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Halted Probe of Officers' Alleged Role in Sex Trafficking
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations quashed an investigation earlier this year 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. The decision to halt the investigation came when the U.N. Mission in Bosnia was reeling from the disclosure that several of its police officers had been dismissed for sexual misconduct.
Lamb, a former Philadelphia police officer who served as a U.N. human rights
investigator in Bosnia until April, said that in February he began to look into
allegations against six Romanian, Fijian and Pakistani officers stationed in the
town of Bijeljina.
Within weeks, Lamb said, his preliminary inquiry found more than enough evidence to justify a full-scale criminal investigation. But Lamb and his colleagues said they also faced physical threats and were repeatedly stymied in their inquiries by their superiors, including a senior Ukrainian police officer who ordered an end to the investigation of the Romanians' conduct. "I have to say there were credible witnesses, but I found a real reluctance on the part of the United Nations . . . leadership to investigate these allegations," Lamb said.
U.N. officials respond that they are committed to combating trafficking in women, but that a U.N. oversight team concluded there was insufficient evidence of systematic police involvement in the sex trade. They say it is difficult to penetrate the murky underworld of the Balkans and note that the responsibility for prosecuting U.N. police officers belongs to their home countries, not the United Nations. According to some human rights advocates and former U.N. employees, the episode demonstrates the unwillingness or inability of the U.N.'s International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia to discipline its 1,600 officers from 48 countries.
The Washington Post reported in May that in the five years since international police officers were sent to help restore order in Bosnia, the U.N. police mission has faced numerous charges of misconduct, corruption and sexual impropriety. But in nearly every case, U.N. officials handled the allegations quietly by sending the officers home, often without a full investigation.
Two Americans also have filed whistleblower lawsuits alleging that they were fired by DynCorp, a private contractor that selects U.S. police to serve in Bosnia, because they had complained that fellow officers were patronizing brothels and purchasing women. DynCorp denied that the workers were fired for that reason. But Lamb's investigation involved the most serious allegations yet: that some members of the IPTF directly participated in trafficking in women for forced prostitution.
Each year, thousands of Eastern European women, primarily from Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, are drawn to Bosnia with offers of employment as dancers, waitresses, bartenders or prostitutes. In some cases, their passports are taken, and they are sold to local brothel owners, according to human rights workers. "Many of them think they are on their way to Italy to work as waitresses," said Martina Vandenberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has investigated the Bosnian sex trade. "Some know that they will work as sex workers, but have no idea that they will be bought and sold as chattel and forced to work essentially as slaves." Vandenberg said local brothel owners and Bosnian war profiteers turned from smuggling arms to trafficking in women after the end of the Bosnia war in 1995 and have established links to organized crime across Europe.
While the U.N. mission in Bosnia has taken an increasingly tough line against local brothel owners over the past two years, Vandenberg said it has not been "forthcoming when asked about cases of IPTF officers involved in trafficking, either as clients or as traffickers. That lack of transparency has sent a message that there is impunity for this."
U.N. officials respond that the IPTF has conducted dozens of raids against Bosnian brothels and has rescued more than 350 women who had been forced to serve as prostitutes.
After being criticized for ignoring allegations of
involvement by U.N. police and peacekeepers, Jacques Klein, the U.N. secretary
general's special representative to Bosnia, instructed his police commissioner
in June to "ensure that each case is investigated."
When asked by a reporter this summer whether the United Nations had looked into allegations involving Romanian police officers, Klein and other U.N. officials in Bosnia denied any knowledge of an investigation. "I have absolutely no evidence, no record, and I'm unaware of any internal investigation into any alleged misconduct involving a Romanian police monitor," Klein said.
But, after weeks of denials, U.N. spokesmen in New York and Bosnia acknowledged that the Romanians had been the subject of internal U.N. inquiries. Confidential U.N. documents and interviews revealed that Romanian officers had been investigated by Lamb, then by a Canadian officer, by the Romanian government and finally by the Office of Internal Oversight, the U.N.'s chief anti-corruption unit.
Lamb outlined his findings in e-mails and a memo to the regional U.N. headquarters in Sarajevo. In an e-mail sent March 28 to five U.N. officers, he identified a Romanian, Constantin Dumitrescu, as one of five U.N. police officers who "were in some way linked to allegations of involvement in prostitution and women trafficking."
