UN sees rise in allegations of sex abuse by peacekeepers

For the first time, Ban released the nationalities of troops facing allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in his annual report. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES: The United Nations on Friday reported a “deeply concerning” increase in allegations of sex abuse by its peacekeepers, with 69 claims last year against troops from 21 countries.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for on-site court-martials while the United States said it was preparing the first Security Council draft resolution on measures to tackle the wave of accusations.

For the first time, Ban released the nationalities of troops facing allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in his annual report as part of a new push to pressure countries to take action.

Topping the “name and shame” list was the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose troops faced seven allegations, followed by Morocco and South Africa, each hit with four accusations.

Most of the allegations involved troops and police from African countries: Cameroon, Congo, Tanzania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Gabon, Ghana, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo.

Peacekeeping police from Canada and Germany, as well as soldiers from Moldova and Slovakia, also faced allegations.

Two UN missions accounted for the majority of claims: the MINUSCA force in the Central African Republic and MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there were also cases in Ivory Coast, Mali and six other missions.

The 69 allegations represent a “marked increase” from 52 in 2014 and 66 the previous year, said the report that described the increase as “deeply concerning.”

At least 22 children were sexually abused by peacekeepers, according to the report, but that figure may be higher as the age of the victims was not always determined.

None of last year’s cases have yet resulted in criminal prosecution, according to the report.

Under UN rules, it is up to the country that contributed the troops to investigate and prosecute those accused of misconduct while serving under the UN flag.

But human rights groups have complained about the lack of accountability for UN peacekeepers: many have avoided investigation altogether in their home countries or received light punishment.

A proposed US resolution would push the UN to expel entire peacekeeping contingents whose soldiers face sex abuse allegations if no action is taken by their countries to investigate or prosecute them.

The UN chief has ordered the repatriation of troops from the Central African Republic, but a Security Council resolution would significantly raise the stakes on this issue.

“The point of our resolution is to send a strong signal that the Security Council will not tolerate sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping,” said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, funding 28 percent of the UN’s $8.3 billion-budget for the 16 missions worldwide.

The United Nations has been badly shaken by the wave of allegations of sex abuse by the troops it deploys in missions with a clear mandate to protect civilians.

An independent panel concluded in December that the United Nations had grossly mishandled serious cases of child rape in the Central African Republic despite the official zero-tolerance policy on sexual violence.

The UN chief is recommending a six-month limit for investigations, establishing on-site courts martial for soldiers and requiring peacekeeping countries to provide DNA samples of their soldiers on missions.

Defending UN efforts to root out such crimes, UN peacekeeping under-secretary-general Atul Khare said that “anyone serving under the UN flag should prey on the vulnerable is truly an abomination.”

“We will never, never agree to protectors turning into predators,” said Khare.

The Security Council will discuss the report and the proposed US resolution during a meeting next week, diplomats said.

Source: Reuters