UnitedNations (UN) peacekeeping operations began in 1948 and seek to advanceinternational interests: promotion of peace, stability, democracy, markets,civil society, and good governance in countries in conflict and post-conflictsituations. The charter of UN gives the UN Security Council the primaryresponsibility for maintaining international peace and security and peacekeepinghas evolved into one of the main tools employed by UN to achieve it. There are almost 120,000 peacekeepingpersonnel from more than a dozen countries which are rotated through the UNoperations every year. UN peacekeepers have been hit by a series of accusationsof sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians in its missions across the globe.
UN has been accused of mishandling the issue by burying cases and failingto take actions promptly or transparently. An AP investigationin 2017 found around 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse havebeen registered since 2005 to date. In 2016, the UN registered a totalof 103 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN field missions.The world has been justifiably sickened and outraged by one allegation afteranother of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. It has become thecase of protectors becoming perpetrators. According to a report released in2015 by the UN’s internal oversight body, in more than one-third of the casesof reported sexual abuse by peacekeepers from 2008 to 2013, the victims werechildren. In addition to the horrible mistreatment of those who are under theprotection of the U.N.
, sexual exploitation and abuse undermine the credibilityof U.N. peace operations and must be addressed through an effective plan andcommitment to end abuses and ensure accountability. TheUnited Nations has adopted policies to curb this problem in recent years,including better vetting and training of peacekeepers. In 2017, on an averagemore than 8,000 personnel were vetted every month in comparison to 208 personnelvetted in 2013. Since 2015, troops and police contributing countries arerequired to certify that individuals deployed have not committed/alleged tohave committed violations of human rights law or been repatriated from a UNoperation. Personnel undergo pre-deployment and in-mission mandatory trainingon prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.
There exists a lack of clarity as to the legalobligations of the UN and its peacekeepers and hence in placing accountabilityfor their actions as well. When a peacekeeper is accused of sexual abuse, theUN can repatriate them. States contributing troops for UN peacekeepingoperations retain exclusive criminal jurisdiction over their military and arethus the only ones able to prosecute their individual peacekeepers. It wasdifficult to bring these criminal behaviors to justice, with the individualcountries ignoring communications and it was impunity without action. UN iscurrently enforcing stricter transparency standards with public disclosure ofall the information including the nationality, interim actions, description ofthe allegation, details of actions taken by the troop contributing country,reporting mechanism and criminal accountability with detailed near- real- timeupdating and interactive timelines. This has helped in keeping individualcountries accountable.
In 2016, out of 15 substantiated cases, fivepeacekeepers were sent to jail and four were dismissed or “separated fromservice.” In two cases, “administrative action” was taken and the rest arestill pending. Furthermore importance is attached to investigations in athorough and timely manner. Average time to appoint national investigationofficers has dropped from 79 days in 2012 to 8 days in 2016.
Since 2015, sometroop contributing countries are opting to conduct investigations jointly withthe UN office for internal oversight services. Average duration ofinvestigations in days has dropped from 266 in 2012, to 185 in 2015. A 6 monthtimeline for completing investigations has been adopted by the secretarygeneral with 3 months for serious cases.
UN suspends personnel reimbursementsfor uniformed personnel accused of sexual exploitation or abuse until investigationis carried out. If the allegation is substantiated, then the funds withheld aretransferred to the victim’s relief fund. Efforts are focused on providingassistance to victims with robust policies and mechanisms and throughcoordination between UN entities, NGOs and member states and establishment ofVictim Assistance Tracking Database. 74% of victims received assistance in 2016and member nations contributed $436K towards the victims’ trust fund. The vastmajority of the troops and police in peacekeeping missions serve honorably, donot commit crimes and contributing countries are serious about prosecuting the perpetratorsof crimes in their contingents. But these allegations of sexual exploitationand abuse tarnish all peacekeepers and Niger feels the urgency in stamping outthis serious problem.Mostoften peacekeepers have little regard for the local population and work withthe notions that they are their saviors. There is a pervasive power disparitybetween the peacekeepers and the local community and hence a potential forpower to be abused.
Instances of abuse and exploitation may go unreported notonly to protect the reputation of the peacekeepers, but also because victimsare silenced by fear and shame. The circumstances that render women andchildren vulnerable to these situations include low economic empowerment anddisplacement due to conflict, leading to a lack of food, security and shelter. Therehave been no UN missions in Niger and hence no such violations have occurred inour nation. Nigerienwomen and children are often subjected to forced labor, sexual abuse, terrorismand human trafficking. Niger serves as a country of transit for migratory flowsfrom the conflict regions of West and Central Africa towards North Africa andWestern Europe. Continued growth of migrant ghettos along the migrant routesand continued instabilities in the neighboring countries increase pressure onalready limited resources, posing a threat to the fragile security balancewithin the nation. Rippling effects of crisis and issues affecting Niger’sneighbors in the Sahel region are felt by Niger as well.
TheUN must demonstrate leadership by strengthening its monitoring and evaluationof troops and institute a system of periodic assessments of units. Internationalcommunity has to help to build appropriate training and equipping capabilitiesif there is a need for it. Rules established regarding conduct of the troops,repatriation in cases of misconduct and their subsequent conviction have to bestrictly adhered to. Every participating country has to be made accountable forthe conduct of its troops. A key to peacekeepers’ success in challenging newenvironments is maintaining their legitimacy and the faith, and trust, andconfidence of the local population.
The importance of fostering relationshipsand interactions with the host communities should be encouraged and emphasized.With all the dispiriting reports about the UN peacekeeping operations, Nigerbelieves it is in the interest of the world to counter the negative reputationof the UN’s peacekeepers and take urgent steps to address and resolve it.