Marie Deschamps, Chair
Hassan B. Jallow
When peacekeepers exploit the vulnerability of the people they have been sent to protect, it is a fundamental betrayal of trust. When the international community fails to care for the victims or to hold the perpetrators to account, that betrayal is compounded.
In the spring of 2014, allegations came to light that international troops serving in a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (“CAR”) had sexually abused a number of young children in exchange for food or money (the “Allegations”). The alleged perpetrators were largely from a French military force known as the Sangaris Forces, which were operating as peacekeepers under authorization of the Security Council but not under UN command.
The manner in which UN agencies responded to the Allegations was seriously flawed. The head of the UN mission in CAR failed to take any action to follow up on the Allegations; he neither asked the Sangaris Forces to institute measures to end the abuses, nor directed that the children be removed to safe housing. He also failed to direct his staff to report the Allegations higher up within the UN. Meanwhile, both UNICEF and UN human rights staff in CAR failed to ensure that the children received adequate medical attention and humanitarian aid, or to take steps to protect other potential victims identified by the children who first raised the Allegations.
Instead, information about the Allegations was passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations. Indeed, even when the French government became aware of the Allegations and requested the cooperation of UN staff in its investigation, these requests were met with resistance and became bogged down in formalities. Staff became overly concerned with whether the Allegations had been improperly “leaked” to French authorities, and focused on protocols rather than action. The welfare of the victims and the accountability of the perpetrators appeared to be an afterthought, if considered at all. Overall, the response of the UN was fragmented and bureaucratic, and failed to satisfy the UN’s core mandate to address human rights violations.
By examining these failures and recommending reforms to deter future incidents of sexual violence by peacekeepers, this Report provides an opportunity for the UN to chart a new course of action and to undertake meaningful organizational change. If the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy is to become a reality, the UN as a whole—including troop contributing countries (“TCCs”)—must recognize that sexual abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers is not a mere disciplinary matter, but a violation of the victims’ fundamental human rights, and in many cases a violation of international humanitarian and criminal law. Regardless of whether the peacekeepers were acting under direct UN command or not, victims must be made the priority.
In particular, the UN must recognize that sexual violence by peacekeepers triggers its human rights mandate to protect victims, investigate, report and follow up on human rights violations, and to take measures to hold perpetrators accountable. In the absence of concrete action to address wrongdoing by the very persons sent to protect vulnerable populations, the credibility of the UN and the future of peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy.