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Saturday, November 28, 2020
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 17 2015 (IPS) - The United Nations has failed to appropriately respond to cases of sexual violence committed by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, a new report revealed.
The report, an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) commissioned by the Secretary-General, has exposed significant flaws in the UN’s response to sexual abuse allegations in the conflict ridden country.
“The Report depicts a United Nations that failed to respond meaningfully when faced with information about reprehensible crimes against vulnerable children,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon upon receiving the report on 17 Dec.
“I express my profound regret that these children were betrayed by the very people sent to protect them,” he continued.
In the spring of 2014, claims surfaced that international troops serving in a UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) sexually abused young children from the M’Poko displacement camp in exchange for food or money.
Though the alleged perpetrators, largely from a French military force known as the Sangaris Forces, were not under UN command, the report reveals the UN failed to thoroughly investigate and report on the cases.
For instance, the Human Rights and Justice Section (HRJS) of MINUSCA did not conduct an in-depth examination of the allegations and deliberately did not follow-up with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and/or the French government on the cases.
The UN’s children’s agency UNICEF and UN human rights staff in the country also failed to ensure that children received adequate medical attention and assistance and neglected to protect other potential victims.
“Instead, information about the allegations was passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations,” the report stated.
The review, conducted by a panel chaired by former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Marie Deschamps, also found that numerous UN officials failed to act when provided information on the accusations.
Officials include Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for MINUSCA Babacar Gaye, who resigned in August 2015 at the request of the Secretary-General, and SRSG for Children in Armed Conflict (CAAC) Leila Zerrougui.
Commenting on the review, both Gaye and Zerrougui denied they received verified information, and that they responded inappropriately to the cases.
“If the SRSG CAAC had received verified information on the violations through the appropriate formal channels, or was alerted by any entities that the violations were ongoing at any point in the intervening period, she would have followed up with the Country Task Force and with the French authorities to discuss further follow up options,” Zerrougui remarked.
In order to rebuild the trust of victims, local populations and the international community, the UN and troop-contributing countries (TCCs) must take immediate action, the panel stated.
One such action is the acknowledgement that sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, whether or not they are under UN command, must be treated as a serious human rights violation that can be met with criminal prosecution.
Among its other recommendations, the panel also called for the creation of a coordination unit in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor, report and follow-up on sexual abuse allegations; a mandatory and immediate reporting policy; establish a Trust Fund to provide specialized services to victims of conflict-related sexual violence and; negotiate with TCCs to screen troops and prosecute crimes of sexual violence.
While accepting the report’s findings, the UN Chief stated he intends to act “without delay” to address the systemic issues, fragmentation and other problems concerning sexual abuse by peacekeepers.
“Victims do not care what colour helmet or uniform is worn by those who come to protect them,” Ban remarked.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse of power has no place in the United Nations or in the world of dignity for all that we are striving to build,” he concluded.
Since the early 1990s, there have been sexual abuse cases committed by UN peacekeepers around the world from Haiti to Kosovo to Cambodia.
Though a zero-tolerance policy was implemented by the Secretary-General in 2003 and was reiterated in 2015, it has had little effect.
In 2014 alone, there were 79 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, 51 of which were in peacekeeping missions and special political missions.
Given the flaws around investigation and reporting of sexual abuse cases, the review panel notes that it is likely that incidence of such cases are vastly under-reported.
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