Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sexual Abuse And Exploitation by The UN: an End in Sight?

In November 6th, 2009, Associate Press released a report on the disciplinary actions against 50 UN peacekeepers for molesting children on the missions.

The first reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers surfaced in early 2004. Since then, the UN has been active in addressing these issues for the past decade, but the problem still persists. Jocelyne Sambira reports.

NARRATOR: The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo was the first to be singled out, soon followed by Liberia, Haiti and other peacekeeping missions around the world. According to a report by the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, the involvement of peacekeepers in sexual exploitation and abuse has tarnished the image of the UN and undermined the trust of the countries hosting the peacekeeping missions. To eradicate this scourge, more people within the UN believe that tougher measures are called for. One of them is Ambassador Anwarul Chowdury, former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN.

N-CHOWDHURY 01: It's a shame that UN peacekeepers are engaged in these kinds of things. During the last three years from 2007 to 2009, 450 cases of abuse have been reported, and would you believe? Only 29 have been acted upon. It's a shame.

NARRATOR: Young girls between the ages of 13 and 18 are often identified as the most common victims of Sexual Exploitation by UN police, military and civilian personnel, the Oslo research paper states. Henri-Paul Normandin, Chair of this year's UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, C34, argues that the numbers have decreased.

N-NORMANDIN 5: Looking at the statistics, there still are many cases, and obviously too many, however and with the providing of statistics always a little bit difficult in this area particularly because we don't know what is reported and what is not- but anyway the official statistics show that we are in a better situation now than we were say 4 years ago.

NARRATOR: The lack of awareness and sometimes the reluctance even of the local populations to report these abuses make it difficult to gather evidence to indict a suspect. Many go unpunished prompting Ambassador Chowdhury to suggest more punitive measures.

N-CHOWDHURY 03: I believe that it will be important for the Special Representative, SRSGs of the Secretary General for the18 peacekeeping missions, to be accountable for this kind of sexual violence. If any such case comes within your jurisdiction, you are the first to go. That is how we can make them accountable. This is how I believe overnight, the situation will change. Believe me, there should not be even one single case in this day and age, of that kind.

NARRATOR: The UN's Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, or C34, has not gone to the extent of firing people, but Henri-Paul Normandin who chairs the committee, says steps are being taken to hold UN personnel more accountable.

N-NORMANDIN 3: This year the C34 mentioned that actually prevention in addressing issues of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN personnel should actually be part of the performance objectives of the managers and the commanders involved in UN peace-keeping operations. And we believe that if this were to be done effectively, it could have an impact.

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, Sara Taylor, Executive Coordinator of the NGO working group on women, peace acknowledges the efforts undertaken by the UN to address the issue, she firmly believes that the first responsibility goes to the Member States.

N-TAYLOR 4: It is extremely heartening to hear some of the action that is being attempted to be taken in terms of addressing issues of impunity when it comes to UN forces on sexual exploitation and abuse and I think one of the big challenges for member states will be to ensure that there is absolutely no impunity allowed for these crimes. That really is up to the Member States to take responsibility for that.

NARRATOR: Since 2005, the UN has adopted a Zero Tolerance Policy for any form of sexual misconduct committed by UN peacekeeping personnel - both civilian and military staff. But the diplomatic immunity which covers all UN staff serving in the field, exempts them from local prosecution. And there is no assurance that the perpetrators will be tried in their own countries. Henri-Paul Normandin says the C34 which he chairs is looking into that.

N-NORMANDIN 4: There are gaps in terms of criminal accountability of UN personnel when they commit criminal acts abroad. Well, this is being addressed in the 6th committee to try to look at how we could potentially fill in these gaps. And also important more recently following the C34 that then spread over in the General Assembly, there is a strategy to provide assistance to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse that has been put into place. So all of that to say that definitely the issue of SEA does remain on the agenda, it is a problem, it is an issue but I would believe that the building blocks to address that issue have been put into place and hopefully we are turning around a corner.

NARRATOR: Henri-Paul Normandin, Chair of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations or C34. For UN Radio, I am Jocelyne Sambira.

Listen to the article in Audio

Duration: 5'00"

Source: ReliefWeb

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