world, with an annual budget of over a billion dollars. Handling a significant slice of that money is the local UN procurement unit. But it's at the centre of one of UN's most serious corruption scandals.

An internal UN report - again obtained by the BBC - reveals what it calls "widespread and inherent corruption" which pervaded the procurement department in Kinshasa. The report concludes that just one of the officials under investigation had caused the UN losses that could "be conservatively estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of United States dollars."

The same individual - against whom there had been allegations of corruption dating back 20 years - had been cleared time and again by the UN's own investigation division, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).


Now under the control of Inga Britt Ahlenius, a former Swedish Attorney General, the OIOS is undergoing radical reform. To assist in this, Mrs Ahlenius commissioned two reports, which she has refused to share with UN member states.

The BBC has copies of these, which paint a damning picture.

They reveal what is called a "climate of fear" within the investigations division, which is described as "a combat zone" suffering from "dysfunctional management" and "constant disagreements".

"My boss lies about me," investigators are quoted as saying. At its heart there was a massive conflict between some of the most senior officials, compromising the effective functioning of the UN's main watchdog.

Two senior officials are now no longer with the OIOS. Admitting the difficulties outlined by these reports, Mrs Ahlenius told the BBC:"It tells (us) that the Investigation Division has had very serious problems. And I have been fair enough in informing the General Assembly about these problems ... Now, new policies, new people."

Policing the UN is a collaboration between BBC World Service and Panorama.

First broadcast 28 April 2008

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