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Time for tough action to stop sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers 0

“Gentlemen, there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers”, said Napoleon Bonaparte to his military staff after they complained that the poor quality of soldiers was inhibiting success on the battlefield.

We as former Army officers, totally believe in the sage words of Napoleon.

In the face some vile and sickening allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation among United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, puts to question the moral integrity of some people who are commissioned to be protectors, but who end up abusing the trust bestowed on them. Thus tarnishing the reputation of the entire UN.

UN peacekeeping missions perform a crucial service in resolving conflicts, saving lives, building peace, restoring and rebuilding broken states. Their humanitarian services have been meritorious on all counts.

However, incidents where troops seconded to the UN by member states under its command become sexual predators to the helpless civilians under their care have continued to present a cyclical challenge to the United Nations.

The Secretary General of the UN, Mr Ban Ki-moon recently called the rogue peacekeepers “a cancer in our system.” He added that, “a failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity”.

According to recent reports from UN, allegations of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers rose by from 52 in 2014 to 69 last year. There are currently 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide, out of which 10 were subject to allegations last year.

The allegations involve military personnel, international police, other staff and volunteers. Sadly, there does not seem to be much reason for optimism that most of these allegations will ever be investigated and concluded with any degree of closure. This can be illustrated by the case of the Central African Republic, where there has been only one criminal charge filed in the 42 cases of sexual abuse or exploitation that have been officially registered in the mission.

UN rules forbid sexual relations with any persons under 18 and strongly discourage relations with beneficiaries of assistance.

In a December 2015 report responding to latest claims of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, the UN recommended investigations to identify weaknesses in enforcement and mandated that a component on sexual exploitation and abuse be included in training for peacekeepers. It also called for harsher penalties for the peacekeeping units to which the abusers belong.

In 2015, the post of Special Coordinator on improving the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse was established. Mr Ban named Ms Jane Holl Lute, a US military veteran with wide-ranging UN experience, to coordinate efforts to curb the scourge.

The report also asked member states to provide a fair investigation process for both staff and military personnel, to provide better reporting mechanisms for victims and staff, and to take action on those in positions of responsibility who turn a blind eye or cover up.

For the first time, the organization also introduced a “name-and-shame” policy for countries whose soldiers are accused of transgression.

Still, structural weakness mean that the slow pace of investigations into abuses is set to continue. Under UN rules, it is up to the country that contributes the peacekeepers to investigate and prosecute any soldier accused of misconduct while serving under the UN flag. In many cases, those governments conduct only half-hearted investigations and only a smattering of convictions has been documented.

It is time to raise the scales of preventive and punitive measures. An unequivocal message needs to be sent to every member state and troop contributing countries that only personnel who see the protection of human rights as their mission will continue to serve as UN peacekeepers.

For starters, those that are accused of sexual misconduct must face the full force of justice in the mission area. The military chain of command should set up court proceedings without delay and award punishments comparable to the gravity of offences committed. Commanders at all levels must be held responsible for the discipline of their troops. A message of “zero tolerance” be clear and unambiguous.

Continue reading on IPS News

by Lt-General (retired) Daniel Opande and Major (retired) Siddharth Chatterjee

Photo Credits: UN Photo/Cristopher Herwig

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