UN peacekeepers who rape and abuse are criminals – so treat them as such

UN peacekeepers guilty of sex crimes have long been treated with impunity, cementing a long-standing problem. The organisation must get its house in order

Appalled by horrific descriptions of sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces, the organisation’s secretary general spoke passionately about the need to stop such crimes in its ranks.

“We cannot rest,” he said, “until we have rooted out all such practices. And we must make sure that those involved are held fully accountable.”

These words sound very much like the ones spoken by the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon last week in response to reports of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR).

But they were spoken more than a decade ago. It was a previous secretary general, Kofi Annan, who first pledged to eliminate the scourge of sexual abuse from the UN.

Sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers remains ‘significantly under-reported’
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Annan, to his credit, did more than just deplore the problem: he announced a zero-tolerance policy, commissioned a seminal report on the issue, and helped the UN to institute several reforms.

Yet the sex abuse scandals have continued. Earlier this month, Amnesty International found credible evidence that a UN peacekeeper in CAR sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl during a 2am search of her family’s home. The girl says he dragged her out to a secluded part of the courtyard, slapped her when she began to cry, tore her clothing, and raped her. Her claims are supported by medical evidence.

On Wednesday, the UN revealed more allegations of abuse of girls or young women by peacekeepers in CAR.

In response to the earlier revelations, Ban sacked the head of the peacekeeping mission in the country and called an emergency meeting of the UN security council to address the matter.

Heads do not often roll at the UN. The public spectacle of one of their own being forced to resign must have been unedifying for UN peacekeeping chiefs elsewhere. At a minimum, though, it should encourage increased vigilance of the sexual abuse problem.

Sadly, it has become crystal clear over the past two decades that CAR is not the only country where sexual crimes have been carried out by the very individuals charged with protecting the local population from harm. The list of countries in which cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers have been reported is now quite long, with abuse apparently systemic in some.

In Haiti, for example, a recent study (pdf) found that members of the UN peacekeeping mission engaged in “transactional sex” with at least 229 women in exchange for necessities like food and medication. The same study said that between 2008 and 2013, nearly 500 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse had been made against UN peacekeeping personnel, one-third of which involved minors.

In his resignation letter, the head of the UN mission in CAR alluded to the possibility that sexual abuse by peacekeeping forces might be a “systemic problem” requiring a structural response. This is certainly the case.

At the root of the problem is impunity: almost none of those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes of sexual violence face a real threat of criminal prosecution for their crimes. At the UN, many cases do not receive a thorough and immediate investigation. But even if a UN inquiry finds a suspect responsible for rape, there are almost no consequences.

Typically, the alleged perpetrator is sent back home and the case ends there. Because of questionable rules regarding peacekeeper immunity, the onus is generally on the troop-contributing country to undertake prosecutions. They rarely, if ever, do so.

India was recently in the news for punishing a few of its soldiers for sexual abuses that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but those were military disciplinary measures, not criminal sanctions. And the number of cases bore no relation to the magnitude of the incidents.

A much more aggressive approach to justice for such crimes is needed. Concrete and effective preventive measures must be instituted. Accountability must be made real and public, not just theoretical. Countries need to feel meaningful pressure to bring sexual abuse cases before their civilian courts; if they fail to do so, they need to be publicly outed. There has to be follow-up and transparency.

Because accountability starts from within, the UN should take a critical look at its own failures in dealing with sexual abuse. It has already taken a step in that direction by setting up a review panel to examine its handling of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in CAR. Either that panel’s mandate and powers should be expanded, or its work should be followed by a more comprehensive, investigative assessment of the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse allegations.

As Ban has said, “enough is enough”. After years of discussion, promises and strategies, the UN must solve the problem of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, once and for all.

Joanne Mariner
Thursday 20 August 2015 12.27 BST Last modified on Tuesday 25 August 2015 17.03 BST

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UN peacekeepers face new sex abuse allegations in CAR

Three more accusations levelled against peacekeepers in CAR a week after Ban Ki-Moon asked UN head of mission to resign.

