June 11, 2015 – When UN peacekeepers commit acts of sexual abuse and exploitation, they do so knowing that their crimes have every chance of never being punished.
Under the current system, when a country contributes troops to a peacekeeping mission, it enters into an understanding with the United Nations that it will pursue cases of misconduct by its troops and report back to the UN, but in reality the UN has no way to enforce this and, at present, no way to sanction troop contributing countries (TCCs) who fail to act on cases of misconduct.
As it stands, the UN merely has administrative jurisdiction over its military contingents. Under the Status of Forces Agreement, which the UN negotiates with the the host state, each TCC retains exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute and otherwise discipline its military personnel. This immunity cannot be waived by the Secretary-General since jurisdiction is exclusive to the TCC (the immunity can be waived in the case of UN employees).
Most militaries have a poor record of holding their personnel accountable for violations. In the majority of cases, perpetrators are sent home – sometimes to a state where there is no legislation for sexual crimes or where such crimes are not taken seriously – and no further action is taken.
Similarly, when women give birth to babies fathered by UN peacekeepers, the United Nations policy is to assist the mother in making a claim for financial support but that claim is then forwarded to the troop contributing country for consideration. NGOs have called for the UN to establish a Trust Fund for victims and children who are born to peacekeepers, but no action has been taken on this.
While it’s unlikely that troop contributing countries will cede jurisdiction for their troops, the UN could enforce sanctions on troop contributing countries who fail to act on cases of misconduct such as barring them from future UN missions and garnishing pay of peacekeepers who father children while on duty. What is lacking right now is the will to push through such measures but if the UN is to live up to its promise, the Secretariat, member states and troop contributing countries must all do a lot more to eliminate sexual abuse and exploitation from UN peacekeeping.
- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz