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The United Nations’ Biggest Issue

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse on Peacekeeping Missions

Adrian Rojas
January 12, 2019

I. Introduction
The United Nations (UN) is undoubtedly the most important supranational organization in
the world today as it is the only international organization where membership is not based
on region or ideology. Just about every nation on earth is apart of the UN system with
193 sovereign nations have recognition1 . Small nation states depend on being admitted into
the UN as is very important step to establishing state sovereignty and independence among
other nations2 . Yet, just like the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, the UN was
created to prevent a new global conflict of the scale of the first and second world wars, a
mission the UN has successfully maintain up to this day3 . However, the UN is not without
flaws, crippling gridlock and potential to fail to attack or defend plague the UN’s history
and tarnish its effectiveness among the worlds citizens4 . These issues largely stem from the
UN charter, the most important statute, article 2, which essentially states the UN can not
interfere with a state’s sovereignty, thus leaving gray area in what the UN can and cannot do
5
. The inclusion of the permanent 5 in the UN Security Counsel (UNSC) and the veto rule
allows for major legislation to be struck down due to only the influence of one nation-state6 .
Regardless, the UN’s influence is evident, it comes to no surprise that the UN would
dabble in PeaceKeeping efforts in the aid of its core purpose. Since the UN’s inception in
1945, the UN has enlisted the forces of contributing nations to serve as Contingent Troops,
Experts on Mission, Police, Staff Officers, Civilian Personnel and UN Volunteers 7 to oversee
tense areas around the world.
Yet, despite the UN’s good intentions, it’s reputation is contingent on the actions of
the members states which represent them on the world stage. As typically seen in war
time efforts, the troops deployed have been engaged in sexual misconduct with the locals in
the area of operation8 . The occurrence of which is not an isolated incident but rather an
1
http://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/overview/index.html
2
http://www.un.org/un70/en/content/70ways/index.html
3
https://www.unric.org/en/latest-un-buzz/30764-the-un-is-more-effective-in-preventing-wars-than-
many-experts-think
4
https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/201-rwanda/39240.html
5
http://legal.un.org/repertory/art2.shtml
6
https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/un-security-council-working-methods/the-veto.php
7
https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/data
8
https://www.unicef.org/sowc96pk/sexviol.htm

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epidemic. As such there are ramifications for not only the victim but for the UN organization
itself, which if left unchecked will smear the UN name for generations to come.

II. Historical Context


The first UN PeaceKeeping Operation (PKO) was in the middle east to ensure the successful
and peaceful formation of the state of Israel. More accurately, the peacekeeping mission the
United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTCO) was established to monitor the
Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab counterparts 9 . This mission is still under-
way to this day with about 366 UN personnel deployed as of November 2018. However, there
are active troops on the ground aside from the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), rather civilian
personnel and ’experts on mission’, which are simply specifically appointed individuals by
the Secretary-General to oversee a specific section of the overall task at hand, are tasked with
attempting to bring peace between all belligerents. This mission shows no signs of ending
any time soon yet it shows the commitment the UN has to peace on the international stage.
Yet, following the second world war, the Cold War had begun to manifest itself in the
form of proxy wars. Additionally, famine, genocide and ethnic cleansing became the new
norm in the Balkan region, middle east, and central Africa, thus prompting the UN to ap-
prove peacekeeping missions in such areas. During these missions, the troops on mission
would engage in sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) but this phenomenon has only re-
cently received the attention it is due. In a 2003 bulletin Secretary-General Kafi Annan
defined sexual exploitation as ”any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerabil-
ity, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting
monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.” and sexual abuse
”as the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under
unequal or coercive conditions.” 10
Following social movements and increased attention to SEA, the numbers had begun
to be reported and analyzed by the UN, something commonly done by Non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) and other civil society groups. Between 2004 and 2016 there where an
estimated 2000 cases of SEA in PKOs around the globe, with the majority of these occurred
on missions in the Central African Republic (CAR)(MINUSCA), The Democratic Republic
of the Congo (DRC)(MONUSCO) and Haiti (MINUJUSTH)11 . These are all the alleged
cases and scholars claim there are more cases which have gone unreported with the victim
either being forced to remain silent or victims having no means of reporting the incident.
Yet, despite the attention SEA had gotten the UN was powerless to remedy the issue at
its core with the number of cases being constantly in flux. While, socially in most western
nations, there had been a negative stigma of SEA, it did not prevent global north nations
from committing atrocities where it is more normalized 12 . Hence, small increases in reported
SEA instances raises from 52 cases to 69 cases from 2014 to 2015 with more than 50 in 2016
9
https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/our-history
10
https://oios.un.org/resources/2015/01/ST-SGB-2003-13.pdf
11
https://redress.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/REDRESS-peacekeeping-report-English.pdf
12
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/17/south-africa-rape-survey