UN peacekeepers earlier had been accused of sexually abusing children in Bangui and in the eastern part of the country [AP]
Three young females, including a minor, have accused United Nations peacekeepers of raping them in the Central African Republic, the global body has announced, taking the number of allegations to 13 since the UN stationed troops in the country in September.

The announcement on Wednesday comes a week after Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, removed the head of the peacekeeping mission in CAR over the handling of a series of similar allegations in the conflict-wracked country.

Vannina Maestracci, spokesperson for the secretary general’s office, told reporters that families of the three young females made the allegations on August 12 and that the alleged rapes occurred in “recent weeks”.

Similarly, a statement from the peacekeeping mission said UN headquarters was “immediately informed” of the allegations and that it was collecting “all available evidence”.

The alleged rapes occurred in the city of Bambari, where peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are stationed.

The CAR is still battling daily clashes between rival militias in the country’s hinterlands [Reuters]
Congo’s UN ambassador, Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta, told The Associated Press news agency that three members of Congo’s military have been accused and that he had just met with UN officials about looking into the allegations.

He didn’t address the allegations but said it’s “not normal” that vulnerable people would be victims of those meant to protect them.

Congo’s troops serve in no other UN peacekeeping missions, and its nearly 900 troops were accepted into the mission in CAR at a time when few countries were volunteering people to serve in the chaotic country, which has been ripped by unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims.

Last August, the New York-based Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said Congo’s troops, which were already in the country as part of an African Union mission, should be excluded from the UN mission.

The advocacy network pointed out that Congo’s armed forces have been noted in Ban’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence. They were included again this year.

Last week, following the removal of the head of the CAR peacekeeping mission, Ban met with the Security Council and the heads of all UN peacekeeping missions to discuss new measures to swiftly investigate alleged sexual assaults and hold peacekeepers accountable.

Ban’s actions came after Amnesty International accused UN peacekeepers in CAR’s capital this month of indiscriminately killing a 16-year-old boy and his father and, in a separate incident, of raping a 12-year-old girl.

Related: Are UN peacekeepers doing more harm than good?

UN peacekeepers earlier had been accused of sexually abusing children in Bangui and in the eastern part of the country.

The peacekeeping mission is also being investigated over how it handled child sexual abuse allegations against French troops last year, in which children as young as nine said they had traded sex for food.

Maestracci, the UN spokeswoman, said that so far, the peacekeeping mission has received 13 allegations of possible sexual abuse and exploitation since UN troops began arriving last year.

Under an agreement with the UN, countries have the sole responsibility to prosecute their troops taking part in peacekeeping missions, but if they take no action to investigate, the UN can step in. Even then, the UN only has the power to repatriate troops and suspend payments to countries for troops who are accused.

In at least one case of alleged sexual abuse or exploitation by a peacekeeper in CAR, a country repatriated its accused citizen, the UN said.

20 Aug 2015 08:33 GMT

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UN’s Central Africa force hit by new allegations of rape

