Saturday, November 5, 2022

Marx, Ecology, and Politics: An Interview with Dr. Derek Wall

 

Source



Marx, Ecology, and Politics: An Interview with Dr. Derek Wall


By Devon Bowers

 

This is the transcript of a recent email interview I did with Dr. Derek Wall where we discuss, in greater depth, his article entitled “Imperialism is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles,” about Marx’s contribution to ecological thought, where current socialist governments are acting regarding the environment, and how EcoMarxists interact with electoral politics.

 

1. Where does this idea that Marx can be applied to the environment originate from? Kind of, if you can, give me sort of a history of Marxist thought being applied to the environment.

 

The ‘idea that Marx can be applied to the environment’ I think it comes from Marx and Engels. While both wrote a huge amount, within their vast output of they produced numerous statements of environmental concern. Engels, for example, wrote The Condition of the English Working Class in the 1840s. While this is near to the beginning of his writings it was already indicating that air and water pollution were an environmental threat. His notion of social murder encompassed hunger and poverty and such the effect of poisonous pollution, social murder is a concept that might cover the deaths from extreme weather we are already encountering from climate change.

 

In his ‘Letters from Wuppertal’ written back in 1839 Engels notes both air and water pollution as serious ills, ‘Work in low rooms where people breathe more coal fumes and dust than oxygen — and in the majority of cases beginning already at the age of six — is bound to deprive them of all strength and joy in life.’ He observed that red colour of the river was a product not of battle but industrial pollution, the result ‘simply and solely to the numerous dye-works using Turkey red.’

 

At various points in Capital Marx addresses problems that might be identified by environmentalists today such as food additives and deforestation. Capital provides perhaps the clearest application of Marxist thought to the environment, when Marx notes in volume three of our duty to future generations:

 

Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].

 

In turn Engels, while not using the then newly coined term ‘ecology’, reveals his understanding of the science, based on relationships between species, that can lead to unexpected effects. This is from his text The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man:

 

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries.’

 

I guess an early application of this Marxist ecology can be found via William Morris, the British poet, artist and revolutionary. Concerned initially with church conservation, which is perhaps far from radical environmentalism, he read Marx as a defender of the environment against the ravages of capitalism. Morris was active in Britain’s first Marxist organisation the Social Democratic Federation.

 

Also in Britain, excuse my bias as I live here, the Sporting organisation associated with the Communist Party undertook the Kinder Scout trespass in the 1930s. This was to demand that workers have access to countryside moorland that was monopolised by large landowners.

 

During the 1950s and 60s rising awareness of global environmental problems, staring with atmospheric nuclear testing, led to a growing environmental movement. Organisations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace originated in the late 1960s or early 1970s along with Ecology Parties in the same decade. A minority of writers made the connection between capitalism and environmental destruction. While an anarchist rather than a Marxist, New Yorker Murray Bookchin, writing under the pseudonym of Lewis Herber, drew upon a critique of capitalism to explain the origins of environmental problems, publishing Our Synthetic Environment in 1962, and other works in the 1970s and 80s. Anti-Marxist in his politics, Marxism did paradoxically inform his analysis of ecological problems.

 

The Frankfurt school of Western Marxists including Marcuse also began to consider ecological problems in this period. Erich Fromm, the psychoanalyst, associated with the Frankfurt school, argued for an ecological politics, which drew upon Marx’s early Paris Manuscripts, showing how work under capitalism alienated us from the rest of nature. This is explained most clearly in his book To Have or to Be?

 

There are many individuals who have made some kind of link between Marx and Engels work and environmental concerns, however perhaps the most significant intervention in the late 20th century came from Fidel Castro at the 1992 environmental Rio conference. Castro was the first leader of a socialist country to stress the importance of ecological matters, and wrote extensively on the climate crisis and similar threats.

 

2. You quote John Kovel who notes that socialism, due to its thought occurring during industrialization, focuses on "the technological optimism of the industrial world-view, and its associated logic of productivism." In what ways do socialist states still perpetuate this idea? Or have some come to include the environment as a meaningful part of political thought?

 

I feel there is room for cautious optimism. The Soviet Union throw everything into rapid industrial development, often with ecologically damaging effects, a logic that would have continued if Trotsky had replaced Stalin. Having said this, the logic of productivism did provide the Soviet Union the material and technological resources necessary to defeat Hitler. Nonetheless on the whole one gets the impression that a race to outdo the USA in terms of economic growth inspired much Soviet economic development with negative results in terms of pollution and loss of biodiversity.

 

China is advocating a policy of promoting ‘ecological civilisation’. Mao’s war on the sparrows sounds like a foolish aberration from a Communist sensitive to contradictions and well versed in philosophy! I have never visited China and I am loath to analyse a part of the world I am largely ignorant of. However, it is clear that the present Chinese government and Chinese people at all levels of society, like Engels, are aware that ecological problems can strike where they are least expected. It is good that China has agreed to stop funding foreign coal plants and huge efforts are going into expanding renewable energy. China is the world’s largest producer of solar panels too. Perhaps though this is a version of ecological modernism, expanding technological solutions, without working towards an economy that rejects ever increasing production. Electric cars, whose production and consumption, are rising faster in China than perhaps any other part of the world, are imperfect environmental solutions. Nonetheless environmental considerations are at the core of economic development plans in the country. The rapid expansion of high speed rail, shames countries like the US and the UK, where the dominance of cars is unquestioned.

 

Cuba is perhaps the country closest to managing to create ecologically sustainable development on our planet, and is worthy of close study. Much has been written on this. During the special period in the 1990s when the fall of the Soviet Union made it difficult for Cuban to get cheap oil, a crash programme that reduced dependence on fossil fuels was instigated, with much success. Cuba shows that socialist countries potentially can achieve far more than capitalist states, when it comes to serious action on climate change.

 

Recently Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro's book Socialist States and the Environment: Lessons for Ecosocialist Futures has reassessed thinking about the environmental record of socialist states, suggesting that their record was much better than once thought. In the shadow of Cold War propaganda, everything was distorted, despite some serious environmental damage in the Soviet Union, there was also a programme of nature conservation. Just this week I have seen an interesting discussion of how Soviet scientists and planners in the 1970s responded to the Limits to Growth report, produced by MIT “Limits to growth” in communism? - cibcom.

 

In summary, while capitalism is innately ecologically destructive, for much of the 20th century Socialist States also engaged in environmentally damaging practices, however learning has taken place since, while not unproblematic the practices in China are encouraging and those in Cuba lead the world when it comes to climate change action.

 

3. You write "Marx and Engels’ sustained meditations on the sciences including biology, brought them to consider environmental issues." Talk about Marx' and Engels' focus on the hard sciences. I find this interesting as they're oft portrayed as people focused on sociology and economics.

 

Yes it is easily forgotten that they were obsessive in their concern to keep up with the most important developments in the natural sciences in their day. John Bellamy Foster has explored this topic in exhaustive detail in his book Marx’s Ecology. For Foster, ecology (even the exact term was not coined until later), is at the heart of Marx’s materialism. You can’t separate the science from the philosophy, perhaps there is more to the term ‘scientific socialism’ that is often assumed?

 

4. Noting that the Germany Green Party has left its original, radical roots and moved broadly over the decades towards a more center right line and how with the Dutch Socialist Party, too, has become a run-of-the-mill Social Democrat party, do you think that EcoMarxists or those who hold such sympathies should become involved with electoral politics or just shun it all together? In what ways are EcoMarxists interacting with mainstream political parties and electoral politics more generally?

 

West European Green and Left parties have indeed had limited success and often moved to the centre or the right. The trajectory of both the German Greens and, as you note, the Dutch Socialist Party, is perhaps particularly sobering, organisations moving from Marxist-Leninist roots to the center ground today. It is a sad irony that the German Greens were born out of the peace movement but are advocates of war, and even promoting fossil fuel extraction, at least, in the short term, to deal with the energy crisis caused by the conflict in the Ukraine. In Britain, things are a little different, the Labour Party here, despite a short respite under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has never been a radical party. Labour supported Empire, in the 1930s embrace the economics of austerity and at present under Keir Starmer are competing with the Tory government to show they are a pro-business party.

 

I don’t think it is adequate to say abandon all electoral politics. Alternative socialist strategies haven’t been effective either in Western Europe, the generation that produced the German Greens were the generation involved in the Bader-Meinhof gang, which can hardly been seen as successful intervention. In other parts of the world, particularly Latin America, the left have made some progress through the electoral route. While this has not been uniform and has led to compromises, the success of left parties in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and more recently Colombia is encouraging.

 

Rudi Dutschke the German socialist, argued that there should be ‘a long march through the institutions’, in practice the institutions have generally marched over the left, crushing hopes…sadly this is largely the lesson of the German Greens. I am most inspired by the base building approach of groups like Philly Socialists and near to where I live the Welsh Underground Network. Building community revolutionary capacity through practical action and solidarity. Capacity building is also a means of creating community self-defence in the face of rising environmental crisis and the growth of the far right.

 

Ecosocialist engagement with electoral politics, where it has occurred, is varied. In Australia the Socialist Alliance have elected local councillors. The example of Nick Origlass, in the 1980s, a pioneering ecosocialists who left the Australian Labor Party, over toxic waste plans, has been an inspiration to such Australian ecosocialists. He was eventually elected Mayor of Leichhardt, Sydney. He defeated motorway building plans through a working class community, created participatory council meetings and reclaimed land for community use. There is a good account of his work in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography here.

 

So may be some progress is possible with electoral work but yes more often than not electoral politics has institutionalised those on the left rather than allowing institutional transformation. Some ecosocialists are involved in Green or Social Democratic Parties. The HDP in Turkey is a good example of where more radical electoral politics has been linked to popular struggles, although this mainly Kurdish Party has been subject to much repression. The situation is different in different parts of the world.

 

5. What are some of the responses of EcoMarxists to climate change, especially given the fact that we have very possibly hit the point of no return regarding major environmental changes? (For example, we hit that point with ocean temperatures in 2014.)

