Haiti/Liberia: Influential panel and new report urge action on exploitation by peacekeepers
The panel discussion was moderated by H.E. Mr. Augustine Mahiga of Tanzania, Permanent Representative to the Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations and included Sarah Martin of Refugees International, His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein of the Jordanian mission to the United Nations and Anna Shotton, the Focal Point for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).
The panel featured the launch of Refugees International's new report, Must Boys Be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Missions. Using UN peacekeeping missions in Liberia and Haiti as an example, the report argues that a "hyper-masculine culture" has evolved that breeds a "wall of silence" that bonds together members to protect them from outside criticism. UN employees are reluctant to report colleagues for allegations of sexual misconduct due to fear of recrimination from within the system. Managers with UN peacekeeping missions prefer to handle these matters 'internally' rather than formally. In addition, RI found that many UN peacekeepers do not truly buy into the UN's official policy of zero tolerance and zero contact.
"Time and time again, whenever I interviewed people, I heard, 'Well, what do you expect to have happen when you have thousands of men taken away from their homes for long periods of time?'" Sarah Martin told the audience. "And this to me is what was most disturbing, because the UN has been sent primarily to help protect these people. But the ones who are exploiting women, are casting a huge shadow over the others."
Many say that having more female peacekeepers would change the problem. Sarah pointed out that this would be difficult to achieve in a timely fashion, since according to 2004 UN statistics, only 4.4 percent of civilian police are women. 1 percent of troops are women and 27 percent of UN civilian personnel are women. More important is to focus on changing the culture that has allowed sexual exploitation and abuse to flourish.
Prince Zeid, who in February released "A Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations," stated in the briefing that Must Boys Be Boys? was "an excellent report that is a fair reflection of the situation."
He emphasized that the ultimate responsibility for addressing the problem lies with the member states and expressed frustration that few would speak up and discuss the issue.
"We need to keep attention on this issue," he added. "I agree completely that the UN has scant credibility on telling member states how to treat its own populations if it doesn't come to terms with this."
Anna Shotton particularly singled out the disparity of power between peacekeepers and the locals they are sent to protect.
"Peacekeepers are going into broken societies emerging from conflict with extreme levels of poverty," Ms. Shotton described. "People are willing to basically sell their bodies for nothing - for a dollar; for a piece of bread. And then you have peacekeepers coming into that environment and they have incredible power over the local population. That is obviously a very risky combination."
Anna Shotton said that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had implemented a number of measures to address the problem, including training programs, recreational sports facilities and public information campaigns to "push the message home at every opportunity." Still, she agreed that more needed to be done.
Sarah Martin said that the UN and the troop-contributing countries must go further and insure that peacekeepers understand why the rules are in existence. "You cannot rule by fear alone," she said as she argued that peacekeepers would only find ways around the UN's rules unless they agreed that it was important not to take advantage of a population traumatized by conflict.
Must Boys Be Boys? outlines a series of recommendations to address the problem including systematically incorporating a gender perspective into all UN peacekeeping missions, establishing culturally-appropriate pre-deployment training, changing attitudes of senior management and holding them accountable for failure to implement measures to stop sexual exploitation and abuse, improving access to the UN complaint system, and providing women with job opportunities so that they have the means to support themselves and their families.
All content (c) 2004 Refugees International. All Rights Reserved