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UN Peacekeepers: Forces of Mistrust

April 12th 2010

UN Topics - Man talks to UN peacekeepers

“Every child and young person should live in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes his/her full potential. Children with inadequate or no parental care are at special risk of being denied such a nurturing environment,” so reads Resolution 64/142 of the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution of February 24, 2010 is a worthy document. It provides twenty-three pages of recommendations, advice, and outlines proper care techniques for alternative care for children. Yet there is one important piece of the problem missing from this UN effort: preventing children from being victimized by UN Peacekeepers. Instead of being forces for trust, for their child rape victims the peacekeepers are forces of mistrust.

Today, there are 85,000 U.N. troops in 16 peace operations, with soldiers contributed by 115 nations and there are at least hundreds of cases of child rape by these peacekeepers, perhaps more. In many cases, peacekeepers commit crimes of forced sex, verbal sexual abuse, child prostitution, child pornography, sexual slavery, sexual assault, and child trafficking. A frightening number of cases result in multiple rape. Some children are as young as six, according to reports. According to children who were interviewed, most did not report it out of fear of losing material assistance, fear of retaliation, lack of knowledge about doing so, and lack of support from their own governments, who do not in most cases take action. The victims come from some of the most poverty and war-stricken areas of the world, such as Haiti, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Burundi, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia.

Left unmentioned are the lasting affects of this abuse. Psychological scars are a result, as is social stigmatization, as well as the possible spread of AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. Blackmail and violent retaliation are also possibilities.

The UN office mandated with investigating the crimes, when they are reported, is the Office of Internal Oversight Services, a sparsely staffed unit, vastly under-resourced and many times blocked from real investigations for political reasons, such as with the ill-fated Oil-for-Food program. Even if findings are made, OIOS cannot punish soldiers, they can only report. Yet when the UN does place requests to nations to punish or even investigate soldiers, few respond to the requests.

Many times, the only option is to seek voluntary help from the countries in question, hoping that cooperation will be forthcoming. For example, according to the UN News Service, the UN sent 192 such requests in 2008 and received six responses on action taken, while 146 requests were made and nine responses received in 2007. In the UN system, even if disciplinary action is sought, without the cooperation of Member states, little or no action can ever be contemplated. According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), between January 1, 2004 and November 21, 2006, the United Nations investigated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 319 peacekeeping personnel in all missions, resulting in the dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation of 17 police and 144 military personnel. Member states, six years after the UN rightly called for zero tolerance of abuse by peacekeepers, still are not willing to subject their soldiers to investigation or, sadly, do it themselves.

“Children in care should be offered access to a person of trust in whom they may confide in total confidentiality,” offers Resolution 64/142. It can hardly be said that UN Peacekeepers offer that condition of trust. Keeping the peace is the sine qua non of their role, yet child rape is clearly not the definition of their duties. Children are the very people they are entrusted to keep safe and their betrayal of that trust is a tragedy.

The UN, which needs reform in too many areas to count, at least is trying but more needs to be done. Anti-prostitution campaigns and DNA testing are mentioned, but without the contribution and help of providing countries, the elimination of this grievous practice will continue. Nations contributing soldiers to peacekeeping efforts have a duty to train and indoctrinate the proper ethical standard in their troops normally and especially those entrusted with such duties as protecting children from harm. It is also important that nations create systems whereby safe reporting can take place and awareness among potential victims be raised so as to avoid the culture of near impunity that has existed until now for UN Peacekeepers. The UN rightly fights for the safety of children, yet Member States contributing troops to peacekeeping operations have a duty to join that fight, not become a reason for it.

Gregg J. Rickman, Ph.D, served as the first U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2006–2009. He is a Senior Fellow for the Study and Combat of Anti-Semitism at the Institute on Religion and Policy in Washington, DC; a Visiting Fellow at The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and a Research Scholar at the Initiative on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.


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