Silence of the Lambs (Part I)): Troop Contributors

03/07/2001
When slandered for allegedly spreading the HIV/AIDS virus in their host countries, most representatives of countries contributing troops to UN peacekeeping forces kept quiet, giving the impression of implicit agreement. Some may have thought it wise to let it pass, as it was the last meeting of the Council with the participation of the outgoing U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who had an impressive tenure and an embarrassing exit. He seemed like a spoiled man who was upset because he didn't get all his marbles, thus losing some on the way out. Without giving any supporting evidence, he was "disappointed" at the contributing countries, "disappointed" at the UN Secretariat for not preventing the spread of the disease. Only one representative stood up. Kamalesh Sharma, India's Permanent Representative, questioned the slander and the official implication that his country's troops had anything to do with HIV/AIDS. They were peacekeepers -- neither doctors nor patients. It was important that they should be medically cleared before being assigned to the field, which is now being done, particularly because every peacekeeping resolution since last year calls for avoiding the spread of AIDS.

With the exception of the articulate Indian, delegates of other countries, including fairly influential ones, mumbled some vague statements of agreement in principle and objections in practice, or something in between. Even the new Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping seemed willing to join the bandwagon without questioning the obvious slander to the UN image and to troops of his own country, France. Maybe he knows better. Maybe we should know? If troops are spreading HIV/AIDS, it is crucial to announce these cases and take specific firm measures, holding every country accountable for its culprits. If not, stand up and speak out.