Geneva, Switzerland - The United Nations' massive pedophilia scandal has not received 1 percent of the media attention given to the Catholic Church's homosexual priest scandal. Finally some attention is being paid, now that the U.N.'s cover is blown.

As world leaders converge on New York for the controversial conference on children this week, U.N. investigators and relief agencies say they are finally trying to stop recurrence of sexual abuse against West African refugee children by U.N. "peacekeepers" and aid workers.

The scale of allegations, partly revealed Feb. 26, sent shock waves through the "international aid community" and led to calls from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and governments for an urgent investigation in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Calls were raised for measures to ensure that refugee children were protected worldwide from abuse.

About a half-dozen investigators from the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services in New York, plus investigators from the office of the inspector-general of the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, were still examining the allegations, senior U.N. officials told United Press International.

The U.N. investigating team also includes a medical doctor, the same sources said.

It was unclear how long the investigation will last. "We're all waiting for the results of the inquiry to take action," said an official from one of the agencies under investigation.

After formal moves by UNHCR last December, a preliminary OIOS investigation was initiated in January, but it only moved into full gear in March, said a U.N. official.

Not Much Progress

The U.N.'s investigating arm, however, also came under heavy criticism by senior Western diplomats for the slow pace of its work on the ground in the three countries. The limited number of investigators at the oversight office, less than 20, partly explains the grinding pace of the inquiry.

"We can barely cope with the cases that are being referred to us," Dileep Nair, U.N. undersecretary general and chief of OIOS, told UPI.

In 2001, the burdened OIOS had more than 400 cases referred to it ranging from petty to serious alleged breaches linked to U.N. matters.

Some officials close to the investigation reckon a final report could be ready by the end of the month.

Parallel investigations in the field have also been initiated by many of the nearly 40 non-governmental organizations such as Save the Children-UK and Doctors Without Borders.

Brendan Paddy, a spokesman for Save the Children-UK, told UPI on Sunday that the agency has conducted its own investigation and sacked one staff member in Guinea and stopped two community volunteers from participating in its aid work.

Similarly, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders, Rafael Vilasanjuan, told UPI the group has also been conducting an investigation into the allegations but so far "we have not found any concrete evidence.

"If there is any evidence, we will take all the measures." He said Doctors Without Borders had "no tolerance" for such behavior.

In the meantime, U.N. agencies and many of the NGOs were busy at work putting in place new checks and balances in the field to prevent sexual abuse of refugee children.

Some of the measures have included beefing up staff by more than 35 in areas such as UNHCR emergency, protection and community services in the three countries, including 12 solely to respond to sexual exploitation.

Rotation of staff to different camps has also been expanded.

Moreover, the U.N. World Food Program has increased the number of female monitors and held meetings with all staff and NGOs to highlight the agency's "zero tolerance" policy over sexual abuse, said WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume.

Reactionary U.N. Knew of Atrocities

However, the United Nations has not always been that proactive on this issue.

A full copy of the joint study sponsored by the UNHCR and SC-UK, obtained by UPI, notes that during debriefing sessions in all three countries:
"UNHCR staff, government representatives and the agency staff, including senior managers, acknowledged that they knew such practices happened. Regrettably, even in situations where such information had been brought to their attention in the past, no action had been taken to monitor or redress the situation."
The number of allegations documented "is a critical indicator of the scale of this problem," it said.

U.N. Workers Among 'Worst Sexual Exploiters of Children'
"Agency workers from the international and local NGOs as well as U.N. agencies were ranked as among the worst sex exploiters of children, often using the very humanitarian aid and services intended to benefit the refugee population as a tool of exploitation."
The assessment team listed sexual allegations and called for further investigation against workers from 42 agencies and 67 individuals.

"The details of these allegations were submitted to UNHCR in confidential lists as the mission was ongoing," the report said.

Some 'Peacekeepers'

The U.N. agencies identified included UNHCR and WFP and the international "peacekeepers" from nine countries stationed in Sierra Leone.

United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) battalions whose "peacekeepers" are alleged to be involved in sexual exploitation include those from Britain, Kenya, Ghana, Guinea, India, Nigeria (Ecomog force before 2000), Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zambia.

In addition, the assessment mission report identified staff from 10 NGOs in Liberia, 10 NGOs in Sierra Leone and 16 NGOs in Guinea for alleged sexual abuse.

Besides Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children-UK, other NGOs listed for alleged abuses by their mainly locally employed staff included, among others:

The Red Cross in Trouble Yet Again

The American Refugee Committee; the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies/Guinean Red Cross; Lutheran World Service/World Federation; Norwegian Refuge Council; Council of Churches, Sierra Leone; Germany's BMZ; and Medical Relief International (MERLIN); and Family Empowerment Program.

In July 2001, children accounted for about 45 percent of the world's refugees and others of concern assisted by the U.N. refugee agency. The percentage of children, the report said, was even higher in Guinea and Liberia: at 63 percent in Guinea or 426,140; and 50 percent in Liberia, or 33,766.

The full 84-page report, written in January after a six-week mission to the three countries, has not yet been published.

BBC Exposes the Cover-up

It was only after the British Broadcasting Corp. revealed the contents of the assessment mission that UNHCR and Save the Children group revealed some of report's findings and recommendations.

The initial refusal by UNHCR and Save the Children-UK to furnish to other NGOs, confidentially, the names of the alleged 67 individuals created tensions among the normally close-knit "humanitarian community." The UNHCR cited legal concerns, fears about the safety of child victims still living in camps, and the limitations of anecdotal information, for its stance.

After a number of heated closed-door meetings, however, the NGOs were furnished with the confidential information they had been seeking in March.

But humanitarian officials familiar with the brief said many sex abuse victims are afraid to take part in a formal investigation and don't come forward for fear of vengeance and recrimination.

The report notes that most "incidents of sexual violence go unreported," and concludes that the incidence of the problem may be much higher than the numbers cited in the report suggest.

Indeed, sources close to the investigation said early indications were that they had difficulties to get firsthand accounts from victims.

Observations in the report highlight the problems victims face.
"In order for a refugee to make a report, they would have to go through the same persons who themselves are perpetrators of sexual exploitation. Most staff appear to connive to hide the actions of other staff."
Sickening Double Standard

So let's see: Senior U.N. officials knew of the widespread pedophilia. Not only did they not take action against the perpetrators, they covered up the atrocities.

And even after the scandal comes to light, most media give this major news event little or no coverage.

Imagine the screaming headlines and worldwide outrage if the Catholic Church or any other church allowed sexual abuse of children on such a massive scale. Could the media establishment's pro-U.N., anti-religious bias have anything to do with the stunning discrepancy?