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13
. During this period the UN voted to pass the Zero Tolerance Policy (ZTP) which would
raise attention to SEA where it states internal investigations of peacekeeping missions will
allow top UN officials to disbar members accused of SEA. Yet, during this time period, while
the instances of SEA did seem to decline according to official UN numbers, independent
observers and scholars are skeptical. Currently the UN reports 47 allegations of SEA in
2018, which is a huge decrease from 104 in 2016 and 63 in 2017 14 . However, even with
the UN report stating the numbers are decreasing, the problem is far from being solved and
needs further research and discussion15 .
Regardless of the UN and current Secretary-General António Guterres best intentions,
the UN is fundamentally flawed in its ability to prosecute those accused of SEA. PKO’s are
comprised of troops from separate states Since the UN cannot infringe on the sovereignty of
individual member states and their constituents 16 . As such, when a peacekeeper is found to
have perpetrated SEA, they are sent back to their home country to face repercussions there,
but surprisingly that happens rarely, especially if the accused is from a global south member
states17 . The UN and Secretary-General Guterres have realized this issue and instead of
perusing the perpetrators to a greater extent and have focused on the victims while also
adding pressure to troop contributing countries (TCC) to be accountable for their troops 18 .
The way the Secretary-General chose to mitigate the issue was by setting up a Trust Fund for
the victims of SEA19 . This Trust Fund would be funded from voluntary contributions from
member states, some which have contributed are Bhutan, Cyprus, India, Japan , Canada
and Norway, and by suspending the payments of troops found to have perpetrated SEA20 .
The funds in the Trust Fund would then be used to provide medical, legal and material
expenses of the victim21 . Secretary-General Guterres also appointed a system wide Victims’
Rights Advocate (VTA) who directly deal with the victims to ensure that they are treated
with ”with the respect, sensitivity and compassion that they deserve” and assist in cases
where paternal claims are necessary22 .
Likewise the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has rolled out several
programs aimed at reducing the instances of SEA. As a relatively new method of informing
troops uniformly about SEA, it has become a requirement to complete an online training
course prior to deployment which focuses on SEA23 , similar to that of title IX training in
the United States. Additionally, the DPKO also began handing out SEA pocket cards to
troops explaining what SEA is, why it is wrong, and the potential repercussions24 .
13
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-35724978
14
https://conduct.unmissions.org/sea-overview
15
https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/11/1024972
16
https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12241.doc.htm
17
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-35790697
18
https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/n1804422.pdf
19
https://undocs.org/A/71/818
20
http://wps.unwomen.org/resources/briefs/Sexual.pdf
21
https://www.un.org/preventing-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse/content/trust-fund
22
https://www.un.org/preventing-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse/content/victim-assistance
23
https://www.un.org/preventing-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse/content/prevention
24
https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/no-excuses-card-launched-to-prevent-and-end-sexual-exploitation-and-
abuse-south-sudan