 

When I first became interested in green politics in the 1980s climate change seem to be a distant problem, now it is an immediate threat. Every day apparently brings news of more extreme weather, in the summer here where I live in Southern England, I witnessed the highest temperatures of my life time. The future is now.

 

One response from ecosocialists has been to go back to Lenin, if capitalism is destroying the world, a more strategic approach is surely necessary. Andreas Malm, Kai Heron and Jodi Dean and others have been arguing that Lenin provides inspiration in an age of climate crisis. There is a good outline of the debates around Lenin, climate change and ecosocialism here.

 

Andreas Malm in his recent book How to Blow up a Pipeline argues that the desperation of the situation demands that we take direct action against oil extraction.

 

There is perhaps an increasing realisation that climate change rather than being an accidental consequence of business as usual which can be approached with technocratic solutions is part of a war. With oil and fossil fuel companies on one side of the conflict and the rest of humanity and nature on the other. So, while not specifically ecosocialists the approach of the British organisation Just Stop Oil, using direct action against oil companies is to be applaud.

 

Of course, workers plans to convert ecological damaging mining and manufacturing into alternative sources of production is another element of ecosocialist strategy. The Lucas Plan in Britain and the Green Ban trade union campaigns in Australia are examples.

 

6.  Where can people learn more about Ecosocialism? What are some good books, podcasts, or videos, you would recommend?

 

Kali Aukuno is a good source of ecosocialists activism, may be start with his interview here.

 

John Bellamy Foster, while he doesn’t use the term ecosocialism, feeling socialist traditions at least from Marx are innately ecological, has produced numerous books, articles, podcasts, etc. MR Online which he works with is a very good source for numerous articles on ecosocialism. Green Left Weekly in Australia and Climate and Capitalism are also excellent.

 

Of the numerous books on ecosocialism, I still think, Alan Roberts The Self-Managing Environment from 1979 is the best, although a bit difficult to track down. People might also be interested in my biography of the great Latin American ecosocialist Hugo Blanco published by Merlin Press.

 

Finally I must mention Max Ajl’s work, rooting ecological socialism in the struggles of the South, breaking the Eurocentric and North American bias of much of the left. His book A People’s Green New Deal is essential reading. There is a useful interview with him from my comrades at Ebb Magazine here.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Disturbing The Peace: Echoes of Despair



Disturbing The Peace: UN Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse

Part 3: Echoes of Despair

By Devon Bowers

 Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Author’s Note: This article and series focuses on sexual abuse and assault, with some graphic descriptions of such acts. Reader discretion is advised.

From the tail end of the 20th century and into the new millennium, United Nations have deployed all over the world, to war torn, strife ridden nations with the goal of lessening the violence so peaceful, political solutions could be pursued. Yet, from the very first deployment, UN forces have engaged in heinous, stomach-churning acts of degeneracy which primarily young girls and women have been abused and raped. The situation was actively made worse by the UN itself as it left victims with no recourse and in several instances actively worked to obscure the fact that any abuse had taken place at all.

The events from 1991 in Cambodia, twisting and turning in places such as Bosnia, East Timor, and Haiti, still cast a shadow over UN operations even today.


South Sudan

In 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1996, under which UN forces would be deployed in order to aid in the creation of a peaceful environment so that the new nation would be able to begin to establish itself politically and economically. Another resolution, Resolution 2155, was later adopted as a coup attempt threw the nation into ethnic strife,[1] with UN troops being tasked with protecting civilian, monitoring human rights violations, and creating safe conditions so humanitarian aid could be delivered.[2]

Early on there were notes made of the difficulties UNMISS was facing regarding training on sexual abuse. A 2013 independent study noted that there were “significant gaps in the induction and refresher training”[3] that occurred between missions, with some not ever receiving the training at all, primarily due to lack of and imperfect communication between the Conduct and Discipline Team and the Integrated Mission Training Center on a local level, whose duty it was to provide said training.

Commanders also proved to be a problem as some of them pushed back against the zero-tolerance policy, choosing to zero in on the “aggressive behavior of women who solicit their troops”[4] instead of the conduct of the soldiers themselves and even requested ‘flexibility’ on the issue of prostitution, despite it being in direct violation of the zero-tolerance rule.

What made the situation worse, as well, was the lack of UN peacekeepers actually conducting their duties. The Star reported in July 2016 that South Sudanese government soldiers had raped dozens of women outside a UN camp and that there was a “reluctance by UN peacekeepers to protect civilians. At least one assault occurred as peacekeepers watched.

On July 17, two armed soldiers in uniform dragged away a woman who was less than a few hundred meters from the UN camp’s western gate while armed peacekeepers on foot, in an armored vehicle and in a watchtower looked on. One witness estimated that 30 peacekeepers from Nepalese and Chinese battalions saw the incident. “They were seeing it. Everyone was seeing it,” he said. “The woman was seriously screaming, quarrelling and crying also, but there was no help. She was crying for help.”[5]

While the peacekeepers themselves weren’t engaging in abuse, it could be argued that they abetted the situation by standing by and doing nothing. This also potentially brings up the question: How often were peacekeepers shirking their duties to the point that national soldiers felt bold enough to rape women near UN camps, much less in front of them?

