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Will the United Nations' legacy in Haiti be all about scandal?

The accomplishments of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti have been overshadowed by scandals, from a cholera outbreak to sexual abuse cases. How will this affect future missions?

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Part of the challenge of peacekeeping missions is holding accountable peacekeepers from any of the United Nations’ 193 member states.

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Troops receive pre-deployment UN training on a code of conduct the moment they join a peacekeeping mission, but, as UN public affairs officer Anayansi Lopez says, “It’s complicated because they rotate every six months and a couple of trainings are not going to make a big impact."

The military unit of MINUSTAH  – about 7,300 troops – originates from 16 countries; 48 countries contribute to the 1,156 UN police unit in Haiti as well. Once the troops arrive in country, officers and noncommissioned officers receive a three-day “train the trainer” induction. They are given materials to distribute to the rest of the contingents, but there appears to be no enforcement to ensure that these trainings take place, and ultimately, member states’ army units are accountable only to the country that sends them, not to the UN.

The motivation for many countries to contribute peacekeeping troops is financial, says Martin Aguirre, editor at the Uruguayan daily newspaper, El Pais, which has been covering the peacekeepers' trials there since the accusations began. “Uruguay has little money for its military and … it’s a way for the military to make some extra income.”

Phyllis Bennis, author of “Calling the Shots, How Washington Dominates the UN,” says the challenge with peacekeeping troops is the same problem that exists between the Security Council and the General Assembly – a contradiction between power and democracy. “The UN has no authority over those perpetrators,” says Ms. Bennis, who works at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. “You can ask the leadership to bring that person home and hope they are taken to trial, but there’s no way to enforce that.”

The numbers of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse are posted on the UN website. Only 25 have been registered for all peacekeeping missions this year,  down significantly from the 127 recorded in 2007 when the database collection began. MINUSTAH has consistently ranked third in violations, following Congo and Liberia, respectively. But the data does not include the more than 100 Sri Lankan troops expelled in 2007 on suspicion of sexual exploitation of Haitian women and girls.

No information about what happened to those Sri Lankan peacekeepers was ever made public by either the UN or Sri Lanka. Member states are not required to divulge the outcome of their internal inquiries.

Zero tolerance

The very lack of accountability for member states who contribute troops to peacekeeping missions, however, is what makes the decisions by Uruguay and Pakistan to charge the offenders from their countries so significant.  If anything good comes from these scandals, it is perhaps that these countries are enforcing a zero tolerance policy, says one UN employee who asked not to be named for reasons of job security.

“[T]he government [in Uruguay] has been very open and strict with this issue,” says Mr. Aguirre. “Uruguay may not see this trail as groundbreaking, but … it could be seen that way from a global perspective.”

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