Horrific tale of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers

Published 20th April 2017

Last week, the Associated Press went public with yet another scandal detailing the sexual abuse of children at the hands of United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti. Whilst allegations existed previously, the extent of the abuse is far greater than initially reported a few years ago. Those sent to protect civilians continue to exploit innocent women and children with insufficient oversight, monitoring and accountability from the UN itself and its member states.

According to the reports, UN peacekeepers in Haiti, sexually abused nine children over a period of three years. From 2004 to 2007, 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers, allegedly, systematically lured children with promises of food, sweets and money, in exchange for sexual favours. When the information became public several peacekeepers were sent home, but allegedly, no prosecutions have taken place.

Young boys and girls have been preyed on and exploited. One victim told UN investigators that between the ages of 12 and 15 she had been forced to have sex with more than 50 UN peacekeepers. Another young victim indicated that whenever there were new peacekeepers in town, her phone number would be distributed and she would receive phone calls to organise the next sordid sexual encounter.

Another young boy stated that he had sex with an average of four UN soldiers a day. This started when he was only 15 years old.

Other nationalities implicated in the abuse in Haiti include Uruguayan peacekeepers. In 2011 they allegedly gang-raped a teenage boy and filmed the brutal violation using a mobile phone.

There are also reports from dozens of women who claim they were raped by UN peacekeepers. Many of these women, fell pregnant as a result and have been looking after their children with no support from the UN or the nations of the suspected perpetrators.

The UN peacekeepers, a mission known as United Nations Stabilization Mission In Haiti (UNSTAMIH), have been in stationed there since 2004. Their mission was to protect innocent civilians and to stabilise the country after a rebellion. The UNSTAMIH was mandated to concentrate on increasing security and “to assist with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order in Haiti.” Unfortunately, many peacekeepers did the exact opposite.

This is unfortunately not the first time peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse. According to the Associated Press, over 2000 allegations have been brought against UN peacekeepers, over the past 12 years.

Sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers was documented first in Bosnia and Kosovo in the early 1990s. Reports of abuse have drastically increased since then. The numbers of cases that probably go unreported adds to this already devastating picture.

In 2014, allegations of the sexual abuse of children in Central African Republic emerged. An independent report by three experts who formed the External Independent Review Panel, details that the UN’s response to the allegations was “seriously flawed”. Including that the head of the UN mission in CAR failed to take any action. In addition, both UNICEF and UN human rights staff in CAR failed to ensure that the children received adequate medical attention and failed to protect other potential victims identified by the victims who came forward.

To make matters worse, the whistle-blower and former UN Field Operations Director in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Anders Kompass, who brought the allegations to the French government’s attention, (given that the alleged perpetrators were French nationals) was suspended. Kompass was accused of breaching the UN rules of conduct by sharing the information with the French.

The suspension was later overturned, but the impunity regarding the allegations and his treatment by the UN, were enough to make him leave the organisation.

Part of the challenge is that the UN cannot hold perpetrators accountable, it is up to the nations to which the perpetrators belong.

However, it is UN’s the failure to investigate, report and respond in other ways that attracts warranted criticism.

Though the UN mission in Haiti will be winding down, the negative impact made by some of the peacekeepers will not be forgotten. In addition to the horrendous child abuse, in 2010, a UN battalion of Nepalese peacekeepers introduced a deadly strain of cholera to Haiti.

More than 9000 people have died as a result of the spread of cholera. The UN only admitted its role in the outbreak in 2016 and has allegedly only raised a portion of the funds required by the victims.

Blaming the UN is warranted, but the 193 member states of this organisation must also face tough questions about their contribution to the problems and solutions. Without funding from states, the victims of the cholera outbreak will continue to suffer. Without member states holding their peacekeepers accountable for gross human rights violations, many more innocent women and children will be violated.

** This article originally appeared in the Star newspapers on 20 April 2017 under the title Horrific Tale of UN Sexual Abuse

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