Last December, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to urgently review recommendations made by an independent panel which found that the UN did not act with the “speed, care or sensitivity required,” when it uncovered information about crimes committed against children by soldiers – not under UN command – sent to the Central African Republic (CAR) to protect civilians.
Meanwhile, new allegations of sexual abuse have continued to emerge against UN peacekeepers in the country, with the UN Mission there, known by its French acronym MINUSCA, recently reporting seven new possible victims in the town of Bambari.
“It is greatly distressing when protectors, in rare instances, turn predators,” the UN Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, told the UN News Centre in an interview.
Mr. Khare, who today is presenting the newest set of measures for protection from sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as giving an update on the implementation of 45 measures introduced last year, noted that 22 of the cases in 2015 took place in CAR, while 16 were reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and nine in Haiti.
The countries which received the most allegations in 2015 are reportedly the DRC, Morocco, South Africa, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
“We are fully committed to addressing the deplorable situation in MINUSCA,” he told reporters at a press briefing in New York. “The heart-breaking events that have come to light in the Central African Republic are a stark reminder that we must redouble our efforts to curb this scourge and that we depend on a strong partnership with Member States to do so.”
Improving assistance to victims
The Under-Secretary-General told the News Centre that first, the Organization and its partners must adopt a victim-centred approach, with urgent psychological, medical, and legal assistance provided to them, particularly when the victims are very young children.
“In this regard, the Secretary-General is proposing the creation of a trust fund. It would be funded voluntarily, but also from the salaries withheld from those who face significant allegations which have been substantiated,” Mr. Khare explained, noting that some $50,000 has been withheld so far.
That anyone serving under the UN flag should prey on the vulnerable is an abomination
USG Atul Khare
Other proposals address the strengthening of the UN’s entire system of response and coordination, creating “safe spaces” for victims to lodge complaints against peacekeepers. These would exist in more locations, closer to the communities affected, and with the support of non-governmental organizations.
“We will spare no effort in making it possible for victims to come forward and for their allegations to receive serious consideration,” the UN official insisted.
A second set of recommendations deals with measures to enhance the UN’s transparency, such as an online database featuring all the information about the cases which will be available at the UN’s Conduct and Discipline website. It will contain details outlining the nature of the allegations, the number of victims per allegation, and the number of perpetrators per allegation.
“It will also identify the countries from which such perpetrators came, and it will update on the action taken, either by the UN or by the countries concerned, as regards investigation into these cases – whether they have been completed, what disciplinary measures were taken, and what criminal jurisdiction measures were undertaken by the countries to provide adequate, appropriate and exemplary punishment,” Mr. Khare said.
He added that the UN is appealing to Member States to ensure that sanctions are commensurate with the seriousness of the offense and that criminal accountability follows. “In some instances, we have seen punishments that do not appear to be commensurate with the seriousness of the offenses committed,” he noted.
Stronger disciplinary measures
The presence of UN-led immediate response teams will also be strengthened, so that as soon as a complaint is received, evidence can be quickly collected and preserved for national investigators. As the UN does not have criminal jurisdiction, these investigators are expected to be appointed by the perpetrator’s country within a 10-day time limit of the alleged crime, and to have completed their investigations within six months.
We are fully committed to addressing the deplorable situation
USG Atul Khare
“In cases where a particularly egregious offense has taken place, say for the rape of a child, then we will request that this period be shortened by half – appointing an investigator within five days, and completing the investigation within three months,” the senior official underlined.
The Secretary-General has also requested that Member States obtain DNA samples from uniformed personnel who have been accused. Furthermore, if a country fails to investigate, Mr. Ban has proposed that its peacekeepers no longer be deployed to work under the UN flag. In addition, a very strong vetting mechanism has already been established, by which the Organization can verify the criminal past of prospective peacekeepers.
“Disciplinary measures have been strengthened since last year,” the Under-Secretary-General stressed, pointing out that not only will perpetrators be repatriated, but commanders are also at risk of being sent home “for not being strong enough in their command and control.”
Prevention is also a key element to the new report presented today. This includes pre-deployment training, mandatory online courses, and additional measures such as the enforcement of non-fraternization policies.
“That anyone serving under the UN flag should prey on the vulnerable is an abomination,” Mr. Khare stated. “We will not let up in our response to ensure that our prevention measures are robust, and that where incidents occur, victims receive support and allegations are vigorously investigated so that, ultimately, justice is served.”
Asked whether deploying more women could further limit the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, Mr. Khare said he does believe that a greater participation of female peacekeepers would help, not only in the fight against this particular issue, but also to improve the overall quality of peacekeeping and the way in which the UN achieves its mandates worldwide.
“I’m ashamed to call myself a peacekeeper on some of these days when I see cases like this,” the Under-Secretary-General told reporters, referring to the pregnancy of a 13-year old girl.
“What we need to do is not detract from the good work which is done by hundreds of thousands of peacekeepers. We need to find these culprits who bring a bad name to peacekeeping, who actually create problems within the country in which they find themselves, and most importantly who destroy young innocent lives. And we need to punish them in a certain manner that nobody else in the future will ever think of doing that,” he underscored.