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 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Disturbing The Peace: Unabated Horrors

Source

Disturbing The Peace: UN Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse

Part 2: Unabated Horrors

By Devon Bowers

See Part 1 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.

Nearing the end of the 20th century, there was an increase in United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world. While there were positive efforts to maintain and/or create peaceful environments where non-violent solutions could be pursued in war-torn nations, there was also a dark underbelly to these operations. Most prominently that peacekeepers would regularly abuse primarily women and girls, many of them having already fallen victim to government and rebel forces, they were to be victimized yet again but by the very people who should have provided security and stability. 

Still worse, the United Nations itself would engage in cover ups of the abuse, hanging victims out to dry and suffer in silence. With the turn of the century, one would hope that there would new efforts would be put forth and sought after to hold abusers accountable, yet the horrors would continue unabated.

Ethiopia and Eritrea

In 1998, violence broke out between the neighboring African nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea regarding a border dispute, with the Organization of African Unity mediating a sort of peace between them, yet clashes occurred again in May 2000, ending with the OAU working out a cessation of hostilities and the UN sending in a peacekeeping mission to monitor the ceasefire and the border dispute in July 2000.[1]

The very next year it was reported that a former member of the Italian contingency had been involved in abuse, specifically the Italian military justice system was investigating them “for allegedly having sex with underage girls while serving in the Mission area.”[2] That same year, three Danish soldiers were sent home and charged with having sex with a thirteen year old Eritrean girl. This, coupled with the Italian story, enraged the local populace, with “diaspora Eritreans [accusing] UNMEE of trying to destroy their country by ‘bringing their sick nature with them.’”[3]

Though there were few reported incidents of abuse throughout the entire mission, it reveals that the cancer that is sexual abuse was still strong in peacekeeping operations.

Liberia

In September 2003, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requested that a peacekeeping force be deployed to Liberia to support the transitional government in their attempt to establish order and legitimacy, primarily stemming from the second Liberian civil war, with forces being deployed that month.[4]

The chief of the UN mission, Jacques Paul Klein, a French UN diplomat, emphasized that the zero-tolerance rule for sexual misconduct would be enforced and that anyone caught having sex with minors would be summarily repatriated.[5] Despite these reassurances and even the enforcement of a midnight curfew, abuse still occurred. 

An internal UN letter from 2004, written by a UN Children’s Fund representative to the mission’s second-highest ranking official, stated that “girls as young as 12 years of age are engaged in prostitution, forced into sex acts and sometimes photographed by UN peacekeepers in exchange for $10 or food or other commodities,”[6] noted the failure to address several misconduct reports, and that the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, Louise Frechette, was pressuring leadership to crack down on sexual abuse.[7]

This information of the abuse of young girls was made all the worse when the UK branch of the children-oriented humanitarian organization Save The Children published a 2005 report which found that “girls as young as eight were selling sex for items such as food, beer, clothing, perfume or mobile phones [while others] were reported as having sex with adults in return for good school grades, video screenings or rides in cars”[8] and those bribing and raping these girls were primarily UN peacekeepers and agency staff. There was a stark hypocrisy as these same individuals would promote anti-sexual exploitation and abuse narratives, but would partake in that very exploitation on their off hours.

The girls would actively sell themselves to peacekeepers and aid workers as a way to make money, but there was still risk. Beyond getting sexually transmitted infections, if a girl were to become pregnant, they would quickly be disowned and blamed for their situation, despite her parents enjoying the extra funds that were being produced.[9]

The situation was extremely predatory, with “children [being] viewed as potential sexual conquests.” One example is Oretha, 15, and her 16 year old sister Sarah, who “go to the town's [Foya’s] main highway and beg from foreign aid workers in NGO-branded 4x4s who give them the equivalent of 40 pence [$0.54 USD] in exchange for sex.” If the highways were bare, “they go to the base where the UN peacekeepers are stationed and ask for food, but they say the peacekeepers, too, expect sex in return.”[10]

The allegations of purchasing sex came up again in 2015 when a report from the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services noted that peacekeepers in Liberia were purchasing sex by offering money, jewelry, and cell phones, among a variety of items used to bribe and lure victims.[11] This effectively created a free-for-all of sorts where peacekeepers can abuse women and girls, with little to no concern in being held responsible for their actions.

While testimonies and reports are useful in examining the level of abuse that occurs, statistics help to create an even fuller picture, however even if one looks at the numbers, it is impossible to get an encompassing analysis.

The Numbers Game

In March 2007, the UN reported some positive changes regarding sexual abuse allegations, namely that the number of assaults in Liberia decreased from 45 to 30, with programs such as “a compulsory induction course for all military and civilian staff members to raise awareness about the effects and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse”[12] and training local NGOs to spread the message about the UN’s program on preventing such abuse being credited for the decline. However, we have to question the numbers as there are serious problems with how they are calculated. There are two main problems: 1) the sole reliance of reporting of cases as a way of gathering data and the larger issues that stem from that and 2) the actual statistical data being so muddled that it is, at the very least, extremely difficult to get any hard numbers on the matter.

