UN Peacekeeping and Sexual Violence

Author: Regina Paulose

As early as 2013,[1] the French government received reports from the UN that French troops had sexually assaulted young children in the Central African Republic (CAR). Apparently frustrated with UN inaction, Anders Kompass, a Senior UN Official, leaked an internal report regarding these crimes to French officials. Despite the prior knowledge, France only recently took decisive action recently.[2]  Officials in the CAR have also opened an inquiry into the matter. UN Human Rights Chief Zeid has noted the abuse is likely the “tip of the iceberg.”[3]  

Sadly, allegations against peacekeepers perpetrating crimes of sexual violence against the populations they have been sent to protect, are not new or unique. From UN peacekeeping missions which once operated in Cambodia to present missions in countries like Haiti, “widespread accounts” persist about the misuse of power by peacekeeping troops.[4]

Credit: Newtimes.co.rw

Credit: Newtimes.co.rw

Currently, the UN has 16 peacekeeping operations. Since the 90’s the peacekeeping guidelines incorporate the Geneva Conventions. In 2005, Human Rights Chief Zeid wrote a detailed report to the UN on the problem of sexual violence by peacekeepers.[5]  “The report’s recommendations included propagation of UN standards of conduct, reforming the investigative process, strengthening organizational, managerial and command responsibility, and instituting individual disciplinary, financial and criminal accountability.”[6]  To date, the recommendations have not been fully implemented.

Since the Zeid Report, the UN has attempted to take action but has fallen short in many respects. Multiple reports, resolutions, studies, and trainings,[7] have been done on this particular issue.  Yet the problem persists. The UN should focus on three particular areas to configure better solutions to this problem.

First, it seems there is disconnect between UN peacekeeping structures and the people they intend to help. The post conflict environment creates situations that allow perpetrators to take advantage of their power and impunity.[8] Civilians who are the recipients of peacekeeping aide should be made aware of their rights (which may not be evidence in a war torn environment) and how they can go about obtaining justice in various instances. These kinds of outreach and educational sessions could prove valuable if children, in particular, are made aware of the purpose peacekeepers serve and the standards peacekeepers are held to. Further, the UN should ensure that this conversation happens with whatever law enforcement mechanism exists outside of the UN in the host country. While there are victims who do come forward and report such crimes, if the perpetrator is sent back to their home country, it does not necessarily allow the victim to have meaningful engagement in the case. This may be another reason why perpetrators continue to behave in this manner, since the lack of evidence means they can go unpunished.

Second, under “the UN Model Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), troop-contributing countries have the exclusive responsibility to discipline and criminally sanction their military contingents.” Even in situations where that is not the case, the UN still may refer the case to the troop contributing country.[9] SOFAs could prevent meaningful prosecutions because there is no guarantee that anything will happen.  Naming and shaming or getting written assurances that perpetrators may be prosecuted[10] are not entirely effective. The UN Security Council should create a mandate that special provisions be incorporated in the UN SOFAs. Where peacekeepers commit sexually violent crimes no immunity should be given. Further, the host country should be allowed to prosecute the crime or a special ad hoc UN tribunal should handle these matters. In the case of a UN tribunal, this ensures that the UN can help the victim, fairly prosecute and punish the perpetrator, and have accurate data as to what kinds of actions have been taken with regards to these kinds of crimes.  It also allows consistent standards to be in place whenever a UN mission is present.

The UN should only take troops from countries that have specific domestic and local legislation that punish sexual violence. This should be mandatory in both domestic laws of troop contributing countries and in military regulations/codes in those countries.

Finally, the UN Human Rights Chief acknowledged that the UN “could have done it better,” when it came to its handling of the situation in the CAR. Particularly, the UN needs to have better policies with regards to whistleblowers. The UN, outraged at the actions of Kompass, suspended him for “reckless disregard for serious allegations of wrongdoing.” The UN Appeals Tribunal ruled the suspension unlawful and ordered he be reinstated. The UN has a track record for retaliating against whistleblowers.  Kompass still faces an internal investigation for disclosing the report for potential violations of victim privacy. In reality, the UN could benefit from whistleblowers on the ground. Peacekeepers at all ranks should be encouraged to be whistleblowers if they witness or have knowledge of these crimes.

While the international community continues its high octane rhetoric on stopping sexual violence in conflict, each and every country needs to examine how its policies are playing out on a practical level domestically.  Addressing the problem of sexual violence is not a one size fits all solution. However, peacekeepers should be held to a high standard given their vital role in post conflict environments.

[1] UN News Radio, “How could no-one know about CAR sex abuse allegations, asks Human Rights Chief”  May 8, 2015 http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2015/05/how-could-no-one-know-about-car-sex-abuse-allegations-asks-un-human-rights-chief/#.VU4U8vlViko

[2] Angelique Chrisafis, “French Ministers calls on soldiers who sexually abused children to come clean” The Guardian, May 3, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/03/french-minister-jean-yves-le-drian-peacekeepers-abuse-children-come-forward

[3] UN News Radio, above N1

[4] Natalie Novick, “When those meant to keep the peace commit sexualized violence” Women Under Siege, May 25, 2012 http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/when-those-meant-to-keep-the-peace-commit-sexualized-violence

[5] UN Report, “A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations,” A/59/710,  https://cdu.unlb.org/Portals/0/Documents/KeyDoc5.pdf

[6] Jenna Stern, “Reducing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping” Civilians in Conflict Policy Brief No 1 February 2015, 5

[7] Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Specialised Training Materials on Child Protection for UN Peacekeepers Trainers Guide, http://repository.un.org/bitstream/handle/11176/89585/STM%20Child%20Protection%20Military.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[8] Muna Ndulo, The United Nations Responses to the Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Women and Girls by Peacekeepers during Peacekeeping Missions, 27 BerkeleyJ. Int’lLaw.127,4 (2009). http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/bjil/vol27/iss1/5

[9] Carla Ferstman, “Criminalizing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers” United States Institute of Peace Special Report, p.4 (2013)

[10] Ferstman p. 12