The United Nations’ (UN’s) troubled peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic has been hit with new allegations of rape by peacekeepers, including one underage victim, a UN spokesperson said on Wednesday. Last week the head of the Central African Republic (CAR) mission, known as MINUSCA, was sacked after a series of allegations of sexual abuse and excessive use of force by peacekeepers. MINUSCA chief Babacar Gaye was replaced by Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who was named the mission’s acting chief. “A new series of disturbing allegations of misconduct have recently come to light,” UN spokesperson Vannina Maestracci told reporters. “The events allegedly took place in recent weeks,” she said. “These new allegations concern a report that three young females were raped by three members of a MINUSCA military contingent.” She said one of the women was a minor and the incident occurred in Bambari, where troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are deployed. The allegations were reported to MINUSCA’s human rights division on August 12 by the families of the three women, Maestracci said. UN sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Reuters that the accused troops were from DRC. The sources said the United Nations in New York was made aware of the allegations on August 17 and the Congolese authorities the same day. “The troop contributing country has been asked to indicate within 10 days if it intends to investigate the allegations itself,” Maestracci said. “Should the member state decline to investigate or fail to respond the United Nations would rapidly conduct its own investigation.” MINUSCA has been asked to preserve all evidence. Maestracci said that since its establishment in April 2014, MINUSCA has received 61 allegations of possible misconduct. That includes 13 cases of possible sexual exploitation and abuse. She said that so far two UN police officers and four soldiers have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds, which is in addition to 20 soldiers who were sent home “on administrative grounds” for suspected excessive use of force pending the conclusion of an investigation.Allegations of misconduct by UN troops are not new. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has vowed to crack down on abuse and misconduct by peacekeepers and is pushing to ensure greater transparency and accountability by governments of those found guilty of such behavior.

Edited by Reuters

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CIA cracks down on sexual harassment in its ranks Spy agency reacts to complaints of sexual harassment by women working in CIA war zones. Former officers say trysts are part of the agency’s culture.

WASHINGTON — Spurred by complaints from women working for the CIA in war zones, the spy service is stepping up efforts to enforce what it calls a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment by supervisors and co-workers.

David Petraeus, the CIA director, sent a message to agency staff members last month to emphasize the initiative. He ordered a team of managers to meet with senior officers at stations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possibly in Yemen, Somalia and other countries where the CIA has launched drone missile strikes against militants.

Petraeus also appointed a “counselor and investigator” to field sexual harassment complaints at those posts, CIA spokesman Preston Golson said.

The effort follows surveys of CIA officers in war zones in 2009 and 2011 by the agency’s office of medical services. The surveys, which sought “to capture perceptions” on a wide range of workplace issues, showed no improvement in alleged sexual harassment, Golson said in an email.

Numerous women, who were not identified in the surveys, reported having been harassed, often by supervisors, said two former CIA officials, who requested that they not be identified in discussing an internal matter. They did not know the numbers, and the CIA declined to provide them.

“This has been going on for years, but it seems to have become more serious,” one of the former officials said. “The agency has not come up with an effective tool to stop it.”

The majority of alleged incidents in the surveys “consisted of remarks or jokes of a sexual nature,” Golson said. “Survey results suggested that harassment of a more physical nature may also have occurred, but was not reported.”

Some CIA officials have been punished for sexual harassment in recent years, Golson said. He declined to disclose information about those cases, citing CIA policy of keeping personnel data secret.

A few have come to light, however. In 2010, for example, a senior manager in the National Clandestine Service, which conducts CIA operations, was forced to retire after he had an affair with a female subordinate and her husband complained toLeon E. Panetta, then the CIA director, the two former officials said.

Stories of sexual improprieties are infamous at some CIA stations, especially in high-stress areas. It is a civilian agency, and employees in war zones tend to work long hours, live in close quarters and let off steam by drinking alcohol after work.

Partly as a result of that, former CIA officers said, what would be considered workplace sexual impropriety at corporations and other government agencies has been tolerated at the CIA, and trysts between supervisors and employees are not unusual.

Ilana Sara Greenstein, who served as a CIA case officer in Iraq in 2004-05, said a senior manager who was responsible for her promotions “hit on me” when she worked at CIA headquarters.

“He was married, quite aggressive and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Greenstein said. “I said no, and it put me in a really awkward position.”

Greenstein, who quit the CIA and is now a lawyer, didn’t file a complaint at the time “because you know that’s the end of your career,” she said. “It sounds cliche, but it’s an old boys’ network, and that kind of comes with the territory.”

Find this story at 4 July 2012

By Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times

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ken.dilanian@latimes.com

Times staff writer Brian Bennett contributed to this report.

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