Though the UN touts its zero-tolerance policy, it is extremely important to note that the entire policy depends on people reporting abuse. While there may be actions that are an attempt to mitigate the chances of sexual abuse happening, overall, the ability of the UN to enforce its zero-tolerance policy is extremely difficult[13], as can be seen in the form of patrols. Patrols looking to curb and enforce sexual abuse laws still have difficulties as 

situations that may be seen as suspicious with regards to SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] often end up going unreported and unpunished or, if reported, garnering only a minor punishment. A typical example – and one we witnessed personally – is when a mission staffer is caught with a local person in the car. Because the couple (in this case a male UN employee and female local, in a UN vehicle parked by the side of the road at ten o’clock on a Friday night) was not caught en flagrante and neither admitted any wrongdoing (indeed, the woman slipped out of the car and quickly vanished), the end result was that the employee would only be reported as having an unauthorized personnel in his vehicle.[14]

Rather than deal similar problems through the proper channels, it was dealt with internally, generally resulting only in a peacekeeper losing their driver’s license. Not only does this deprive the victims of justice, but it also helps to skew reported numbers of sexual abuse, making the problem seem less prevalent than it actually is. Just as bad, however, is that even if there are reports from third parties, it’s almost impossible to substantiate the accusations due to the lack of physical evidence or eyewitnesses. Many times, when a victim comes forward, it devolves into a ‘he said, she said’ situation, again making enforcement near impossible.

A secondary problem with relying on reporting as the primary means of enforcing sexual abuse rules is that it assumes that sending up such incidents is a unit priority, that “reporting cases of SEA will trump other priorities – such as loyalty to colleagues or a desire not to get involved in someone else’s private life.”[15] To those ends, it has been found that many peacekeepers have an idea of what is and isn’t ‘legitimate’ sexual abuse and will act on those ideas when deciding whether or not to report.

The situation was looked at in-depth in 2013 when an independent report was conducted which evaluated the sexual abuse prevention efforts in UN missions in Haiti, Liberia, the Congo, and South Sudan, respectively. The team of was composed of General Paban J. Thapa, a retired Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Dr. Thelma Awori, a retired Assistant Secretary General of UNDP Africa, and Dr. Catherine Lutz, a professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

It was brought to light that there were a number of bureaucratic issues that resulted in a decrease in reports being sent up, such as:

 1) That there were multiple routes for reporting which created problems when attempting to track cases.

2) The lack of information sharing between the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Conduct and Discipline team, and the military/police.

3) The military police weren’t out in the field, which denied “the Force Commander information about conduct and discipline that could be used to enforce the SEA policy and regulations.”[16]

4) There were poor investigation methods, which creates problems when trying to prosecute a case due to lack of evidence or evidence not meeting a high standard.

5) There was generally “a culture of enforcement avoidance, with managers feeling powerless to enforce anti-SEA rules, a culture of silence around reporting and discussing cases, and a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”[17]

All of the problems reinforce one another, resulting in the victims being thrown away and ignored, while priority is given to abusers whose protection is multi-layered.

The conspiracy of silence even extended to victims, as many peacekeepers would simply pay them off and go about their way while the peacekeepers who would stand up for the protections and rights of victims would be stigmatized by their peers.[18]

Academic Kate Grady conducted a study on UN abuse statistics, which found in part that “the manner in which this data has been collated, presented and explained raises a number of questions as to the reliability of these statistics.”[19] For example, in 2004, statistics were provided on ‘cases,’ however the term itself was never defined and in subsequent UN reports, there was the use of phrases such as ‘allegations’ and ‘cases,’ which still lacked any definition.[20]

In 2007, a sliver of insight was provided regarding these terms, with a footnote explaining that “it should be noted that these numbers do not reflect the number of alleged perpetrators nor victims, as multiple allegations could correspond to one alleged perpetrator” and “conversely, a single allegation may be made in respect of more than one individual.” However, in later years, “the reports explain that ‘each allegation may involve more than one possible victim,’ but do not say whether any allegations cover more than one perpetrator.”[21] The lack of definitive definitions and explanations as to the details of each case or allegation and if they involve one peacekeeper and one victim or multiple peacekeepers with a single or multiple victims results in not only a dearth of understanding regarding sexual abuse, but also an inability to get a full view of the amount of abuse that is occurring.

The situation seems to be that the UN isn’t even attempting to measure the amount of abuse, but is rather “measuring the number of communications it receives about incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse.” Yet that leads to a different problem altogether, as it could mean that the measuring methods of these communications could result in having “incidents involving multiple victims or multiple perpetrators are masked since they are treated as only one allegation.”[22] This situation is made all the worse as the UN doesn’t say if it is able to account for cases that have been doubly reported and adjust accordingly. 

