1997 – New American
by William Norman Grigg
“We are not going to achieve a new world order without paying for it in blood as well as in words and money,” warned Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the July/August 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs. Schlesinger had taken to the pages of the flagship journal of the Council on Foreign Relations to vindicate the dubious proposition that the United Nations military represents the thin blue line dividing peaceful civilization from savagery — in short, our planetary police. But what happens when the planetary police run amok and become the agents of bloodshed? When local police abuse their power, the abused have avenues of redress. From what body can those abused by the planetary police seek justice? The escalating scandal of unpunished atrocities committed by UN “peacekeepers” illustrates that the planetary police are beyond accountability.
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“Perhaps our leaders should put the question to the people: what do we want the United Nations to be?” Schlesinger wrote. “Do we want it to avert more killing fields around the planet? Or do we want it to dwindle into impotence, leaving the world to the anarchy of nation-states?” Critics of the UN should eagerly embrace such a debate — provided that a copy of the above photograph is made available to all participants. First published in the United States on the cover of the June 24th issue of the left-wing weekly Village Voice, the photograph depicts two Belgian paladins of the new world order giddily holding a Somali child over an open flame. Other series of photographs depict UN soldiers kicking and stabbing a Somali, and another soldier apparently urinating on the Somali’s dead body; yet another shows a Somali child being forced to drink salt water, vomit, and worms. A second group of photos published in the July 15th Village Voice shows the dead bodies of bound Somalis — what appears to be the work of a death squad.
One atrocity not caught on camera involved the “punishment” of a Somali child by placing him in a metal container and withholding water from him for two days; predictably, the relentless African heat killed the child. One Belgian UN soldier testified that it was a regular practice to use metal boxes as prison cells, and that other Somalis probably died similarly gruesome deaths.
One might expect the photographs and first-person accounts of such atrocities to arouse public indignation against the UN’s “planetary police,” just as the endlessly replayed videotape of the Rodney King arrest turned public opinion against the Los Angeles Police Department. Perhaps this is why the photographs have been all but invisible in the United States, and precious little media attention has been devoted to an examination of UN atrocities.
Village Voice reporter Jennifer Gould came across the accounts of the Belgian atrocities while doing an earlier story about sexual harassment of female employees at UN headquarters. “When I spoke with people at the UN, time after time I was told, ‘If you think it’s bad here, you ought to see what happens in peacekeeping operations,’” Gould told The New American. “I started looking into that issue and found that the abuses I reported were well-known and easily documented. They were all over the media abroad, and I was really surprised it hadn’t been written about over here.”
Belgian military authorities launched an investigation into the atrocities following publication of a front-page story by Belgium’s Het Laatste Nieuws. In early July, Privates Claude Baert and Kurt Coelus, the two paratroopers photographed dangling the Somali child over a flame, were acquitted by a military court, which ruled that the incident — described by Baert and Coelus as a punishment for stealing — was “a form of playing without violence,” according to prosecutor Luc Walleyn. And what of discipline from the UN, whose “Code of Personal Conduct for Blue Helmets” requires that peacekeepers “respect and regard the human rights of all”? Gould reports that a UN spokesman dismissed the acquittal of Baert and Coelus by insisting that “the UN is not in the habit of embarrassing governments that contribute peacekeeping troops.”
CNN, April 17, 1997: “Photos Reveal Belgian Paratroopers’ Abuse in Somalia”
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) — Belgian military officials Thursday promised a thorough review of training exercises, following the publication of photos of alleged atrocities by elite paratroopers during the 1993 U.N. Somalia peace mission.
Defense Minister Jean-Pol Poncelet said he was considering disbanding the elite Belgian paratrooper unit at the center of the scandal. The newest photos, published Wednesday in the daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, include one of a Belgian paratrooper urinating on the face of a dead Somali.
Photos released earlier show two paratroopers holding another Somali over an open fire, allegedly “roasting” him until he was severely burned. Two paratroopers were arrested last week and charged with assault and battery in the incident.
Paratroopers acquitted 2 years ago
Members of Belgium’s elite paratrooper unit served in the United Nation’s “Operation Restore Hope” mission in Somalia in 1993. Two years ago, 15 paratroopers were put on trial for other abuses during the U.N. mission, including torture, killings and the mock-execution of children. Most were acquitted.
But the photographs, which came to light in the last two weeks after two former paratroopers came forward anonymously, bolster accusations that Belgian soldiers tortured and killed civilians during the mission.
Belgium to follow Canada’s lead?
Minne says the most serious action he’s investigating involved an alleged Somali thief who was reportedly forced into a container and left in the hot sun until he died.
Canada has wrestled with similar cases of torture and killings stemming from the U.N. mission, and in the end, disbanded its elite airborne regiment, whose soldiers committed the worst abuses.