When UN Peacekeepers are the problem

1. The Role of UN Peacekeepers:

United Nations Peacekeepers exist to provide multidimensional peacekeeping operations to maintain peace and security, to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants; support the organisation of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law in areas of conflict.

In short, UN Peacekeepers exist as an international tool for maintaining international peace and security. 

That's quite a bit of power .... 

UN Peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles

UN Peacekeeping operates under the following proposed strengths:

  • legitimacy,
  • burden sharing, and
  • an ability to deploy and sustain troops and police from around the globe, integrating them with civilian peacekeepers to advance multidimensional mandates.

So, who funds the Peacekeepers and their operations, and where do they recruit Peacekeepers from? 

UN Peacekeeping's global partnership includes Member States, the UN Secretariat, host countries, regional organisations and UN partners.

UN Peacekeeping is a unique global partnership, with it's legitimacy, sustainability and global reach drawn from the legal and political authority of the Security Council, the personnel and financial contributions of Member States, the support of host countries and the accumulated experience of the Secretariat in managing operations in the field.

Peacekeepers holding a plastic tank near a truck.

Peacekeepers from South Africa serving with UNAMID work on the installation of a plastic water tank in North Darfur.

There are currently 16 UN peacekeeping operations deployed on four continents, with more than 125,000 troops, police and civilians deployed.

Member States have put a lot of resources, trust and extended tremendous authority to UN Peacekeeping operations, which often take place in conflict zones where Member States do not deploy their own military troops. 

But what happens when these Peacekeepers abuse their power? 

2. UN Peacekeepers sexually abusing and exploiting the vulnerable:  

In each of the current UN Peacekeeping deployed locations, it has been reported that UN Peacekeepers are abusing their positions of power and leadership, through sexual abuse and exploitation of the most vulnerable women and children who; live in conflict zones, face the daily threat of physical violence, often face homelessness and even hunger. 

The recently released internal report looked at sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers.

The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) Report found that troops commonly paid for sex with cash, dresses, jewellery, perfume, and mobile phones.

The report said missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Haiti and South Sudan accounted for the largest numbers of accusations.

The known statistics are staggering: 

The OIOS Report indicated that 480 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse was made between 2008 and 2013, of which one-third involved minors.

The Report said that in 2014, 51 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse had been made against UN peacekeepers.

Heartbreakingly, the Report says surveys of hundreds of women in Haiti and Liberia found their reasons for selling sex included hunger, poverty and lifestyle improvement. 

In Haiti, the UN peacekeeping mission engaged in "transactional sex" with at least 229 women who said they needed to do so to obtain things like food and medication, the Report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services revealed.

These vulnerable women in conflict zones were being used for sex for the mere exchange of food for their survival! 

"Evidence from two peacekeeping mission countries demonstrates that transactional sex is quite common but underreported in peacekeeping missions," concluded the OIOS Report dated May 15 2015.

This appalling behaviour is beyond a violation of the rights of these vulnerable women and children - it is corrupt, criminal and goes against all that the United Nations stands for, as well as the international standards the UN seeks to enforce! 

This gender-based violence, targeting the most vulnerable of women and children in conflict zones - those who are homeless and trying to survive - violates not only the Principles and Guidelines of UN Peacekeeping Operations, but also the principles within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7 of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which refers to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women,  in which  discrimination against women is condemned, in all forms of violence against women, particularly sexual violence.

In 2006, the General Assembly adopted resolution 61/143 of 19, calling upon Member States and the United Nations system to intensify their efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

The UN Peacekeeping arm of the United Nations has miserably failed in the all-imortant goal of eliminating all forms of violence against women, and indeed, are among the perpetrators. 

The adoption and enforcement of national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls, in line with international human rights standards, is one of the five key outcomes which the Secretary-General’s campaign “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” aims to achieve in all countries by 2015.

I am sure we can agree that this campaign - in 2016 - is needed more than ever before. 

The United Nations needs to ensure it addresses the mess in it's own house and restores credibility - ensuring that the UN is no longer involved in acts of violence, sexual violence and exploitation of women and children, and it also ensures all perpetrators are punished accordingly. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As has been stated; "...the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields".
 3. What is the UN's response to these allegations of sexual violence against women and children by their UN Peacekeepers? 
Even though transactional sex by UN peacekeepers was banned in a UN bulletin issued in 2003, the OIOS Report noted that "the number of condoms distributed, along with the number of personnel undergoing voluntary counselling and confidential testing for HIV ... suggest that sexual relationships between peacekeeping personnel and the local population may be routine".

The criminal actions of these corrupt UN Peacekeepers totally undermines the organisation's credibility and the Missions in which they are serving.

This very act leads the United Nations to loose all legitimacy and professionally, neutrality and good will.

Last year, the Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)Diane Corner spoke out about such allegations, condemning all cases of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by its personnel, stating that they are determined to “stamp out” this “extremely seriously problem.”