On some level, there was an attempt to remedy this as UN Secretary General, António Guterres, stated that he would seek support in establishing a centralized repository of cases, which would be under the Special Coordinator on Improving the United Nations Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, with the goals of “[accelerating] the provision of appropriate aid to victims, [helping] to regularize the initiation of appropriate administrative and criminal investigations, and [providing] system-wide empirical data for more in-depth analysis of events to aid in understanding patterns of misconduct, in order to devise more effective preventive measures.”[23] However, the overall bureaucratic and linguistic problems still majorly contribute to the underreporting of abuse cases.

Burundi

In 2004, UN peacekeepers were sent to Burundi to aid in a national reconciliation attempt to end the civil war between Hutus and Tutsis.[24]

From the outset, the UN was adamant about preventing sexual abuse, with head of the mission and Canadian diplomat, Carolyn McAskie stating in an interview that the UN was enacting plans to curb the chances of abuse happening, such as having certain areas of a town be considered off limits and the threat of dismissal being used for troops who attempt to solicit prostitutes.[25]

This was followed up by discussions with battalion commanders on the issue and creating some level of accountability by having commanders face increased scrutiny as greater training and accountability was implemented. There was also a policy change which required that members report abuse, even if it was only suspect.[26]

Unfortunately, abuse still took place, with two peacekeepers being found guilty of having sex with prostitutes, one of whom was a minor.[27] Thankfully, that was the only reported case and the UN departed in 2007.

Ivory Coast

UN peacekeepers deployed to the Ivory Coast in 2004 to aid in ending the nation’s civil war and guiding it to have free and fair presidential elections.[28]

In 2007, the UN began to investigate serious accusations of abuse involving Moroccan soldiers having sex with “a large number of underage girls,”[29] which resulted in an entire battalion being confined to their barracks.

More information on the amount of abuse that was going on was brought to light via Save The Children with their 2008 report entitled No One To Turn To: The Under-reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Aid Workers and Peacekeepers.

Based on field work done in Southern Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, it was found that “children as young as six [were] trading sex with aid workers and peacekeepers in exchange for food, money, soap and, in a very few cases, luxury items such as mobile phones.”[30] There was even testimony from Ivory Coast children who discussed what went on in their respective towns. One boy stated that the peacekeepers “[asked] them for various types of favors,” while others went into more detail:

Sometimes they ask us to find them girls. They especially ask us for girls of our age. Often it will be between eight and ten men who will share two or three girls. When I suggest an older girl, they say that they want a young girl, the same age as us.

[…]

For us, we said to ourselves that even if it is bad, we are gaining something from it too. So we continue because we then get the benefits, such as money, new t-shirts, souvenirs, watches and tennis shoes. They also used their mobile phones to film the girls.[31]

The utter lack of morality in these peacekeepers is truly revealed here in that they are literally using children as middle men in order to abuse and denigrate other children, going about and bribing people who are in desperate need of bare necessities and preying upon them. The worst aspect is that local authorities weren’t able to unable to prosecute the perpetrators, in spite of knowing their identities, due to insufficient evidence and lack of cooperation.[32]

The use of bribing underage girls for sex was further confirmed in 2011 when a U.S. Embassy cable was released by Wikileaks. The cable focused on peacekeepers from Benin that were in the town of Toulepleu, where it was found that “parents were encouraging their daughters to sleep with the peacekeepers so they would provide for them.”[33] This only reveals the extent to which the abuse had been normalized, to the point that parents would encourage their children to sleep with UN troops. A total of 16 Beninese peacekeepers were subsequently barred.[34]

Still, some were never punished, such as in 2008, when it was reported that that ten UN peacekeepers gang-raped a 13 year old girl, with her saying that they grabbed her, threw her on the ground, and raped her. ‘Elizabeth’ stated “I was terrified. Then they just left me there bleeding.”[35] Yet no action was taken against the soldiers and worse, it was found that aid workers had been sexually abusing children, both boys and girls. There was also the case of fourteen Moroccan soldiers, where information “including DNA evidence showing that some had fathered children”[36]  was considered inconclusive and so the Moroccan government dropped all charges against the soldiers.

The mission came to a close in 2017.

Haiti

During February 2004, among the US-motivated and deeply controversial departure of Haitian president[37], Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN moved in to clamp down on the fighting that sparked up in multiple cities around the country.[38]

At the start of the operation, it seemed that the zero-tolerance policy was taken seriously, with one high level military commander saying that he was “very concerned about sexual exploitation” with a senior police official adding that its wrongness “[needed] be drummed into people. It has to be reinforced all the time.”[39] Despite these strong assertions of zero tolerance, many Haitians were not convinced that the UN took the issue seriously.

In February 2005, two UN soldiers were suspended after having sex with a prostitute[40], however, this was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the interactions between prostitutes and UN forces. The humanitarian organization Refugees International issued a report where it was stated that “prostitutes haunt the streets every evening and hang out in many of the bars frequented by UN staff,”[41] with one Haitian man saying that such establishments actively fed into the increase in prostitution and that the police were even involved.

