The New York Times has reported that “a panel of French judges has decided not to bring charges against soldiers accused of having sexually abused children while on a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic.”
The accusations have a troubling backstory that is detailed in a December 2015 independent report on the situation. The 170-page report heavily scrutinized not only the possible role of UN peacekeepers in child abuse cases in the ailing African nation but also the failure of UN officials to react in a proper manner. Among those accused of failing in their role in this situation were the head of the UN mission in CAR, UNICEF and the UN Human Rights staff in CAR – page 2.
There were inadequate measures taken to protect the children before the event and an absolute failure to consider their health after the event. Allegedly, no one within the organization wanted to take responsibility for the issue, and as such, it infringed on the victims’ human rights. The report impugned the bureaucratic nature of the United Nations.
Failures at all levels have led to citizens in CAR to protest the presence of the UN in their country, which led to 4 deaths and 14 injured.
Even more troubling is the fact that the Central African Republic has one of the lowest ratings on the UN’s human development index.
These children were the most helpless kind of victims, and it could be a sign that the UN was hoping to ride this situation out with the hope that no one would pick up the story. In fact, the report notes that the head of the HRJS “encouraged the SRSG [Senegalese Army General] of MINUSCA to keep the Allegations quiet” due to the political sensitivity of the allegations –page 7.
The report demands that the UN adhere to a zero tolerance policy in regards to actions like this and made 12 recommendations (see below) to prevent future debacles like this in the future. While there have been firings involved in this case, including the SRSG, the nature of today’s ruling makes us question how serious the UN is about following these recommendations.
Recommendation #1: Acknowledge that sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, whether or not the alleged perpetrator is under UN command, is a form of conflict related sexual violence to be addressed under the UN’s human rights policies.
Recommendation #2: Create a Coordination Unit in OHCHR reporting directly to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to oversee and coordinate responses to conflict related sexual violence, including: (monitoring, reporting and follow up on allegations of sexual abuse; (analyzing data with a view to tracking trends and practices for the purpose of improving prevention and accountability; and (following up on the implementation of the Panel’s recommendations.)
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Recommendation #3: Create a working group to support the Coordination Unit made up of experts (including specialists skilled in addressing sexual violence by international forces), and representatives of TCCs. The working group should: (develop a single policy harmonizing the SEA and human rights policies and (develop processes promoting criminal accountability for sexual violence.)
Recommendation #4: Require mandatory and immediate reporting of all allegations of sexual violence to: (the head of the human rights component in the field or mission, or the reporting officer; and (in the case of sexual violence against children, the child protection officer, as well as UNICEF and the SRSG CAAC; and in the case of sexual violence against adults, the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and (the Coordination Unit. xvi)
Recommendation #5: Establish, under the authority of the Coordination Unit, a professional investigative team available for immediate deployment when conflict related sexual violence by peacekeepers is reported.
Recommendation #6: Task the working group with reviewing UN policies dealing with confidentiality in order to establish a proper balance between informed consent, protection, and accountability.
Recommendation #7: Establish a Trust Fund to provide specialized services to victims of conflict related sexual violence.
Recommendation #8: Negotiate with TCCs provisions ensuring prosecution, including by granting host countries subsidiary jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of sexual violence by peacekeepers.
Recommendation #10: Adopt an approach to immunity that presumes cooperation and active participation of UN staff in accountability processes.
Recommendation #11: Negotiate with all TCCs provisions for screening troops that are minimally equivalent to the standards described in the HRDDP.
Recommendation #12: Maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date human rights database hosted by OHCHR