Zohra Bensemra / Reuters A Nigerian peacekeeping soldier in Nyla, southern Darfur, March 17,2009.

The United Nations and Sexual Abuse

Why Peacekeeping Reform Has Failed

In April 2015, the United Nations suspended its director of field operations in the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva. Months earlier, the official, Anders Kompass, had leaked confidential documents detailing sexual abuse by French and Georgian soldiers stationed in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2014. A public outcry followed, and half a year later, the UN exonerated him. By then, investigators had collected more evidence implicating French and Georgian soldiers from the EU-led peacekeeping force in the rape of young girls and boys during their deployment. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, one girl, who was only seven at the time, told UN investigators that French soldiers forced her into performing oral sex in order to receive water and food. At least three others, all between the ages of 14 and 16, told investigators that they were raped by soldiers whom they believed belonged to the Georgian contingent of the peacekeeping force.

There have now been 51 documented cases of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers stationed in CAR. According to the UN Assistant Secretary General, Anthony Banbury, that number is likely far lower than the actual number of cases since most acts of sexual abuse go unreported. In fact, just after the UN released its internal investigation in January, Human Rights Watch published its own report detailing additional abuses, including gang rapes by peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

French and Georgian authorities quickly condemned the abuse, but have been careful not to implicate the UN as a whole. Instead of acknowledging a systemic failure, the French and Georgian governments denounced the actions of “select few individuals.” The French mission to the UN tweeted that: “France remains very mobilized in the fight against violence and sexual abuses & against impunity for those responsible.” Georgia’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement immediately after the allegations came to light, saying that the perpetrators would be “brought to justice,” and that, “it is unacceptable for the alleged statements by Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, in 2005 in response to allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers stationed in Congo. Annan regretted that the “exemplary record” of UN peacekeeping missions was being “clouded by the unconscionable conduct ofa few individuals.”

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