Bolstering the argument that the UN presence aided in the proliferation of prostitution, a Haitian women’s group stated: “We’ve seen an increase in prostitution since MINUSTAH came. In 1994, we had a lot of problems with the Multinational Forces. The [peacekeepers] bring their bad habits with them to Haiti, but they do not bring change.”[42]

Interestingly enough, the ‘zero contact’ policy that was enacted in Haiti led to “increased complaints of sexual harassment by UN female personnel, both local and international,”[43] which when added onto the reluctance of victims to come forward, created a de facto wall of silence which restricted the UN’s ability to investigate allegations and get a full understanding of the problem.

The peacekeepers often contributed to larger, ongoing problems in Haiti. Violence, both physical and sexual, already came from criminals and the Haitian National Police. So the UN peacekeepers, primarily the ones from Brazil and Jordan[44], simply added on yet another layer of destruction, pain, and misery for a populace that was already bearing massive political and economic burden. This was made all the worse when those peacekeepers were the ones who would supposedly bring protection and stability but delivered the opposite.

In late 2006, the BBC revealed the amount of sexual abuse that was ongoing in Haiti, with one 11 year old girl reporting sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Another 14 year old girl described her personal horror of having been abducted and raped inside a UN naval base two years prior, where “despite detailed medical and circumstantial evidence, the allegation was dismissed by the UN for lack of evidence”[45] and the attacker was repatriated to their nation of origin. 

There were peacekeepers who would regularly take advantage of the cash-strapped and desperate population for their own depraved ends, with one incident occurring of a “14-year-old girl who told of the peacekeeper who offered her jelly, sweets and a few dollars for sex with her and her friend - a child of just 11 years.”[46] BBC reporter Mike Williams told of one especially horrific story.

Sarah (not her real name) is a fragile looking girl of 16. She says that two years ago, she was raped by a Brazilian soldier serving with the UN mission there.

She stared at the ground while we talked and, almost in a whisper, she explained what happened: "He held me down by the arms and held both my wrists, twisting them back and we struggled together. And then he raped me."

Her mother cried while she recalled that day: "When I found her I didn't recognize my own child," she says. "She had the face of a dead person - I started to cry out, she couldn't tell me what had happened."[47]

Once again, there was insufficient evidence to find the perpetrator guilty of any crimes. This was a regular occurrence unfortunately. 

In some cases, there would be problems due to relatives, such as with ‘Natasha,’ who was raped by a Sri Lankan peacekeeper in 2004, but whose mother forbade her from making a complaint for two years due to the stigma attached to rape.[48] Such actions only helped to muddy the waters with regards to testimony and evidence, effectively aiding the offending party in avoiding justice. Though one of the UN’s biggest miscarriages of justice would happen in 2011.

In September 2011, a video began circulating on the internet which showed a Haitian man being sexually assaulted by a group of Uruguayan peacekeepers. Eventually it was found that the assault had occurred in July, but the video, which showed four UN troops attacking Johnny Jean, only surfaced in the following months.

Two young Haitian men had come across the video while looking at a peacekeeper’s cell phone when they were exchanging music and one of the men recognized Jean and transferred the video to his own personal device, turning the video over to a local journalist soon after. The two men later met with a UN official who immediately denied any allegations, but was then shown the video.[49]

A preliminary investigation done by the UN “found that the men did not sexually abuse the Haitian teen but that they committed misconduct by allowing a civilian into their barrack and could face severe penalties,”[50] however, this is in direct conflict with information provided by medical professionals which proved that Jean “had sustained injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted,”[51] as well as the video itself being sexual in nature. It should be emphasized, though, that there was evidence of sexual assault not just in the immediate aftermath, but could still be found five weeks after the incident.[52] From the beginning of the situation, not only do we see the immediate denial by UN officials, but then further rejection of something that is crystal clear.

Eventually, the accused soldiers were freed due to the case having stalled[53], the details of which are rather intriguing. Jean was scheduled to testify against his attackers, with a UN spokesperson stating that the soldiers would be free until Jean could be located to provide his testimony, however he had to actually be in Uruguay to testify.[54]  Actions such as these simply reinforce an observation made by the US Institute of Peace, which noted that there was a need to create effective programs to assist victims, especially when they themselves nor the UN were unable to hold abusers accountable.[55]

Another travesty of justice would take place in 2012 when Pakistani peacekeepers were accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy. UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky stated that Pakistani authorities had said that the guilty individuals would be punished, “including through dishonorable discharge from service with loss of benefits and imprisonment, the latter sentence to be served immediately on return to Pakistan.”[56] Unfortunately, the punishment was laughable, as the perpetrators only served a single year in prison.[57] Even worse, was how the UN dealt with it. They agreed to have the soldiers tried in a closed trial at a Pakistani military court and took at face value assurances that there would be financial compensation for the victims. Unsurprisingly, no compensation occurred, the troops were essentially given a slap on the wrist, and Pakistani soldiers still continued going over to Haiti, unabated.

UN Assistant Secretary for Field Support, Anthony Banbury, gave some major insight when he spoke to the New York Times about the case: “People can always say punishment was too light or whatever, but the system worked as it should.”[58] (emphasis added) In doing so, he reveals that the manner in which the system works is that the UN plays dumb and pretends that national militaries will try their soldiers fairly, while making no effort to hold them accountable, and willingly leaves victims out to dry.