The following year it seemed that the situation was changing in that the UN was taking a firm stance regarding UNMISS soldiers, stating that there would “be no second chances” for any UN personnel found guilty of sexual abuse and preventing and responding to such cases were a “top priority.”[6] Yet this stance eventually wavered as in the following years. In 2018, Nepalese peacekeepers faced allegation of raping a South Sudanese child. In all, a UN commission investigated sexual abuse allegations by UNMISS soldiers, with 18 peacekeepers being registered in the UN Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Database.[7]

The UN remains in South Sudan to this day.

Mali

In the context of the fourth Tuareg rebellion in Mali[8], UN troops were dispatched to deal with the ongoing violence there beginning in April 2013. While there wasn’t much reporting on the actions of UN peacekeepers in Mali, unfortunately abuse did still take place.

Only months after the mission began did abuse begin to be reported on. BBC reported in September 2013 that four UN peacekeepers were accused of sexually assaulting a Malian woman, with several Malians alleging that multiple women were raped, yet due to the soldiers being from Chad, the UN urged the Chadian government to investigate and discipline the men.[9] The organization was already dropping the ball arguably as it was known for quite some time that nations rarely if ever hold their soldiers accountable.

Central African Republic

In 2014 the UN had taken over operations in the Central African Republic from the African Union[10] force in a country that was dealing with an active civil war.[11]

By 2015, problems were already starting. There was a case here two girls under 16 said they had been forced to exchange sex for food, starting back in 2014.[12] Several months later it was revealed that during a house search, a UN peacekeeper dragged the girl out of the bathroom she was hiding in and raped her.[13]

Sangaris Forces

The Guardian had reported that six pre-teen children told UN staff that they had been sexually abused in exchange food from December 2013 to June 2014 by French soldiers.[14] However, this was a situation where the French troops weren’t under UN control, yet they knew that such acts were ongoing. It was taken so seriously that the Secretary-General even went so far as to set up an independent panel to probe the matter.[15]

The panel was headed by Marie Deschamps, a former Justice on the Canadian Supreme Court, Hassan B. Jallow, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General in Gambia, and Yasmin Sooka, who had been on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a member of the United Nations Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes in the final stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War.

The abuse was committed by French soldiers, known as the Sangaris Forces for “Operation Sangaris,” not by soldiers under the UN’s command.  Still, the organization’s human rights mandate required them to “carry out the interrelated obligations of investigating the allegations; reporting on the allegations internally and, where appropriate, publicly; and following up on the allegations to prevent further abuses and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.”[16] The UN had a legal framework in which action could be taken.

A total of six discussions were conducted in which victims of sexual abuse were interviewed. Like so many other soldiers, the French would generally lure victims in with food, with one 9-year-old interviewee saying that

a French soldier working at the check point called him, gave him an individual combat food ration and showed him a pornographic video on his cell phone. The child stated that the soldier then opened his trousers, showing him his erect penis, and asked him to suck his “bangala” (penis). The child told the [Human Rights Officer] that they were seen by another child, who alerted some local delinquents. As a mob was forming, the soldier told the child to run away but the child was caught and beaten. [17]

On several levels, there was a failure of leadership on the part of the UN as they didn’t conduct any further investigation beyond initial interviews and in fact, UN officials assumed that due to the Sangaris forces not being under UN command, the UN “had a limited obligation to respond” to these allegations and because the situation was “politically sensitive” [18] there should be no further exposure than necessary.

In May 2014, the Human Rights and Justice Section (HRJS) was asked by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to compile a report on African Union soldiers that were supposed to be put under UN control, as many such individuals had been previously accused of serious human rights violations. In this report HRJS also included information of the actions of the Sangaris Forces. Such information should have triggered an emergency report, however, HRJS encouraged the Special Representative of the Secretary-General not divulge the situation. Worse, the HRJS “took no further steps to intervene to stop the violations or to hold the perpetrators accountable.”[19] (emphasis added) So the Section knew that children were being raped and yet did nothing to stop it, effectively becoming complicit in what occurred.


Later, near the end of June 2014, the Human Rights Officer submitted the Sangaris Notes to the head of the HRJS, which, rather than preparing a report and then sending it up to the Special Representative or the High Commissioner’s Office, muddied the waters by putting the information “in a broader report that included a number of allegations of serious human rights abuses—such as killings and torture—by other international troops.”[20] In addition to this, the July 2014 draft report was never finalized or submitted, with the head of HRJS arguing that the Sangrais Notes had already been handed over to the French government, thus there was no further need for involvement.

