There’s no denying that UN peacekeeping forces do a very difficult job — perhaps the world’s most difficult job of all — keeping the peace. Not only that, they also provide medical and infrastructural aid during times of crisis. And it is during that time of crisis where we see the best of humanity, but unfortunately we too have seen the worst of humanity.
The history of rape allegations against UN peacekeepers dates back to 2014, following allegations made by an international NGO Code Blue Campaign said that several UN peacekeeping officers stationed in the Central African Republic had sexually abused children.
Evidence of this came via children who shared their stories with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UNICEF. One interview, given by an eleven year-old boy describes in harrowing detail how a French soldier offered him food in exchange for oral sex.
Later that summer, a man named Anders Kompass (A staffer within the OHCHR) who, according to his own recollection of events, was hand-delivered a report by the Chief of Rapid Response and Peace Missions, Roberto Ricci, which outlined that the OHCHR was aware of the interviewed children and the allegations of sexual abuse by French soldiers operating in the Central African Republic, yet they were not acted upon.
Several weeks later, Anders passed that report on to French authorities, who then began their own investigation. This lasted for several months. In the spring of 2015, Anders Kompass was to learn that his lack of silence on the issue would come at a cost — his resignation was requested by the High Commissioner at the OHCHR on March 12th, again, according to his recollection of events.
Following Kompass’s requested resignation, the United Nations CAR mission was set alight as Code Blue Campaign released its own statement in late May of 2015.
Following the revelations, the UN launched an inquiry into the matter. It produced this report. The Executive Summary alone is fairly scathing in its condemnation of the lack of action by those in charge at MUNISCA…
“The manner in which UN agencies responded to the Allegations was seriously flawed. The head of the UN mission in CAR failed to take any action to follow up on the Allegations; he neither asked the Sangrias Forces to institute measures to end the abuses, nor directed that the children be removed to safe housing. He also failed to direct his staff to report the Allegations higher up within the UN. Meanwhile, both UNICEF and UN human rights staff in CAR failed to ensure that the children received adequate medical attention and humanitarian aid, or to take steps to protect other potential victims identified by the children who first raised the Allegations.”
“The welfare of the victims and the accountability of the perpetrators appeared to be an afterthought, if considered at all. Overall, the response of the UN was fragmented and bureaucratic, and failed to satisfy the UN’s core mandate to address human rights violations.”
That report clearly feels the United Nations did not act with conduct befitting of a humanitarian organization. In fact, it was decidedly un-humanitarian in its response to allegations of sexual assault within its ranks.
Unfortunately for the UN, the allegations kept coming in over the next twelve months, despite their report and its scathing nature. The allegations poured in, as reported here — in a well-documented timeline of accusations made. And still, they continue to pour in. On January 4th of this year, BBC reported that no charges had been laid against those French officers initially accused of sexual assault in the Central African Republic. And then two days later, the UN announces the creation of a new task force to ‘strengthen the UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse’.
In March of this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres produces his annual report, in which he outlines the UN’s steps taken, and those yet to be taken to address the problems of sexual exploitation and abuse.
On March 10th, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A-71/L.59-E, committing to a zero-tolerance policy toward those who engage in sexual exploitation and abuse. According to this press release, “The Assembly, by the text, called upon Member States deploying non-United Nations forces authorized under a Security Council mandate to take appropriate steps to investigate allegations and to hold perpetrators accountable. It also urged all such non-United Nations forces to take adequate measures to prevent, and combat impunity for, sexual exploitation and abuse by their personnel.”
And yet on the 22nd of March, there exploded further allegations against the UN, this time in Haiti in an Al-Jazeera Fault Lines documentary, “Haiti By Force”. A key note made in the text beneath the video describes how UN peacekeepers are given immunity from prosecution by the United Nations. This immunity stems from the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. However, it is also worth noting that while the UN itself does offer prosecutorial immunity to those under its banner, home-nations of those operating under the UN mandate do have the authority to enact punishment on those guilty of crimes — though French soldiers did go on trial, they were found not guilty.
Clearly, it is not just a French issue, however. Human Rights groups have called on the UN to do more, while some confidence has been restored given the relatively swift action taken by the new UN Secretary General. Still, there remains a large amount still to be done to resew the seeds of trust between the United Nations and those whom it is supposed to protect.
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