Similarly to Liberia and the Ivory Coast, peacekeepers in Haiti were found to have transactional sex with women in exchange for basic needs like cash, food, medication, and more. The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight stated in the aforementioned draft report that there was “significant underreporting” of abuse and noted further problems, most prominently how “a third of alleged sexual abuse involves people younger than 18, [assistance] to victims is ‘severely deficient,”[59] and that investigations regularly took over a year to complete. 

The year 2015 actually saw an increase in sexual abuse cases, with a total of 99 compared to 80 in 2014.[60] A UN report stated that the Secretary General would work within his authority to ensure that abusers would be held responsible “through disciplinary actions or criminal accountability measures when so warranted” and that the Secretary General “was determined to take measures to prevent misconduct.”[61] To those ends, a number of new initiatives were to be launched, including a mandatory e-learning program on sexual abuse, asking that troop contributing nations’ pre-deployment training be up to UN standards, and the development of a complaint reception mechanism to encourage people to come forward.[62]

In the following years, there was also a change to policy as António Guterres, a Portuguese politician and diplomat, took over from Ban Ki-Moon in 2017. The new Secretary General wanted all personnel to have written statements saying that they understood and would abide by the UN’s policy against sexual exploitation and abuse.[63] 

New ideas were being put into place, senior leaders were to issue management letters to “their governing bodies certifying that all allegations have been reported and appropriate action is taken on them,” screening mechanisms would work to ensure that abusers weren’t able to leave one element of the UN only to be hired in another, and anyone involved in field activities would “be required to carry the ‘no excuses’ pocket card that restates our rules and spell out how to report allegations,”[64] among other reforms.

On the topic of aiding victims, little was done. The UN Field Support Chief, Atul Khare, an Indian diplomat, spoke of the creation of a trust fund to get victims the psychological, medical, and legal help they needed, though he did note “It would be funded voluntarily, but also from the salaries withheld from those who face significant allegations which have been substantiated.”[65] This simply hearkens back to the problem that victims are not prioritized in the process of seeking justice. Unfortunately, these changes would not be enough to prevent some of the most egregious abuse that was to occur during the mission.

In 2007, it was uncovered that over 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers were alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse and were sent packing. More specifically they were accused of transactional sex, with UN spokeswoman Michele Montas adding that “there is the question of some underage girls.” More horrors were to come though, as these allegations didn’t stop other Sri Lankans from coming over to aid in operations. The Associated Press broke the story in 2017, in which they found a child sex ring was ongoing, where young girls were regularly abused.

The Sri Lankan peacekeepers wanted sex from girls and boys as young as 12. “I did not even have breasts,” said a girl, known as V01 — Victim No. 1. She told U.N. investigators that over the next three years, from ages 12 to 15, she had sex with nearly 50 peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who gave her 75 cents.[67]

It was found that between 2004 and 2007, 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers, at minimum, exploited nine children. Not a single person was imprisoned. 

Interestingly enough, the UN data, which draws information focused on sexual abuse over a 12 year period, was found to be incomplete, varying in the amount of details especially for cases before 2010, and that “hundreds of cases were closed with little or no explanation.”[68] (emphasis added) While the soldiers involved in the sex ring were sent home, they were” still in the Sri Lankan military as of [2016]”[69] and the UN still took soldiers from Sri Lanka and sent them to Haiti in spite of the child sex ring.

A Sri Lankan general, Major General Jagath Dias, was sent in 2013 to investigate the matter, though he may not have been the best person for the job due to the fact that he was most likely a war criminal, who stood “accused of attacking civilians and bombing a church, a hospital and other humanitarian outposts in 2009, during the fierce last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war.”[70] The AP found that “Sri Lanka has never prosecuted a single soldier for sexual assault or sexual misconduct while serving in a peacekeeping mission abroad.”[71] (emphasis added) Undeterred by the accusations against the general and the lack of discipline in the Sri Lankan army, the U.N. still accepted Dias as the investigator and said they were “working with the Sri Lankan government on enhanced screening for prospective peacekeepers,” such as providing a backlog for all soldiers they send over so they could be screened by the UN.

While the mission ended in 2017[72], there were still lingering effects, especially for the children who had been fathered by peacekeepers. Haitians created new terms to describe them, “bébés casques bleus (blue helmet babies) or ‘les enfants abandonnés par la MINUSTAH’ (the children who are abandoned by the MINUSTAH),”[73] something that denotes how they were ‘othered’ in a way and a group distinct from average Haitians.

The peacekeepers created major rifts in Haiti, as they would make lavish promises to girls, “they would say that they are going to pay for their school, allow them to go to the university”[74] but nothing would materialize.

