UN peacekeepers are again accused of sexual exploitation

A new report says sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers continues to be a serious problem, although the number of allegations of sexual abuse has not kept pace with a large increase in the number of peacekeepers.

Adama Diarra/Reuters/File
UN peacekeepers patrol in the northern town of Kouroume, Mali in May 13, 2015.

United Nations peacekeepers routinely trade sex for goods, sometimes with minors, says a draft of a report prepared by the UN and obtained by The Associated Press.

The report states that UN peacekeepers engaged in “transactional sex” with more than 225 Haitian women who said they were in need of goods such as food and medication. The draft report does not say over what time frame these incidents occurred.

It is not the first time that the UN has been under scrutiny for charges of sexual misconduct.

According to The Guardian concerns about this issue first became widespread during the 1990s when investigators found soldiers were brothel customers in Bosnia and Kosovo.  

A confidential UN report in 2004 raised concerns about the “widespread and ongoing” sexual exploitation of women and girls by the organization’s peacekeepers and bureaucrats in Congo, including charges of pedophilia, prostitution, and rape.

A year after this report, Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein investigated the sexual exploitation allegations as an Advisor to the Secretary General on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN peacekeeping.

Consequently, UN established its Conduct and Discipline Unit in 2005, which came up with a three-step strategy: prevention, enforcement of UN standards of conduct, and remedial action. It also prohibited the exchange of money, employment, goods, or services for sex and discouraged sexual relationships between UN staff and people who receive their assistance.

But the problem did not fade away. There were similar reports coming out of countries including  Liberia, Congo, and Haiti.

The BBC reported on Thursday that, according to the UN report, 480 sexual exploitation and abuse claims were made against UN peacekeepers from 2008 to 2013, with one third of the allegations involving children.

The draft does stress, however, that although there has been a significant increase in the number of UN peacekeepers over the past decade, the number of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse has dropped. 

In 2005 there were 75,000 UN peacekeepers around the world. The organization currently has about 125,000 peacekeepers.

Code Blue campaign, recently launched by New York-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World believes the problem lies in the prosecutorial immunity afforded to UN peacekeepers. Code Blue calls for an end to the immunity and the establishment of an independent commission to investigate allegations of sexual violations committed by UN staff.

The campaign also asks campaigners and supporters "to press the United Nations’ leadership, troop-contributing countries, Member States that fund peacekeeping, and countries facing conflict, to create a revived, strengthened, and more accountable response to sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers."

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