Lamb said his findings were based largely on interviews with Bosnian police sources and women who had fled from brothels and were awaiting deportation to their homelands.
The women said a Romanian officer and his wife were involved
in the recruitment and sale of women, working out of a brothel near the Bosnian
town of Zvornik. Lamb said investigators initially thought the officer was
Dumitrescu, but further investigation shifted suspicion to a second Romanian
officer, Julian Boros. The United Nations has denied requests for interviews
with Dumitrescu and
Another internal memo, written March 18 by one of Lamb's investigators, Pablo Badie of Argentina, said Boros admitted buying working documents from the Romanian embassy for two women but warned him to halt the inquiry. "Stop immediately anything against Romanians," Boros told Badie, according to the memo. "Do not mess with me, neither with my colleague Dumitrescu. I'll not tell you more, but I think you can guess what can happen."
Rosario Ioanna, a Canadian officer, was assigned by the U.N. police's internal affairs bureau to follow up on the findings of Lamb and Badie. The confidential internal affairs report alleges that the Romanian officers sought to impede Ioanna's investigation, to remove four trafficking victims from police custody and to intimidate them during questioning. Ioanna and Badie obtained a list from a trafficking victim of about 10 other Romanian officers who were patronizing brothels. Ioanna described a meeting at a Bijeljina cafe with two informants, identified in U.N. documents as Mr. S and Mr. P, who charged that Romanian officers served both as traffickers and as informers for local brothel owners.
In return for tipping off the brothels about police raids,
one of the Romanians "was given a farm vehicle to work his farmland back in
his country," the two informants told Ioanna, according to a March 19
report for the U.N. internal affairs Discipline and Internal Investigation
Section. Ioanna also told colleagues that the U.N.'s local brass had
sought to shut down his investigation and let the Romanian government decide
whether its officers were guilty. The U.N.'s Ukrainian police chief of staff,
Oleh Savchenko, ordered him to ignore the Romanians and to limit his
investigation to less serious charges of sexual misconduct -- primarily
soliciting prostitutes -- against five policemen from Fiji and Pakistan,
according to Lamb and two other people familiar with Ioanna's account. The
relatively minor accusations against four of the five officers, including the
Pakistani station commander, were "substantiated" and the officers
were sent home, according to a U.N. report. The fifth officer left
In the meantime, some of the officers under investigation accused Ioanna and Badie of having sexual relations with local translators. A preliminary internal inquiry into the investigators' activities found no wrongdoing, according to U.N. officials.
Lamb believes the accusations were retaliation of a crude but common variety. "This is the third case that I am aware of in which human rights officers have found themselves under fire for reporting or investigating IPTF involvement in prostitution/women trafficking," he wrote in an e-mail March 8 to Donald Haney, an IPTF officer who was conducting the inquiry. Neither Savchenko nor Ioanna responded to requests for comment. Attempts to reach Badie in Bosnia and through his family in Argentina were unsuccessful.
The Office of Internal Oversight sent two investigators from New York to Bosnia on June 26 to conduct a preliminary inquiry into wider allegations of U.N. police involvement in sexual trafficking. The inquiry was requested by Mary Robinson, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, and other senior U.N. officials to determine whether a formal investigation was warranted.
The investigators never contacted Lamb. Nor did they speak with U.N. police whistleblowers, such as Kathryn Bolkovac, an American officer who has accused U.N. police of complicity in sexual trafficking and is suing DynCorp. The company denied that Bolkovac was dismissed for pursuing the allegations. Most importantly, the women who had initially made the allegations -- the key witnesses -- had left Bosnia. On July 6, the oversight team reported that there were insufficient grounds to move ahead with a full-blown criminal investigation, according to the U.N.'s chief spokesman, Fred Eckhard.
"There will be no investigation," Eckhard said. "They did not find any evidence of systematic or organized involvement in human trafficking. They did make a number of recommendations of how the U.N. police could strengthen their role in combating human trafficking."
Marius Dragolea, charge d'affaires at Romania's mission to
the United Nations, said a team from Romania's Interior Ministry also went to
Bosnia in June to investigate rumors of Romanian police involvement in sexual
trafficking. He said it concluded the allegations were unfounded. "If
these allegations were unhappily proved to be right, all those involved would be
punished," Dragolea said. "Up to now, we have no evidence. . . of
illegal activities concerning Romanian police. This is a conclusion also reached
by the leadership of the IPTF."