UN Security Council addresses sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers

            The issue of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers has always sparked a controversy on UN peace operations, had strongly impacted their credibility, and has recently gained more significance following the scandal of sexual abuses perpetrated by French UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the spring of 2014. In fact, allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse by UN peacekeepers rose by a third in 2015, totalizing sixty-nine claims last year (BBC News, 2016). These revolting figures were revealed by an independent panel, which published a report in December 2015 following the sexual exploitation and abuse scandal that erupted in the CAR. Finally, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted last week a resolution on punitive measures to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Let’s retrace the development of this unprecedented decision, the grounds on which it was based, as well as the elements which need further coverage.

            On 17 December 2015, the independent panel chaired by Marie Deschamps, former member of the Supreme Court of Canada, published its Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic. In it, the panel analyzed allegations of sexual abuses in the CAR, which appeared to have mostly been perpetrated by French Sangaris Forces and were not isolated cases.

            The report exposes how UN agencies and officials failed to meet their obligations with regards to investigation, reporting and follow-up of allegations[1]. According to the panel of experts, this indicates a broader issue of fragmentation of responsibility with the UN, as UN staff often erroneously assumed that UN agencies would take responsibility to respond to the allegations. The report also exposes how the UN Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization (UNICEF) and its local NGO partners failed to protect child victims in a timely manner. Furthermore, it states that UN agencies failed to inform the French government of about the allegations, and to support legal proceedings for identification and prosecution of perpetrators. Finally, the breakdown in UN leadership and on the ground is pointed out by the panel, which denounces abuses of authority by UN high-level officials, who disregarded their preventive and reactive duties. According to the report, officials in UN headquarters in Geneva and New York also failed to meet their obligations, but did not commit abuses of authority.

            In view of the events and policies resulting from the allegations, the panel made twelve recommendations to improve the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuses by peacekeepers. It notably advocates the recognition of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers as a form of conflict-related sexual violence to be addressed under the UN’s human rights policies. Furthermore, it advises to create a Coordination Unit and a Working Group in the OHCHR to oversee and coordinate response to conflict-related sexual violence. It requires mandatory and immediate reporting of allegations of sexual violence, as well as the maintenance of a comprehensive and up-to-date human rights database hosted by the OHCHR. It also recommends establishing working groups to review UN policies related to confidentiality, investigative teams available for immediate deployment, and a Trust Fund for victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Finally, the panel endorses further negotiations with Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) to sign provisions, agreements, and common approaches to tackle this issue.

            On 11 March 2016, the UNSC endorsed special measures recommended by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the day before, based on the abovementioned report, to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers. The resolution 2272, sponsored by the U.S.A., was adopted by fourteen votes in favor[2] and one abstention (Egypt). Within it are found the decision “to repatriate a particular military unit or formed police unit of a contingent when there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse by that unit” and the request to replace all units of the contributing country from which perpetrators are, if no appropriate steps have been taken for investigation or accountability. The text also welcomes Member States’ efforts taken in pre-deployment training, encourages UN mechanisms reporting on this issue, and stresses the importance of protection of civilians. On 12 March 2016, Ban Ki-moon welcomed this development in a public statement (UN News Centre, 2016b).

            The UN Security Council made a great step forward in condemning and recalling the responsibility of UN agencies and officials with regards to sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers. It particularly implemented the recommendations of the 2015 report regarding rapid response, accountability, reporting, and involvement of Member States in preventive and reactive actions. Nonetheless, numerous points of the report still need to be addressed, in particular the creation of specific bodies dealing with the allegation of such violations and the signature of provisions, agreements, and common approaches.

 

 

Sophie Vériter

 

[1] In particular, the Human Rights and Justice Section of the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA), the mission’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the Africa Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict failed to follow up on allegations.

[2] Angola, China, France, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Senegal, Spain, Uruguay, the U.K., the U.S.A., and Venezuela.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BBC News. (2016) “UN sex abuse scandal: Rise in allegations against peacekeepers”, World News, March 4. Web. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-35724978

Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic. (2015) Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers, December 17. Web. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/centafricrepub/Independent-Review-Report.pdf

UN News Centre. (2016a) “Security Council endorses steps to combat sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers”, UN News Centre, March 11. Web. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53426#.VucSocdhSu5

UN News Centre. (2016b) “Ban welcomes Security Council action to combat sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers”, UN News Centre, March 12. Wev. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53430#.VucSgsdhSu5

United Nations Security Council. (2016) Draft Resolution S/2016/235, March 10. Web. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://twitdoc.com/view.asp?id=255357&sid=5H19&ext=PDF&lcl=res-2272-E-.pdf&usr=UNMediaLiaison&doc=303988678&key=key-hrkjDXMzGgDv57UnBGtF

 

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