The Panel

[inferred] from this decision that the purpose of preparing the 17 July 2014 report was to disguise the Allegations so that France was not singled out, and to generate as little attention as possible on the abuses. Unfortunately, this strategy was effective and the report, including the Allegations they contained, went largely ignored. […] The decision of the head of HRJS not to finalize the 17 July 2014 report was a failure of his obligation to follow up not only on the Allegations described in the Sangaris Notes, but also on the other violations of human rights and international criminal law set out in the draft report.[21]

 The Central African Republic desk also failed in its duties as between May and June 2014, they received at least five notifications of the allegations against the French, but “took no further steps either to follow up with HRJS or with the [Special Representative for the Secretary-General]”[22] beyond vague wording in a human rights development update.

After the Human Rights Officer took her leave, the HRJS halted the investigation and UNICEF didn’t seek out any additional children despite that four of the children interviewed identified other victims, the children acknowledging that it was public information that French troops would trade sex for food, and indications from the interviews that the abuse was planned and coordinated, among several other flags that should have been cause for alarm. This helps to illuminate the fact that even if serious reforms were made, it doesn’t matter if there is failure at the local level to report on such abuse.

Thankfully, there was a whistleblower in the form of Anders Kompass who leaked “a confidential report documenting the sexual abuse of children by French and African peacekeepers”[23] to the French government. In response, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein of Jordan, asked the Office of Internal Oversight Services to “open an investigation into the matter on the grounds that Kompass ‘had placed the victims of sexual abuse at risk by including their names in the report he provided to the French government’ and that he did so in order to obtain a promotion.”[24] While he was suspended for a time, Kompass was later reinstated.

The French ended their mission in the CAR in October 2016.[25] The following year, the French court system refused to bring charges against the soldiers accused of sexually abusing children, with spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office, Agnès Thibault-Lecuivre, saying that “the case was particularly difficult because it was based solely on the children’s accounts, without independent evidence” and that there was the problem of identifying people.[26]

Worse, though, was that more evidence of abuse would be uncovered. In March 2016, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and a delegation from MINUSCA met with local leaders, where four girls accused the Sangaris force of forcing them to have sex with a dog.

[They] were tied up and undressed inside a camp by a military commander from the Sangaris force and forced to have sex with a dog. Each girl was then given 5000 Central African Francs (approx. $9 USD). The three girls interviewed sought basic medical treatment. The fourth girl later died of an unknown disease. One of the survivors said that she was called “the Sangaris’ dog” by people in the community.[27]

The UN never contested the claims.[28]

There was a separate case that had similarities to UN abuse in the Ivory Coast, where it was found that peacekeepers were paying girls “as little as 50 cents in exchange for sex” and that there was an entire prostitution ring these peacekeepers utilized that “was run by boys and young men who offered up girls ‘for anywhere from 50 cents to three dollars.”[29] Once again, there is the utilization of children as tools to abuse other children.

In early 2016, Human Rights Watch documented a total of eight sexual abuse cases. One of the cases was a gang rape, where a woman was visiting a Republic of Congo troop base, seeking assistance when armed peacekeepers forced her into a bush a raped her. “I didn’t want to have sex with them, but when I went to visit their base, they took me into the bush,” she said. “There were three of them on me. They were armed. They said if I resisted, they would kill me. They took me one by one.”[30] Another involved a 14 year old girl, who was attacked as she was walking by a UN base. She told HRW that the peacekeepers “pulled me into the tall grass and one held my arms while the other one pinned down my legs and raped me.”[31] She began to scream, causing both soldiers to run away before she could be raped a second time.

As time wore on, more abuses from the past came to light,[32] however, the biggest shock came in 2017, revolving around an entire battalion.

The issue involved about 650 Congolese soldiers whose “alleged indiscipline, poor leadership, repeated involvement in sexual exploitation and abuse cases, and overall threadbare competence”[33] was creating major headaches for the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The UN mission filed an official assessment of the unit, known as COGBAT 3, which found that 120 personnel from CONGO Batt 2 and 1 from CONGO Batt 3 were repatriated to [their] home country on SEA cases.”[34] In a memo to the UN peacekeeping military advisor, Lieutenant General Carlos Humberto Loitey, the force commander of the mission, LTG Balla Kieta, lamented that “the situation has deteriorated to the point that the battalion is no longer trustable because of poor leadership, lack of discipline, and operational deficiencies.”[35] Despite having discipline break down in an entire battalion to the point that it was being discussed at the highest levels, not to mention the effect it was having on the local populace, all that came of it was that the UN had shared the evaluation with the Congolese government and the situation was being followed up on.

Bombshells continued to drop with the Code Blue campaign accusing the UN of mishandling sexual abuse cases, based on leaked case files which revealed that out of 14 cases that the UN was investigated in 2016, there were eight such cases in which the victims weren’t even interviewed, which could have resulted in cases being thrown out before they were thoroughly investigated.[36] In that same vein, when the UN dispatched investigators to look into rapes and sexual abuse done by Burundian and Gabonese peacekeepers, more than half of the 130 allegations would end up being dismissed. An internal UN report was uncovered in 2019 which found a laundry list of problems with the investigations, “– from the Burundians discrediting their testimony to the UN failing to ask crucial follow-up questions that could have corroborated their accounts.” More specifically the report found that:

  • UNICEF failed to take accurate victim testimonies and waited weeks before informing the UN’s investigatory and oversight body of the allegations.