These false promises would lead to frustration later on for women who wound up birthing these peacekeeper’s children, where the mother would be the sole provider. Many of these girls were under the age of 18 at the time of their relationships with UN troops and when they had children with them, which caused a rift in not only their familial relations, as was expounded upon by one woman:

Now, the child is 4 years old and I haven’t ever received support from an NGO, from the Brazilians, from the Haitian state. It’s only me that’s giving to the child to eat because I can’t pay for school for the child… When I was with the Brazilian, I was 14 years old. I went to school at a Christian school. When I became pregnant, my father kicked me out of the house. And now I do work for someone who gives me 25 gourdes [about $0.35 USD] so that me and my child can eat.[75]

While the soldiers left, the scars of abuse echoed and lingered, casting a dark, haunting shadow over the island nation.

Sudan

In 2005, following the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which formally ended Sudan’s 21 year civil war, the UN dispatched soldiers in order to aid in its implementation, demine areas, and help repatriate refugees.[76]

Within two years, the UN was already sending soldiers back home. January 2007 saw four Bangladeshi soldiers being sent home for alleged sexual abuse.[77] That same month, it was reported that “peacekeeping and civilian staff based in Juba are accused of picking up young children and forcing them to have sex,”[78] with peacekeepers raping and abusing children as young as 12, with it having begun in 2005 and indications emerging within months of international troops initially arriving. Due to the economic disparities, some people who were abused want to continue the situation in order to have at least some money, such as was with one 14 year old boy by the name of Jonas who told of his own abuse.

"A man in a white car drove past and asked me if I wanted to get into the car with him. I saw that the car was a UN car because it was white with the black letters on it. The man had a badge on his clothes. When he stopped the car, we got out, he put a blindfold on me and started to abuse me. It was painful and went on for a long time. When it was over we went back to the place we had been, and he pushed me out of the car and left."

Jonas now returns to the same place regularly in the hope of being picked up and paid something for his services. "I know it is a terrible thing to do but I see the UN cars around late at night by the drinking places and I sit there in the hope of being picked up. If I get 1000 SD ($3) a day then that is a good day."[79]

Not much abuse was reported, but the fact that something like this was going on for two years coupled with there being known cases of under-reporting, only shows that abuse was occurring, but not reported on in the media. The very fact that victims would continue their own abuse to have money highlights the desperation and depravity of the situation. 

While the UN Sudan mission ended in 2011, when South Sudan became its own nation[80], forces remained in Darfur until 2020. Still, another mission was set up immediately in the new nation of South Sudan. The UN still has ongoing missions and in those can be seen an echo of cold and uncaring environment for victims that has been perpetuated for three decades.

Endnotes

1: United Nations Peacekeeping, Ethiopia and Eritrea - UNMEE – Background, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/past/unmee/background.html 

2: United Nations, UN Mission in Ethiopia, Eritrea to probe misconduct charges against former peacekeeper, https://news.un.org/en/story/2001/08/11652-un-mission-ethiopia-eritrea-probe-misconduct-charges-against-former-peacekeeper (August 27, 2001)

3: Elise Fredrikke Barth, Karen Hostens, Louise Olsson, Inger Skjelsbæk, Gender Aspects of Conflict Interventions: Intended and Unintended Consequences, Peace Research Institute Oslo Center on Gender, Peace, and Security, https://gps.prio.org/utility/DownloadFile.ashx?id=1133&type=publicationfile (March 2004), pg 13

4: The New Humanitarian, Annan asks for 15,000 UN peacekeepers for Liberia, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/report/46188/liberia-annan-asks-15000-un-peacekeepers-liberia (September 16, 2003)

5: Relief Web, Sexual exploitation in Liberia: Are the conditions ripe for another scandal? https://reliefweb.int/report/liberia/sexual-exploitation-liberia-are-conditions-ripe-another-scandal (April 20, 2004)

6: The New Humanitarian, UNMIL investigating alleged sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in four incidents, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2005/05/03/unmil-investigating-alleged-sexual-misconduct-peacekeepers-four-incidents (May 3, 2005)

7: Colum Lynch, “U.N. Faces More Accusations of Sexual Misconduct,” Washington Post, March 13, 2005 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A30286-2005Mar12.html)

8: David Fickling, “Aid staff abusing Liberian children, charity says,” The Guardian, May 8, 2006 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/may/08/westafrica.davidfickling) 

9: Ibid

10: Jenny Kleeman, “Liberia’s childhood horror,” The Guardian, October 16, 2009 (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/oct/16/liberia-rape)

11: James Butty, “UN Peacekeepers in Liberia Accused of Buying Sex,” Voice of America News, June 12, 2015 (https://www.voanews.com/africa/un-peacekeepers-liberia-accused-buying-sex) 

12: UN News, UN in Liberia report shows decline in sex abuse allegations; envoy says some progress, https://news.un.org/en/story/2007/03/211582-un-liberia-report-shows-decline-sex-abuse-allegations-envoy-says-some-progress (March 9, 2007)

13: Kathleen M. Jennings, Protecting Whom? Approaches to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations, Fafo Research Foundation, http://lastradainternational.org/lsidocs/fafo_approaches_abuse_0309.pdf (2008), pg 25

