13 January 2016
The fact that recent allegations of sexual abuse of four young girls in the Central African Republic by United Nations peacekeepers were not more widely publicised suggests, perhaps, the frequency of such allegations.
Sexual exploitation and abuse within UN peacekeeping missions is certainly nothing new: a 1992 report shows that soldiers attached to the United Nations Operation in Mozambique recruited girls aged 12-18 years into prostitution.
The report also found that in half of the 12 country studies conducted on child sexual exploitation and abuse in situations of armed conflict, the arrival of peacekeeping troops was associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution. Almost 25 years later, the UN Secretary-General still refers to it as
a cancer in the [UN] system.
So is the UN unable to tackle this heinous practice, or simply unwilling? Perhaps it is both.
Where responsibility lies
UN peacekeepers are not - despite their name - employed directly by the UN but rather are members of their own national services seconded to work with the UN. This has important legal consequences.
Civilian staff of peacekeeping missions, who are also drawn from contributing countries, are liable to prosecution by the host state; military peacekeepers are not. Under article 47(b) of the Model Status of Forces Agreement, countries that contribute soldiers to UN missions have the responsibility to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct by their own soldiers. This document is used, with necessary modifications, as the basis for all peacekeeping operations.
This means that, technically, the UN is powerless to bring about criminal charges against them, despite the fact many of the charges are brought against them: 37 of the 61 sexual abuse allegations made in 2015 were against military personnel.
It is not difficult, then, to imagine how and why states may be able to avoid potential embarrassment by simply ignoring the allegations. Despite recent improvements, historically member state responses to UN follow-ups on prosecutions of the crimes has been abysmally low... Click here to read the full article.