  • The UN failed to provide basic security for investigators.

  • The atmosphere for women and girls making the allegations was described as “threatening”, with one investigator reportedly asking a woman about her alleged perpetrator: “Did you love him?”

  • The system of DNA collection and storage allowed samples to decay – specimens that could have identified alleged perpetrators.[37]

To make matters worse, Ben Swanson, the OIOS director who ordered and oversaw the report, attempted to sway The New Humanitarian from publishing an article on the matter saying that it was a draft report, it was “potentially damaging as written,” and even had the gall to argue that the results of the investigations were “quite good”[38] while utterly failing to discuss why most cases were dismissed or why so many cases involving Gabon soldiers were pending four years later.

There were major structural problems with the investigation, the largest one being that the Burundians were allowed to conduct them, a massive conflict of interest, which led them to be “more concerned with discrediting witnesses than taking their testimonies,” with interviews being described as “interrogatory” and involving “questions and comments described as “humiliating,” “irrelevant,” and “incongruous.”[39] Due to the lack of concern with the investigators, they failed to ask crucial follow-up questions which would have led to greater information awareness and a more detailed investigation, it resulted in a Burundian peacekeeper who had allegedly raped a women being cleared. The interviews were so plagued with problems that “they would have serious implications for any subsequent legal proceedings.”[40]

In spite all of this, the United Nations remains in the Central African Republic to this day.

Solutions?

Among all of this discussion, what has yet to be addressed is the idea of solutions. Though it would be easy to point to the UN and simply argue that the organization as a whole simply need to actually enforce its own rules, something that does need to occur, there needs to be an examination as to why it is so difficult to bring peacekeepers to justice and how victims can be taken care of.

First, what should be examined is the specifics of soldiers that are under UN command. Peacekeeping troops are loaned to the UN from troop-contributing countries and while they serve under UN command, their home countries are responsible for disciplining them based on a Memorandum of Agreement between the two entities. From there, the UN organizes a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the government of the country the soldiers are to be deployed to where the host nation “waives jurisdiction over peacekeepers for violations of host-nation law,” this results in a situation where troops have “de facto immunity from prosecution there.”[41] On paper, soldiers have immunity when working in an official capacity, but in reality, they are immune from local law.

TCCs refuse to exercise their legal authority and thus many peacekeepers commit horrid acts and go about their way. Even when TCCs do want to prosecute their soldiers, investigations are done so poorly and conducted in such a manner that doesn’t apply to their respective law, with evidence be inadmissible in court or so lacking that it wouldn’t sustain a conviction, that the case can easily be thrown out.[42]

It should be noted that the application of immunity can be waived. Within the SOFAs lie a clause which expounds upon the privileges and immunities for peacekeepers, with the general rule being that “basic privileges and immunities of a [UN] peacekeeping operation flow from the Convention of the Privileges and Immunities of the [UN],”[43] with the Convention specifying that such immunity only applies when soldiers are acting in official capacities.

 For example, the SOFA dealing with the UN Mission in East Timor granted military personnel “immunity from Indonesian criminal and civil jurisdiction, and local criminal and civil jurisdiction,” however, due to the operation being considered an organ of the UN, peacekeepers fell “under the Convention on Privileges and Immunities, which means that immunities should still be able to be waived by the Secretary-General for any offences committed.”[44]

Thus, if peacekeepers do engage in crimes such as rape, forced prostitution, sexual abuse, and the like, the UN can actually waive that immunity due to such actions being outside of official duties. Therefore, there should be pressure on the UN to utilize its power to waive the immunity of peacekeepers accused of sexual abuse.

So, the question arises: If a peacekeeper can’t be punished by the laws of their respective country, can they be punished by international law?

Generally speaking, the International Criminal Court (ICC), deals with crimes that occur before and during conflicts, so for UN peacekeepers to be brought up on charges for sexual abuse by the ICC would not only be “a historic exercise of judicial authority,”[45] but also would send a message globally that peacekeepers engaging in sexual abuse would be bought to justice.

Renee Vezina, of the Ave Maria School of Law argues that there is some merit to this idea as the Rome Statute focuses on human rights violations or crimes against humanity, “which includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity.”[46] This legal standing was already around since 1998 with “prosecution of individuals at the international level on the crime of rape” in the “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, when Jean Paul Akayesu was convicted for crimes against humanity for his encouragement of the rape of Tutsi women,”[47] which was upheld in the Appeals Chamber.


There are some serious challenges to use of the ICC, however. Its statute gives it jurisdiction on crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes, yet, each of these has its own definition that would limit the prosecutor’s options. Take the aforementioned idea of charging accused UN peacekeepers with crimes against humanity. That term “involves the commission of an attack that is inhumane in nature, causing great suffering, or serious injury to body, or to mental or physical health. The act must be committed as part of a widespread [“an attack directed against a multiplicity of victims”] or systematic attack [an attack carried out pursuant to a preconceived policy or plan”] against members of a civilian population.”[48] A second limitation is that the specific act “must be carried out ‘pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack,”[49] meaning that the crimes engaged in must be done in pursuit of a large policy.