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III. Significance
Despite the efforts by the current UN administration there are irreversible damages done
by even having SEA present on field missions. Most importantly is the defamation of the
UN name and the legitimacy of UN peacekeeping efforts25 . In the areas affected by SEA
the populous will eventually begin to grow resistance to assistance from the UN, whether it
be in the form of peacekeeping, police services or humanitarian aid. Since sexual favors are
often exchanged for humanitarian aid, resistance to accepting aid altogether or will refuse to
expose the perpetrator due to the reliance of the aid. This will reduce the effectiveness of UN
missions as the locals will not accept the UN assistance, especially if the victim is vocal about
the event. The UN’s perceived inaction against the perpetrators will influence such resistance
as the local population will perceive the UN to be tolerant of these cases, thus reducing the
overall trust towards the UN system and the states from which the perpetrator originates
from. The actual effect of this has not been measured, nor could it effectively, yet this
precaution needs to be addressed on the international stage to emphasize the importance26 .
Similarly if left unchecked, the victims will reap the consequences of SEA not only men-
tally but financially, medically and socially. As previously stated, most victims will not
come forward with allegations, in most cases the victims have no real avenue to report the
incident27 . The regions which have UN peacekeepers present are typically war torn have
very little established local authority where civil society and NGO’s are the main sources
of support. NGO’s and civil society do not have the proper resources or funding to offer
support to victims28 .
Many of these SEA encounters also result in conception, in the areas affected abortion
is unavailable or dangerous to access due to areas being controlled by non-state militias,
many of which are not fond of the concept of abortion29 . Thus, leaving the victims to care
for a child while desperately calling for the father to play an active role, either by taking
responsibility for the child or paying for child support, something the UN states they are
trying to achieve. However, the UN sees this role as the responsibility of the individual solders
and host country, which do not see it as their responsibility30 . In this case, the current UN
policy is to send the peacekeeper back to their home state, which makes paternal test all
but impossible due to lack of DNA from the purposed father31 , this may also be the case if
peacekeepers normally return to their home countries once they complete their tour of duty.
25
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/14/ban-ki-moon-says-sexual-abuse-in-un-peacekeeping-
is-a-cancer-in-our-system
26
Elizabeth F. Defeis, U.N. Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse and Exploitation: An End to Impunity, 7
Wash. U. Global Stud. L. Rev. 185 (2008)
27
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/for-victims-of-un-sex-abuse-or-exploitation-help-can-be-
elusive/
28
https://redress.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/REDRESS-peacekeeping-report-English.pdf
29
https://africanarguments.org/2017/06/15/the-factions-that-make-up-the-dr-congo-fragmented-
political-mosaic/
30
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/for-victims-of-un-sex-abuse-or-exploitation-help-can-be-
elusive/
31
Ibid.

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IV. Potential Solutions
Unfortunately, there is no one comprehensive solution to solving SEA. Although within the
UN General Assembly (UNGA) the collective body has contributed to methods by which
the UN can take action against SEA, however the Secretariat has certainly led the effort
to fight SEA within the UN, not only on PKO’s but also in the administrative entities32 .
However, Secretary-General Guterres in a 2018 report has called for the end of what is
referred to as impunity, which is peacekeepers seemingly being free of all criminal and legal
repercussions33 . When the Secretary-General refers to ending impunity, Guterres refers to a
collaboration between the UN, the Department of Field Support (DFS), DPKO and TCC, by
increasing the data collection and reporting, increasing investigative capability, encouraging
nation-states to follow up on criminal investigations and standardizing conduct expectations
to non-UN forces34 . As aforementioned, the PKO areas tend to be war torn and generally
do not have established means of enforcing or pursuing relevant regional and international
proceedings, hence the burden lies with the UN directly to report and investigate instances
of SEA. However, the UN does not have power investigate criminal matters but do retain
the authority to investigate matters which may be a violation of the contract of employment
with the UN, which can lead to dismissal35 .
An option is to expand the scope of the UN, given the capability to prosecute or reprimand
perpetrators the incentive to do these crimes is reduced. It would also reduce the gridlock
should an incident occur, allowing the peacekeeper to be tried in a presumably neutral
environment, along with the victim. Yet, this has impacts which the international community
may not be supportive of, allowing the UN to prosecute members of any citizen may prove
to be more power than the world is comfortable with36 . Similarly even if the UN is granted
power to prosecute, many of the member states may refuse to accept the courts power37 .
Instead the UN should focus, as it currently is, to encourage TCC’s to prosecute their troops
and citizens38 . As per UN regulation, peacekeepers are continually paid by their respective
country but later the country is reimbursed a total of US $1,428 per soldier per month as of
1 July 201839 . Under the current direction of the Secretary-General Guterres and the Trust
Fund, the payment is redirected into the Trust Fund for only that one soldier40 . Rather, as
even proposed by Secretary-General Guterres, funds for contingents as a whole should be
redirected to the Trust Fund, suspended pending investigation and/or prosecution and/or
32
https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2017-09-18/secretary-generals-sea-address-high-level-
meeting
33
https://undocs.org/A/72/751
34
Ibid.
35
Rosa Freedman; UNaccountable: A New Approach to Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse, Eu-
ropean Journal of International Law, Volume 29, Issue 3, 9 November 2018, Pages 961–985,
https://doi.org/10.1093/ejil/chy039
36
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-11809908
37
Lüder, S. R. (2002). The legal nature of the International Criminal Court and the emergence of supra-
national elements in international criminal justice. International Review of the Red Cross, 84(845), 79-92.
38
Genovese, S. (2017). Prosecuting UN Peacekeepers for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Central
African Republic. Brook. J. Int’l L., 43, 609.
39
https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/how-we-are-funded
40
https://www.un.org/preventing-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse/content/trust-fund

