Global Policy Forum

AIDS Being Spread by its Peacekeepers


By Betsy Pisik

Washington Times
July 7, 2000

The U.N. Security Council, under pressure from the United States, said Thursday that U.N. peacekeepers are spreading the AIDS virus. "Six months ago, countries didn't want to have a discussion on AIDS," said U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke. "Today, we have been told by every member of the Security Council that they are ready to go with this." Mr. Holbrooke cited cases in which Finnish soldiers had brought the virus home after peacekeeping tours.

The United Nations currently has some 38,000 peacekeepers engaged in 14 missions around the world, not including locally hired staff. They are often sent to places where prostitution is openly practiced. The United Nations currently issues one condom per day to peacekeepers and urges them not to patronize brothels or engage in sexual activity that is not locally permitted.

A U.S.-sponsored resolution calls on the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, or DPKO, to train all peacekeepers on how to block the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The resolution also urges troop-contributing nations to offer comprehensive education, counseling and HIV testing for all members of the armed services.

Some were unimpressed by the latest U.N. move. "They're just printing up a bunch of pamphlets," said one Western envoy of the latest attempt to halt the proliferation of AIDS by peacekeepers. There are no hard statistics about the rates of infection or transmission, but many of the U.N. troops come from nations where the disease is already rampant and introduce it in local populations.

Separately, Mr. Holbrooke announced a $10 million item in the this year's Defense Department budget to underwrite AIDS-related programs for foreign soldiers and the United Nations. The money must still be approved by Congress. "This resolution is not solely addressed to Africa and it is not addressed solely to U.N. peacekeepers, but by definition that is where the bulk of the problems we're addressing today lie," Mr. Holbrooke said. "AIDS is spread in so many different ways by so many different people. Sometimes, people bring it to regions; sometimes, they take it with them."

This is not the first time the council has sought to address peacekeepers' role in spreading of the AIDS virus. Beginning in February, the council began adding a boiler-plate paragraph to every peacekeeping resolution "encouraging efforts by the United Nations to sensitize peacekeeping personnel in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases in all its peacekeeping operations."

Mr. Holbrooke was careful to note that the resolution, which could come to a vote early next week, grew out of the council's January session on HIV/AIDS. At the time, the world body for the first time labeled the AIDS epidemic a threat to global peace and security. At the time, Mr. Holbrooke defended the expansion of the council's agenda, convincing reluctant governments that AIDS could be a security threat. "You can't cordon off a continent," he said Thursday.

In the U.S. military, AIDS testing is mandatory upon entering the service and before deployment overseas. Mr. Holbrooke said that those who test positive for HIV are not deployed, but held back for treatment. Not every country is as wealthy as ours, he said, nor can the Security Council order mandatory testing, because it exceeds the authority of the United Nations. "That is not something U.N. can obligate member states to do," he said.

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