 Furthermore, the ICC acts in a complementary nature to national courts, only taking jurisdiction of cases if national courts don’t do so first or if they are unwilling/unable to prosecute, due to a breakdown in its judicial system, for example. To this end, Article 18 of the Rome Statute

requires that the prosecutor of the ICC must notify all states parties and states with jurisdiction over the case before beginning an ICC investigation and cannot begin an investigation on his own initiative without first receiving the approval of a chamber of three judges.

 

At this stage, it would be open to states that are party to the statute to insist that they will investigate allegations against their own nationals themselves. Should this national be a peacekeeper (for example a South African peacekeeper alleged to be guilty of an ICC crime in the DRC), in such a situation the ICC must then suspend its investigation.[50]

Thus, the Court’s hands are tied if the court of troop contributing nations decided to take up the case, even if that national court lets the alleged abuser off the hook.

There may be a way of balancing the powers of a national court with the powers of the ICC in the form of a hybrid court, a court that can prosecute international crimes. A hybrid court is such because “both the institutional apparatus and the applicable law consist of a blend of the international and the domestic,” with foreign and domestic judges sitting side by side with cases being “prosecuted and defended by teams of local lawyers working with those from other countries.”[51] Such a system was used to some effect in Kosovo and in East Timor.[52]


With regards to addressing the pain of victims, there is the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission, which “have been used in Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa” and are focused primarily on “the right to truth and a victim-centered approach.”[53] This isn’t enough to address the abuses of UN peacekeepers, but it would provide a start where information could be brought to light, accountability has the potential to take place, and victims can confront their abusers in the open.

These ideas won’t solve the past outright, but it could change future UN peacekeeping operations. May be the echoes of despair would finally cease.


Endnotes

[1] Sudarsan Raghavan, “Divisions in South Sudan’s liberation movement fuel war,” Washington Post, December 27, 2013 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/divisions-in-south-sudans-liberation-movement-fuel-war/2013/12/27/71347da2-6f31-11e3-a5d0-6f31cd74f760_story.html)

[2] United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 2155, S/Res/2155, March 27, 2014 (https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2155(2014))

[3] Thelma Awori, Catherine Lutz, Paban J. Thapa, Final Report: Expert Mission to Evaluate Risks to SEA Prevention Efforts  in MINUSTAH, UNMIL, MONUSCO, and UNMISS, https://web.archive.org/web/20150709034934/http://www.aidsfreeworld.org/Newsroom/Press-Releases/2015/~/media/Files/Peacekeeping/2013%20Expert%20Team%20Report%20FINAL.pdf (November 3, 2013), pg 8

[4] Ibid, pg 18

[5] Jason Pantikin, “Dozens of women raped by South Sudan soldiers near UN camp: witnesses,” The Star, July 27, 2016 (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/07/27/dozens-of-women-raped-by-south-sudan-soldiers-near-un-camp-witnesses.html)

[6] United Nations Permanent Mission, UNMISS: 'No second chances' for sexual exploitation and abuse, https://www.un.int/news/unmiss-no-second-chances-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse (October 3, 2017)

[7] UN News, South Sudan: ‘Outraged’ UN experts say ongoing widespread human rights violations may amount to war crimes, February 20, 2019 (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/02/1033181)

[8] Devon Bowers, Rebellion, Resources, and Refugees: The Conflict in Mali, http://www.whataboutpeace.com/2013/02/rebellion-resources-and-refugees.html (February 28, 2013)

[9] BBC, UN's Minusma troops 'sexually assaulted Mali woman', https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24272839 (September 26, 2013)

[10] David Smith, “UN takes over peacekeeping in Central African Republic,” The Guardian, September 16, 2014 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/16/un-peacekeeping-central-african-republic)

[11] Thierry Vircoulon, Failure Has Many Fathers: The Coup in Central African Republic, Relief Web, https://reliefweb.int/report/central-african-republic/failure-has-many-fathers-coup-central-african-republic (March 28, 2013)

[12] France 24, UN peacekeepers accused in new child sex abuse claims, June 24, 2015 (https://www.france24.com/en/20150624-un-peacekeepers-accused-new-child-sex-abuse-claims-car)

[13] Amnesty International, CAR: UN troops implicated in rape of girl and indiscriminate killings must be investigated, August 11, 2015 (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/car-un-troops-implicated-in-rape-of-girl-and-indiscriminate-killings-must-be-investigated/)

[14] France 24, UN to probe ‘disturbing’ handling of CAR child sex abuse claims, June 6, 2015 (https://www.france24.com/en/20150603-un-independent%20-investigation-child-sex-abuse-car-peacekeepers-france)

[15] United Nations Secretary-General, Statement Attributable to the Secretary-General on allegations of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2015-06-03/statement-attributable-secretary-general-allegations-sexual-abuse (June 3, 2015)

[16] Marie Deschamps, Hassan B. Jallow, Yasmin Sooka, Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers: Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic, https://web.archive.org/web/20151217183752/https://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/centafricrepub/Independent-Review-Report.pdf (December 17, 2015), pg 28