14: Ibid, pg 26

15: Ibid, pg 28

16: 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 3

17: Ibid 

18: Ibid, pg 7

19: Kate Grady, “Sex, Statistics, Peacekeepers and Power: UN Data on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and the Quest for Legal Reform,” Modern Law Review 79:6 (November 2016), pg 936

20: Ibid

21: Ibid, pg 937

22: Ibid

23: United Nations, General Assembly, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach, A/71/818, February 28, 2017 (https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/sg_report_a_71_818_special_measures_for_protection_from_sexual_exploitation_and_abuse.pdf), pg 11

24: UN Peacekeeping, The United Nations in Burundi: Peacekeeping Mission Completes its Mandate, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/past/onub/photos.pdf (December 31, 2006)

25: Relief Web, IRIN interview with Carolyn McAskie, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Burundi, https://reliefweb.int/report/burundi/irin-interview-carolyn-mcaskie-head-un-peacekeeping-mission-burundi (November 5, 2004)

26: Global Policy Forum, UN Reforms Aim to End Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers, https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/199/40951.html (May 25, 2005)

27: BBC, UN sex abuse sackings in Burundi, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4697465.stm (July 19, 2005)

28: Joe Bavier, "U.N. closes Ivory Coast mission, security remains fragile," Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ivorycoast-un-peacekeepers-idUSKBN19L1VK (June 30, 2017)

29: Claudia Parson, “Moroccan UN troops accused of abuse in Ivory Coast,” Reuters, July 20, 2007 (https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&u=https://jp.reuters.com/article/idUSN20327686&prev=search&pto=aue)

30: Corinna Csáky, Save The Children UK, No One To Turn To: The Under-reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Aid Workers and Peacekeepers, https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/global/reports/education-and-child-protection/no-one-to-turn-to.pdf (March 2008), pg 5

31: Ibid, pg 6

32: Ibid, pg 16

33: Daily Mail, UN peacekeepers 'traded food for sex with underage girls' in west Africa, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2032951/WikiLeaks-releases-U-S-diplomatic-cable-exposing-scandal-U-N-peacekeepers-traded-sex-food-underage-girls.html (September 2, 2011)

34: Defence Web, United Nations bars 16 peacekeepers from Benin following Ivory Coast sex abuse claims, https://www.defenceweb.co.za/joint/diplomacy-a-peace/united-nations-bars-16-peacekeepers-from-benin-following-ivory-coast-sex-abuse-claims/ (September 6, 2011)

35: BBC, Peacekeepers 'abusing children,’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7420798.stm (May 27, 2008)

36: Carla Ferstman, Criminalizing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers, United States Institute of Peace, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR335-Criminalizing%20Sexual%20Exploitation%20and%20Abuse%20by%20Peacekeepers.pdf (2013), pg 4

37: Scott Cooper, Annals of American Imperialism: The 1991 Coup in Haiti, Left Voice, https://www.leftvoice.org/annals-of-american-imperialism-the-1991-coup-in-haiti (September 29, 2020)

See also: Ansel Herz, Kim Ives, “WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files,” The Nation, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/wikileaks-haiti-aristide-files/ (August 5, 2011)

38: UN Peacekeeping, MINUSTAH Fact Sheet, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/minustah 

39: Relief Web, Haiti: Sexual exploitation by peacekeepers likely to be a problem, https://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/haiti-sexual-exploitation-peacekeepers-likely-be-problem (May 7, 2005)

40: Haiti Democracy Project, U.N. Soldiers Suspended in Prostitution Incident, https://haitipolicy.org/2005/02/u-n-soldiers-suspended-in-prostitution-incident (February 24, 2005)

41: Sarah Martin, Must Boys Be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in U.N. Peacekeeping, Refugees International, https://web.archive.org/web/20051023224811/http://www.refugeesinternational.org/files/6976_file_FINAL_MustBoys.pdf (October 2005), pg 5

42: Ibid, pg 6

43: Ibid, pg 7

44: Royce A. Hutson, Athena R. Kolbe, “Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households,” The Lancet 368:9538 (2006), pg 872

45: BBC, UN troops face child abuse claims, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6195830.stm (November 30, 2006)

46: BBC, Fears Over Haiti Child ‘Abuse,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6159923.stm (November 30, 2006)

47: Ibid

48: Reed Lindsay, “U.N. effort dogged by sex claims / Peacekeepers based in Haiti the latest accused of abuse,” SF Gate, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/U-N-effort-dogged-by-sex-claims-Peacekeepers-2481908.php (December 22, 2006)

49: Democracy Now, Video of U.N. Peacekeepers’ Sexual Assault of Haitian Prompts Calls to Focus on Post-Quake Rebuilding, https://www.democracynow.org/2011/9/6/video_of_un_peacekeepers_sexual_assault (September 6, 2011)

50: Trenton Daniel, Raul O. Garces, “Haiti: Boy Who Claims Sexual Assault By Uruguay Peacekeepers Supported By Demonstrators,” Huffington Post, September 6, 2011 (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/haiti-sexual-assault-un-peacekeepers_n_950159)

