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Sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers. Ban Ki-moon: Shame belongs to the perpetrators

Peacekeeping Chief in Africa’s Central African Republic ordered to step down due to lack of competency in laying out stringent laws in his team regarding allegations of sexual abuse on young girls. United Nations officials promise to thoroughly investigate 

“I come before the Security Council with both a heavy heart and obligation to speak to you in clear and forthright terms about a cancer in our system that is doing grave harm to the lives of the people we are meant to protect and serve,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at a high-level conference on August 13. “We must also bear in mind the profound damage done to credibly carry out the mandates entrusted to us by this very Council.”

As more and more cases of violent child sexual abuse and assault on minors by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) unfold, Ban starkly requested on August 11 the dismissal of the organization’s head, Babacar Gaye of Senegal, from his post. The S-G’s dismay arose from repeated serious allegations of grievous misconduct and deeply troubling cases concerning United Nations Peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic (CAR). “I cannot express strongly enough my distress and shame over reports of sexual exploitation and the abuse of power by UN forces, police or civilian personnel,” he continued.

MINUSCA, which was established in March 2014, is mandated to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian assistance, and show strong support for justice and the rule of law. It claims that these tasks are its highest priorities but seems to have fallen way short of its goal.

As Ban accepted Gaye’s resignation, he stated, “When the United Nations deploys peacekeepers, we do so to protect the world’s most vulnerable people in the world’s most desperate places. I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear. Enough is enough!”

Such resignations are rare occurrences within the organs of the UN and this particular one comes one day after this latest incident which was reported to the UN by the 7-million member human rights non-governmental organization [NGO],  Amnesty International. The organization, which conducts research in order to generate action and prevent/end grave abuses of human rights and demand justice for those whose rights have been violated, unleashed proof that UN peacekeepers in the CAR have over the past week killed a 16-year-old boy and his father without reason, and in a separate incident viciously raped a 12-year-old girl. The girl had reportedly been hiding in a bathroom during a house search in one of the Muslim areas of Bangui when a man, outfitted in the blue helmet and vest of UN peacekeeping forces, found her. “I had been hiding out of fear when he found me there and dragged me out. When I began to cry, he slapped me,” the frightened girl explained to Amnesty aid workers. “He brought me outside into a far corner of the courtyard behind a truck, grabbed my breasts and ripped off my clothes. Then he threw me to the ground and lay down on top of me,” the girl continued. The girl showed her torn underwear to nurses while being examined. Medical evidence from her exam was consistent with sexual assault.

Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, said: “These allegations of rape and indiscriminate killings committed by UN troops are supported by physical evidence and multiple witness accounts. Our evidence strongly shows that UN peacekeeping forces indiscriminately killed two civilians.” This latest incident follows closely after another series of sexual abuse claims earlier in the year, and as far back as early-to-mid 2014, surrounding a deployment of foreign military forces in the CAR.

Innumerate instances involving excessive use of force, enforced disappearance, sexual exploitation, and violence were investigated by UN human rights officers on the ground and subsequently by the International Commission of Inquiry on the CAR. French prosecutors have also opened an investigation into claims that peacekeepers from its missions have raped children as young as age nine in the CAR, said one unnamed judicial source. Earlier this year, French peacekeepers were also connected with human rights abuses in the CAR which led to an investigation and the disclosure of details to French prosecutors. This resulted into the firing of a senior UN official at MINUSCA.

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, spoke in New York on August 11, saying “Mr. Ban is dismayed and disappointed, not just by these latest reports, but by the series of allegations that have surfaced in the CAR over the past recent months.” In emphasizing that nonesuch conduct is ever tolerated by the UN or the international community, Dujarric reiterated that “These allegations have made waves all the way to the top of the UN's hierarchy. They will be taken seriously and will be thoroughly investigated.”

Three years ago, and before MINUSCA was created, red flags were raised regarding misconduct by mission troops in the CAR. Therefore the S-G deployed a system to strengthen indicators of performance for conduct and discipline, requesting timelines for investigations and referrals for disciplinary actions by peacekeeping missions, plus he also instituted annual quality assurance exercises.

In following up, two years ago a risk management framework for assessing and mitigating risks of sexual exploitation and abuse was established by the S-G. Then last year, Ban commissioned that an Accountability Framework be put in place as well as quarterly and annual reporting on conduct from peacekeeping missions which included an expansion of the vetting process of prospective personnel.

Earlier this year, after noticing shortcomings in the process and expressing deep consternation about claims of sexual exploitation and abuse of children committed by foreign military forces, Ban appointed a three-member panel at the beginning of June to independently carry out an investigation into the UN’s response to sexual abuse allegations surrounding a deployment of foreign military forces in the CAR. The panel was given unrestricted access to all UN records and to staff members and other UN personnel. That move followed reports that a senior UN aid worker had been suspended for leaking an internal report into abuse by French soldiers against children at a center for internally displaced people in Bangui.

Even in the month prior to that investigation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, made statements that his office would begin an in-depth delving of the exposures of alleged serious sexual abuse of children in the CAR. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein had not only requested concerned States to provide as much information as possible regarding what steps they have taken to investigate the allegations, but also urged leaders to prosecute those found to have committed crimes.

“Despite these and other efforts, abuses continue,” Ban solemnly stated. “So, are we doing
enough to report misconduct and punish those responsible? In speaking candidly, the answer is no. Too many incidents go unreported. Too few cases are prosecuted and too often, justice is denied. I know you share my outrage. I know you share my anger. I ask that you share my resolve to strengthen administrative measures which may be imposed against staff members found to have committed these acts, including by withholding entitlements,” Ban continued to say, during the August 13 conference.

 

During the special meeting, which involved the gathering of senior leadership of all peacekeeping missions around the world, Ban spoke directly to them about reports of ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and emphasized the UN’s policy of “zero tolerance.” He urged leaders to make it their top responsibilities to report allegations immediately, investigate thoroughly and to act decisively. Ban conveyed that after a series of usual consultations, he has named Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, of Gabon, as Acting Special Representative – starting early next week – to ensure continuity of leadership in MINUSCA.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response and zero tolerance means zero complacency and zero impunity. When allegations are substantiated, all personnel – whether military, police or civilians – must be held accountable. My resolve to help affected individuals and preserve the integrity of the UN flag,” the S-G said.

Ban highlighted the fact that the UN is actively working on implementation of new strategies to diminish these ludicrous acts by:

  • establishing Immediate Response Teams in peacekeeping missions to gather and preserve evidence for use in investigations;

  •  adopting strict timelines for completion of investigations of sexual exploitation and abuse and calling on Member States to adhere to the same timeline;

  • developing a complaint reception framework to ensure mechanisms within communities where people can come forward, in confidence, to raise complaints regarding United Nations personnel;

  • strengthening administrative measures which may be imposed against staff members found to have committed these acts, including by withholding entitlements; and suspending payments to troop or police-contributing countries in connection with suspects on the basis of credible evidence.

  • instituting a trust fund to provide support and assistance to victims, complainants and children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse

“I urge all victims to come forward, report any and all abuses to the UN and not be ashamed. Shame belongs to the perpetrators,” Ban stated. "We want victims to know that we will strive to uphold our institutional responsibility, to safeguard their security and dignity and to move forward in doing all we can to respond to these outrageous crimes.”

 

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