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Is the U.N. running brothels in Bosnia?

By Wendy McElroy
web posted January 28, 2002

If prostitution is illegal in Bosnia, then why -- in the presence of some 20,000 NATO peacekeepers and thousands of other U.N. officials, policemen and aid workers -- has sexual trafficking in the region become an international scandal?

One answer may be that the United Nation's police force may be turning a blind eye or, even worse, participating in the sex trafficking itself. It certainly seems that, as the scandal emerges, the corruption reaches upward into the United Nations.

Last summer, American Kathryn Bolkovac, a former Nebraska police woman, was fired from the U.N.'s International Police Task Force. Bolkovac claims it was because she spoke out against the United Nation's involvement in sex trafficking. Through interviews with 85 women coerced into sex, Bolkovac learned that U.N. officers were not only using the women for sex but also seemed to be active in the business end -- for example, the forging of documents to transport young girls across national borders.

The young girls are from desperately poor nations like Romania. Many reportedly answer ads for "legitimate" work only to be kidnapped, taken across borders and enslaved in brothels that operate with the full knowledge of the local authorities.

After Bolkovac advised various U.N. officials about the sex ring, IPTF Deputy Commissioner Mike Stiers decided that Bolkovac was psychologically worn out. Although an extension of her contract had been recommended prior to the e-mail, she was transferred to a suburb of Sarajevo, then fired. Bolkovac stated, "Those responsible ... did not want to hear about this."

Douglas Coffman, a spokesman for the United Nations in Sarajevo, denied the accusation, but Bolkovac is the not the first to hurl it. Stories of U.N. corruption were already appearing in the European press. David Lamb, a former Philadelphia policeman working as a U.N. human rights investigator in central Bosnia, leveled even more serious charges. He provided evidence that IPTF members were directly linked to forcing girls into prostitution. Most prominently, he named two Romanian officers who sold women directly to brothels. Lamb filed his findings. He found that "the opposition of the central [U.N.] Mission Headquarters was unbelievable."

The Washington Post reported on what happened next. "The United Nations quashed an investigation ... into whether U.N. police were directly involved in the enslavement of Eastern European women in Bosnian brothels, according to U.N. officials and internal documents."

Another difficulty in assessing the situation is that U.N. officials do not admit that anything is amiss. When asked about Lamb's allegations against the Romanian officers, Jacques Klein -- the U.N. secretary general's special representative to Bosnia -- declared, "I have absolutely no evidence, no record, and I'm unaware of any internal investigation into any alleged misconduct involving a Romanian police monitor."

A few weeks later, confidential U.N. documents revealed that Lamb had notified several U.N. officials about the two Romanians. Moreover, after Lamb departed, a Canadian officer, the Romanian government and an anti-corruption unit of the United Nations investigated the case in turn. Rosario Ioanna, the Canadian, issued a report similar to Lamb's, complaining that local U.N. authorities tried to close down the investigation. Yet the United Nations refuses to allow the Romanian policemen to be interviewed.

Subsequent U.N. investigations appear to be cosmetic. For example, an inquiry was instigated but, according to the Post, investigators didn't bother to contact Lamb or other whistleblowers. Not surprisingly, the inquiry found insufficient grounds to probe further.

The character revealed by the United Nations in Bosnia is particularly significant today. The agency is pushing hard to become a global government. In March, the U.N.'s High Level Panel of Financing Development will meet in Mexico and endorse recommendations that are expected to include: a World Taxing Authority, global taxes on fossil fuel and/or on all currency exchange and U.N. supervision of all international finance.

As the United Nations pushes for jurisdiction over the globe, it is important to remember how it has acted in Bosnia. The character of an institution, no less than of an individual, is revealed through actions, not words. It is revealed in the small behaviors. Such as the willingness to watch or participate in the selling of young girls into the living hell of Bosnian brothels.

The U.S. is the most powerful force opposing the United Nations. If America refuses to meet U.N. demands -- and, as yet, the U.S. has not even paid its U.N. fees -- then worldwide government will fail. If U.N. policy in Bosnia is a microcosm of what globalization would look like, then an autonomous and dissenting U.S. becomes the hope of the world.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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