International News

UN Peacekeepers Recalled for Sexual Abuse Charges

By Madison McHugh
Opinion Editor

On March 11, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing special measures presented by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to prevent and combat sexual exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers. Presented to the fifteen-member body alongside several recommendations, the report includes the names of the countries of alleged perpetrators and notes the increase in the number of new allegations in 2015, with 69 of the 99 total allegations consisting of U.N. personnel serving in U.N. peace operations.

The text, named resolution 2272 and sponsored by the United States, “further requested that the Secretary-General replace all units of the troop- or police-contributing country from which the perpetrator is from if appropriate steps have not been taken by the country to investigate the allegation, and/or when the perpetrators have not been held accountable, and/or when there has been failure to inform the Secretary-General of the progress of its investigation or actions taken,” according to the U.N. News Centre.

The new resolution comes as a result of the increasing backlash against complacency in cases of sexual assault with U.N. peacekeepers despite the U.N.’s “zero tolerance” pledge. During the most recent case in Haiti, a Canadian police officer was given only a brief nine-day suspension for sexual exploitation during a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The “exploitative relationship” resulted in the birth of a child, the U.N. said. “He was suspended for nine whole days – nine days,” said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who offered a critique against the U.N.’s failure to act in cases of sexual abuse or exploitation.

Power also brought up the fact that the sexual-abuse issue is a decade-old debate, recalling the last set of promises to investigate from the Security Council in 2005.  “Despite the commitment made by this Council over a decade ago to address this problem, the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers persists,” she said.

Additionally, she lamented on the lack of transparency in the handling of allegations, pointing to the fact that only the Canadian case offered any punishment among 17 fully-investigated cases as of January 2015.  “We need to know whether those allegations are being adequately investigated,” she said. “The victims and their communities … need to know that justice is being served. Yet the opaqueness of the existing system has made it virtually impossible for any of us to know these things.”

Prior to the Security Council meeting, Ban Ki-moon also fired the U.N. peacekeeping chief in the Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye of Senegal, “over the force’s handling of dozens of misconduct allegations, including rape and killing,” according to CBC News. Although Gaye declined to comment, in his letter of resignation as seen by the Associated Press, he said the issue “could be a systemic problem warranting consideration at the highest level of the organization.” He also claims to have taken a “very robust stand” against misconduct, and the spokesperson for the mission, Hamadoun Toure, told the AP that at least six were sent home last month alone.

At the meeting of the Security Council, fourteen of the members voted in favor with one abstention from Egypt, which immediately complained that the issue shouldn’t be used “as a tool to attack troop-contributing countries,” according to The Globe and Mail, expressing the main issue with responding to allegations: the U.N. has no standing army and relies on member states to contribute troops and police for its mission. This lack of an army means much of the criminal investigation and prosecution procedures are left to the peacekeepers’ home countries and, up until now, the U.N. has not named the countries publicly. The fact that the Security Council report revealed the countries may create a new dynamic with a focus on reform based in shame.

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