[17] Ibid, pg 17

[18] Ibid, pg 28

[19] Ibid, pg 33

[20] Ibid, pg 34

[21] Ibid, pg 35

[22] Ibid

[23] Colum Lynch, The U.N. Official Who Blew the Lid off Central African Republic Sex Scandal Vindicated, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/17/the-u-n-official-who-blew-the-lid-on-central-african-republic-sex-scandal-vindicated/ (December 17, 2015)

[24] Government Accountability Project, Foreign Policy: UN Drops Leak Investigation Into Human Rights Official In C.A.R. Sex Scandal, https://whistleblower.org/in-the-news/foreign-policy-un-drops-leak-investigation-human-rights-official-car-sex-scandal/ (January 19, 2016)

[25] BBC, France ends Sangaris military operation in CAR, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37823047 (October 31, 2016)

[26] Benoît Morenne, “No Charges in Sexual Abuse Case Involving French Peacekeepers,” New York Times, January 6, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/world/africa/french-peacekeepers-un-sexual-abuse-case-central-african-republic.html)

[27] Code Blue, Shocking New Reports of Peacekeeper Sexual Abuse in the Central African Republic, March 30, 2016 (http://www.codebluecampaign.com/press-releases/2016/3/30)

[28] Samuel Oakford, “French Peacekeepers Allegedly Tied Up Girls and Forced Them Into Bestiality,” Vice, March 31, 2016 (https://www.vice.com/en/article/a398za/french-peacekeepers-allegedly-tied-up-girls-and-forced-them-to-have-sex-with-dogs)

[29] Kevin Sieff, “U.N. says some of its peacekeepers were paying 13-year-olds for sex,” Washington Post, January 11, 2016 (https://web.archive.org/web/20160112032806/https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/un-says-some-of-its-peacekeepers-were-paying-13-year-olds-for-sex/2016/01/11/504e48a8-b493-11e5-8abc-d09392edc612_story.html)

[30] Human Rights Watch, Central African Republic: Rape by Peacekeepers, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/04/central-african-republic-rape-peacekeepers (February 4, 2016)

[31] Ibid

[32] Sandra Laville, “UN inquiry into CAR abuse claims identifies 41 troops as suspects,” The Guardian, December 5, 2016 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/05/un-inquiry-into-car-abuse-claims-identifies-41-troops-as-suspects)

[33] George Russell, “Peacekeeper battalion in Central African Republic challenges UN 'war' on sexual abuse,” Fox News, https://www.foxnews.com/world/peacekeeper-battalion-in-central-african-republic-challenges-un-war-on-sexual-abuse (June 9, 2017)

[34] United Nations, Mission Field Headquarters In Mission Operational Readiness Assessment of COGBAT 3, (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/514a0127e4b04d7440e8045d/t/593704a2579fb37a23567889/1496777906180/MINUSCA+ORA.pdf), pg 8

[35] United Nations, MINUSCA- Lack of Professionalism in the Congolese Contingent, May 12, 2017 (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/514a0127e4b04d7440e8045d/t/593704c246c3c490c3ee0b24/1496777924587/CAR+memo.pdf)

[36] Krista Larson, “Group: UN mishandling Central African Republic abuse claims,” Associated Press, September 14, 2017 (https://apnews.com/article/e292fc4299f741629661fd67754050ef)

[37] Paisley Dodds, Phillip Klenfield, “Blunders in Central African Republic sex abuse probe detailed in internal UN review,” The New Humanitarian, October 31, 2019 (https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/investigations/2019/10/31/Central-African-Republic-sex-abuse-probe-internal-UN-review)

[38] Ibid

[39] Ibid

[40] Ibid

[41] Keith J. Allred, “Peacekeepers and Prostitutes: How Deployed Forces Fuel the Demand for Trafficked Women and New Hope for Stopping It,” Armed Forces & Society 33:1 (October 2006), pg 9

[42] Ibid, pg 10

[43] Renee Vezina, “Combating Impunity in Haiti: Why the ICC Should Prosecute Sexual Abuse by UN Peacekeepers,” Ave Maria International Law Journal 1:2 (2012), pg 450

[44] Melanie O’Brien, Overcoming boys-will-be-boys syndrome: Is prosecution of peacekeepers in the International Criminal Court for trafficking, sexual slavery and related crimes against women a possibility? Lund University Publications, http://lup.lub.lu.se/student-papers/record/1554856 (2004), pgs 39

[45] Vezina, pg 446

[46] Ibid

[47] Ibid

[48] Stephen Pete, Max Du Plessis, “Who Guards The Guards,” African Security Review 13:4 (2004), pg 10

[49] Ibid

[50] Ibid, pg 13

[51] Laura A. Dickinson, “The Promise of Hybrid Courts,” The American Journal of International Law 97:2 (April 2003), pg 295

[52] Rosa Freedman, “Unaccountable: A New Approach to Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse,” The European Journal of International Law 29:3 (2018), pg 978

[53] Ibid, pg 980