She told journalists in New York that 13 cases of sexual abuse allegedly involving uniformed personnel of MINUSCA have been recorded since the re-hatting of the Mission on 15 September 2014.

“Of these cases, 9 involve alleged attacks on minors,” Mrs. Corner pointed out.

Some of the sexual exploitation cases were reported to the Mission by local journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and in some cases the families involved.

“It is a blight on the Mission" ... "[we are] determined to solve this problem, and ensure that the UN Mission fulfills its mandate, serves the people of the Central African Republic (CAR), and that includes in particular the victims of these types of abuses,” Deputy Special Representative in CAR, Diane Corner said. 

“Protection of civilians is the first priority of our mandate, and we take this task extremely seriously.” underscored Mrs. Corner.

Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) Diane Corner. UN Photo/Dany Balepe

The Mission’s response to these reports has been to establish quickly whether the allegations are credible, and then to look after the welfare of the victims, who receive medical and psychosocial care.

What makes justice complicated for these victims, is that in cases involving UN Peacekeeping troops, it is the responsibility of the troop contributing countries to investigate, while the Mission must preserve the evidence, which provides the basis for convictions and punishment to the perpetrators.

Further complications arise, as the UN has to depend on these countries and their justice system to deliver accountability.

This has led to a lack of prosecutions and a lack of accountability, as the responsibility for the conviction of these crimes is often subject to illegitimate, incompetent, unwilling or corrupt judicial systems. 

4. UN Peacekeepers remain free from the law due to their immunity status: 

One woman raped in Haiti 10 years ago told Al Jazeera in an interview last year on the 16 June 2015 that she reported the attack to the UN, but never heard anything more.

"Children used to stand around the camp waiting on the soldiers to give them bread and cookies every day, so I stood there too," she said. "One of them called me over. And I went to him because I thought he was going to give me something to eat. When I got there, he pulled me inside the barbed wire, covered my mouth, and raped me."

States providing troops to UN missions have the primary responsibility to investigate allegations against their soldiers and police.

"Effectiveness of enforcement against sexual exploitation and abuse is hindered by a complex architecture, prolonged delays, unknown and varying outcomes, and severely deficient victim assistance," the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) Report said.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, Africa Deputy Director at Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights monitor, said she was not surprised by the findings in the draft UN report: "This is something that we have seen in many countries of the world where the UN is operating and it has been a problem that has been going on for many years," she said. 

"If those peacekeepers commit crimes [while on mission], they cannot be held to account in those countries. They can only be held to account in their home countries, and far too often this immunity is like a protective cloak" said Anneke Van Woudenberg, Africa Deputy Director at Human Rights Watch

There is immunity from prosecution for peacekeepers that are deployed on UN peacekeeping missions.

Not only are vulnerable women being exploited, raped and experiencing sexual violence while already vulnerable in conflict zones, but their please for justice and assistance are being responded to by a deniability of jurisdiction, inefficient reporting mechanisms and inadequate support structures, including a lack of access to justice, and the judicial system. 

Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  states:

'All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law'. 

Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: 

'Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law', and 

These vulnerable women and child victims of sexual violence and exploitation face a denial of their right to an effective remedy for the acts which violated their fundamental rights, and a denial of due protection under the law. 

Given these above facts, how can the international community continue to rely, trust or fund UN Peacekeepers? 

5. Overall effectiveness of UN Peacekeepers questioned: 

Overall incompetencies and failures of the 'Blue Helmets' to keep peace in war zones were also raised in the OIOS Report, stating that UN Peacekeepers are overall found not to be very effective.

An internal investigation conducted for the OIOS Report found that the peacekeepers failed to intercede with force in the 10 deadliest attacks between 2010 and 2013 in the war zones where they were sent, including a clash in South Sudan that killed 600 civilians, one in Darfur that killed nearly as many and another that left more than 100 dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Report, published earlier this year, prompted outrage among the countries paying for the 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers and an angry rebuttal from the countries that contribute most of the soldiers.

How can donor signatory Nation-States who support the UN in principle through an agreement to UN standards and in practice through the funding of, and deployment of troops, resources and supplies trust this corrupt, broken and criminal entity? 

Signatory States should question not only the UN Peacekeeping force's legitimacy through accountability, but also through the withdraw all of their support, until all such criminal acts are brought to justice, victims compensated and all UN Peacekeeping personnel re-trained under strict standards - where there is a zero-tolerance for violence against women and children, exploitation and victimisation. 

As Deputy Special Representative in the Central African Republic Diane Corner said: "devoting significant efforts to prevention, making sure that troops undergo training, including on sexual exploitation and abuse, prior to their deployment in country, and once on the field" is imperative. 

If contributing Member States do not take part in bringing these grave crimes to justice, they remain complicit and indeed allow them to continue. 

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