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settlement in the host nation.
However, a focus on prevention and victim assistance should be the priorities of the
UN due to current constants41 . In CAR, DRC and Haiti many of the regions which are
under UN supervision do not have active law enforcement and do not have strong routes of
communication, sometimes requiring day or week long trips to even have access to medical
support in dangerous areas42 . Thus, access to proper support and the ability to report
should be a primary focus. However, the massive scale of UN missions would make complete
coverage nearly impossible. NGO’s and civil society are the best equipped to reach victims
of SEA. Typically NGO’s and civil society have official lines to the UN and are capable of
reporting cases to the UN directly to eliminate any gridlock43 . As a result the UN should
provide adequate funding to NGO’s and civil society groups so they are able to provide
support. Although UN sponsored, NGO’s are not directly related to the UN which reduces
the intimidation felt by victims. However, NGO’s and civil society are also alleged to have
committed SEA in the affected area but with less frequency44 . Since the UN would be
partially funding NGO operation, should a NGO be found to be engaging in SEA, funding
should be removed immediately.

V. Summary
The UN is an international organization with a responsibility to attempt to prevent any and
all conflict in the world today. However, the UN is not able to complete that task effectively
due to constraints placed on it during its founding in 1945. Since the UN cannot infringe on
state sovereignty, the UN is fundamentally not capable of intervening in atrocities committed
by states, such as that in Rwanda, or groups residing in specific nations, such as ISIS or
al-qeada, without prior approval of those in the UNSC and the host nation. Similarly, the
UN carries no authority to investigate individuals who commit atrocities while operating
under the UN flag. Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has plagued UN PKOs since as early as
the 1990’s in numerous peacekeeping missions around the world, most notably in Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti,
Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan and Timor-Leste45 . Without
properly addressing this issue the legitimacy of the UN will degrade internationally which
may carry major repercussions in the near future with even dissolution of the UN system
being a possibility in an increasingly anti-globalist world. The victims’ health and well being
is also at risk, most victims do not report due to lack of means and are consequently left
without medical and psychological support. In rare, cases where insemination occurred which
resulted in pregnancy, the mothers are left to raise a child in war time conditions without
support from a father figure and without monetary support which may put greater stress
41
https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/11/1024972
42
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/for-victims-of-un-sex-abuse-or-exploitation-help-can-be-
elusive/
43
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/un-sex-for-food-west-africa-refugees-ngos-abuse-
exploitation-a8374451.html
44
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmintdev/840/840.pdf
45
https://redress.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/REDRESS-peacekeeping-report-English.pdf

6
on the victim. The UN currently only retains the ability to dismiss those alleged to have
committed SEA but are unable to pursue criminal investigations, a duty left to the troop’s
home member-state46 . Yet, the alleged is not often investigated or convicted of crimes thus
leading to a perception that UN peacekeepers have impunity and are above the law. This
must change. It is not an easy task to fix but with further deliberation by member states
in the UNGA and closer investigation by the DPKO, DFS, UN Ethics Office, UN Office of
Internal oversight and TCCs is necessary to phase out peacekeepers which perpetrate SEA
and bring justice to the victim, their families and their children.

46
https://www.essarp.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/GA6-Criminal-accountability-of-United-
Nations-officials-and-experts-on-mission.pdf

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VI. List of Abbreviations

CAR Central African Republic


DRC Democratic Republic of the Congo
DF S Department of Field Support
M IN U SCA United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the
Central African Republic
M IN U JU ST H United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti
M ON U SCO United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Re-
public of the Congo
N GO Non-Governmental Organization
P KO Peace Keeping Operation
SEA Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
T CC Troop Contributing Countries
UN United Nations
U N DP KO United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations
U N GA United Nations General Assembly
U N SC United Nations Security Counsel
U N T SO United Nations Truce Supervision Organization
V TA Victims’ Rights Advocate
ZT P Zero Tolerance Policy