By Felipe Bueno
United Nations peacekeeping troops have recently come under heavy scrutiny for various sexual assault accusations. Peacekeeping troops have had a dark, longstanding history, of sexual assault, child prostitution, and human trafficking. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary General of the United Nations, has called these acts a “Cancer” in the system that is the UN, yet shows few sign of helping to stop the issue.
Newsweek reports that in the past decade, as United Nations Peacekeeping troops have grown from 34,000 in 2000 to 106,000 in 2016, accusations of sexual assault against the troops have also increased. This has been attributed to the growth in the number of states who have contributed both funds and troops, and the growing demand of peacekeeping troops in central African countries.
Experts claim that with a higher supply of troops to these impoverished nations, troops feel a greater power differential between themselves and the citizens they are helping, which in turn leads to more sexual assaults. These Peacekeeping troops enjoy an incredible level of impunity due to the level structure of the peacekeeping system, leading to less accountability for their actions.
The dark history of these horrendous crimes dates back to the early 1990s, where troops in Mozambique, Bosnia, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were suspected of sex trafficking and prostitution in exchange for money, food, or medical supplies.
In 1996, a U.N. study was written by former First Lady of Mozambique Graça Machel, who reported that “in 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict prepared for the present report, the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.”
Due to public outcry, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan released a special bulletin in 2003 condemning these abuses as reprehensible and established a “zero tolerance” policy. This bulletin has done almost nothing to provide relief – in 2015, Ban Ki-moon released a statement regarding similar allegations that nearly echoes what was said by Annan 12 years prior.
More reports continue to surface regarding sexual assault, including a U.N. Office of International Oversight Services report from May 2015 that recorded 480 allegations of abuse between 2008 and 2013. It should be noted, however, that these are simply the allegations that have been reported, meaning that the true number of victims is probably much higher.
In a report last year, Amnesty International disclosed that in a U.N. Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, a peacekeeper took a twelve-year-old girl out of her house and raped her behind a truck. The girl had been hiding in a bathroom during a house search at 2 A.M. when the peacekeeper approached. The peacekeeper in question was wearing a blue helmet and a standard-issue U.N. vest. A following investigation found medical evidence consistent with sexual assault. The girl in question released a statement “When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth.”