51: Ansel Hertz, Matthew Mosk, Rym Momtaz, “U.N. Peacekeepers Accused of Sexually Assaulting Haitian Teen,” ABC News, September 2, 2011 (https://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/peacekeepers-accused-sexually-assaulting-haitian-teen/story?id=14437122)

52: Huffington Post, September 6, 2011

53: Ansel Herz, Matthew Mosk, Brian Ross, “Haiti Outrage: UN Soldiers from Sex Assault Video Freed,” ABC News, January 6, 2012 (https://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/soldiers-held-sex-assault-freed/story?id=15306826) 

54: Maha Hilal, Fawwaz Mustafa, Michelle Seyler, Zoe Walden, Tipping The Scales: Is The United Nations Justice System Promoting Accountability in the Peacekeeping Missions or Undermining It? Government Accountability Project, https://web.archive.org/web/20140418010726/https://whistleblower.org/sites/default/files/FinalTippingTheScales.pdf (September 2012)

55: Ibid

56: UN News, Haiti: Three UN peacekeepers repatriated for sexual abuse, https://news.un.org/en/story/2012/03/406312-haiti-three-un-peacekeepers-repatriated-sexual-abuse (March 13, 2012)

57: Amnesty International, Convictions Against UN Peacekeepers in Haiti Do Not Serve Justice, https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2012/03/convictions-against-un-peacekeepers-haiti-do-not-serve-justice/ (March 15, 2012)

58: Jake Johnston, UN Points to MINUSTAH as “Model of Accountability” for Sexual Abuse Cases, Center For Economic and Policy Research, https://cepr.net/un-points-to-minustah-as-model-of-accountability-for-sexual-abuse-cases/ (May 27, 2015)

59: Justin Moyer, “Report: U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti had ‘transactional sex’ with hundreds of poor women,” Washington Post, June 11, 2015 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/11/report-u-n-peacekeepers-in-haiti-had-transactional-sex-with-hundreds-of-poor-women/) 

60: United Nations, General Assembly, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, A/70/729, February 26, 2016 (https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/a_70_729.pdf), pg 2

61: Ibid, pg 7

62: Ibid, pgs 15-16

63: Somini Sengupta, “U.N. Plans Reforms to Stamp Out Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers,” New York Times, March 8, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/world/americas/united-nations-antonio-guterres-peackeepers.html)

64: UN Permanent Missions, SG launches new strategy to fight Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, https://www.un.int/news/sg-launches-new-strategy-fight-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse (March 9, 2017)

65: UN News, ‘We must not allow protectors to become predators’ – UN field support chief, https://news.un.org/en/story/2016/03/523592-we-must-not-allow-protectors-become-predators-un-field-support-chief (March 4, 2016)

66: Reuters, Peacekeepers Accused of Abuse in Haiti, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-un-abuse-srilanka/peacekeepers-accused-of-abuse-in-haiti-idUKN0259118620071102 (November 2, 2007)

67: Paisley Dodds, “UN child sex ring left victims but no arrests,” Associated Press, April 12, 2017 (https://apnews.com/article/e6ebc331460345c5abd4f57d77f535c1) 

68: Ibid

69: Ibid

70: Katy Daigle, Paisley Dodds, “UN Peacekeepers: How a Haiti child sex ring was whitewashed,” Associated Press, May 26, 2017 (https://apnews.com/article/96f9ff66b7b34d9f971edf0e92e2082c) 

71: Ibid

72: Somini Sengupta, “U.N. Votes Unanimously to End Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti,” New York Times, April 13, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/world/americas/un-peacekeeping-haiti-cholera.html) 

73: Susan Bartels, Sabine Lee, “They Put a Few Coins in Your Hand to Drop a Baby in You: A Study of Peacekeeper-fathered Children in Haiti,” International Peacekeeping 27:2 (December 2019), pg 182

74: Ibid, pg 190

75: Ibid, pg 192

76: United Nations, Security Council, Security Council Establishes UN Mission in Sudan for Initial Period of Six Months Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1590, SC/8343, March 24, 2005 (https://www.un.org/press/en/2005/sc8343.doc.htm) 

77: ReliefWeb, Sudan: Four peacekeepers accused of sex abuse already repatriated - UN mission in Sudan, https://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-four-peacekeepers-accused-sex-abuse-already-repatriated-un-mission-sudan (January 4, 2007)

78: Kate Holt, Sarah Hughes, “UN staff accused of raping children in Sudan,” The Telegraph, January 4, 2007 (https://web.archive.org/web/20080608090750/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1538476/UN-staff-accused-of-raping-children-in-Sudan.html) 

79: Ibid

80: UN Peacekeeping, UNMIS: United Nations Mission in Sudan, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/past/unmis/ 

81: Michelle Nichols, “U.N., African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur to end Dec. 31,” Reuters, December 23, 2020 (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/un-african-union-peacekeeping-mission-in-sudans-darfur-to-end-dec-31/ar-BB1caayO)