International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

UN Peacekeeping and Accusations of Sexual Abuse

An internal study conducted by the United Nations was recently leaked to the public, bringing to light ignorance towards sexual exploitation across peacekeeping missions. The study looked at missions in the Congo, Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan. These countries account for 85% of all sexual abuse cases, 30% of which involve minors, but the study has found that the actual number of incidents of sexual abuse could be far higher than previously reported.

This report shifts the international conversation about impunity away from the actions of criminals and towards the actions of those we expect to protect the vulnerable. How can we expect the international judiciary system to keep criminal leaders and their followers accountable for their actions when it cannot even keep its own forces accountable? Peacekeepers are some of the most easily accessible figures in the international justice system considering their position within the United Nations, and yet “UN personnel in all the missions [the researchers] visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of [Sexual Exploitation and Abuse] that are not being counted or investigated,” according to the report.

From allegations of peacekeepers forcing Liberian and Haitian girls to perform sexual favors for food in 2006 to peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast, southern Sudan and Haiti raping children as young as 13, the report highlights a disregard for Ban Ki Moon’s “zero-tolerance policy ‘towards all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.'” (The Guardian)

How can the international community expect transparency in all states when the United Nations itself is not transparent?


3 responses to “UN Peacekeeping and Accusations of Sexual Abuse

  1. CRuj March 29, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    The United Nations is widely known as an organization that regulates and attempts to keep peace between nations. Within the UN, peacekeepers are easily known as accessible figures in the international justice system. “Sexual violence in peacekeeping has long been recognized as a central problem that must be addressed.(The Conversation)”

    In the past 20 years sexual violence has been surfacing in many countries. UN sexual abuse rates are higher “when the people peacekeepers are protecting felt more unsafe, or less unsafe.(Fox)” The abuses include rape, pedophilia, prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation. The lack of truth and abuses being investigated undermines the mission of the UN and create distrust in the international justice system. Sexual exploitation is unacceptable especially within peacekeeping missions. Peacekeeping officials should work to create a harmonious and safe environment for the area they are supervising; sexual exploitation undermines the mission and creates problematic relations.

    Sexual exploitation transcends the discussion about actions of criminals to actions of the peacekeepers. The international conversation then revolves on trust within the system. The international system cannot prosecute criminals if they cannot control its own peacekeeping forces. In the past UN peacekeeping missions have been accused of sexual abuse, but “the report describes a culture of ‘impunity’ when dealing with sexual cases among UN peacekeepers.(Guardian)”

    The actual number of cases and abuses is unknown and likely to be higher due to under-reporting and poor record-keeping. Measures include a Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises in 2002 (The Conversation). In 2003 Secretary General Kofi Annan issued the Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse Bulletin. In 2007 assistance to victims and a resolution on criminal accountability of UN officials was created by the General Assembly. Even with these measures and media coverage the report shows that there still exist concerns of sexual violence and abuse from UN peacekeepers.

  2. swashington March 29, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    I think that this case, while showing the lack of transparency of institutions such as the UN, also demonstrates the structural problems of the UN. UN peacekeepers are contributed by member states, and therefore represent their respective states and not the UN. Their contributions are voluntary and they don’t really have any formal obligations to the UN. If they were to be punished or tried in some way for their crimes, where would that happen? In the same way that we put faith in them as peacekeepers, who would we put faith in to enact punishment? How could the international community ever have faith in any other peacekeepers if they aren’t punished? The UN has a zero-tolerance policy, but if the peacekeepers are volunteers, how is this enforced against them other than removal from the mission?
    This case is a clear example of why the UN needs its own peacekeeping force with members whose only formal obligation is to the UN and the peacekeeping mission.

  3. snech April 1, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    How do we protect the abused when the so-called protectors are also contributing to the abuse? This is the central question that comes from the recent report on the UN peacekeepers. What is worrying about this report is it’s quiet release. Without awareness and accountability, there is no positive change. When, 2014 alone, UN personnel were accused of 80 cases of rape, sexual assault and sex trafficking (and these are only the reported cases), there is clearly a problem. I think a main thing that can help change these trends is making individual accountability for the peacekeepers easier. Right now UN personnel can only be tried in countries where they are posted if their legal immunity status is waived. What’s problematic about this is that often the countries where they are posted are in no state to try these peacekeepers. The ICC should be able to try the UN personnel or other countries should be able to host trials for the UN personnel. One of the only ways UN personnel will be discouraged from partaking in illegal and harmful acts is if they are held accountable for them.

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