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UN Cracks Down on Peacekeeping Troops over Human Rights Abuses

MINUSMA peacekeepers patrolling the village of Bara in northeastern Mali. It is one of the most dangerous UN peacekeeping missions. Credit: UN Photo/Harandane Dicko

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2018 (IPS) - The United Nations, whose peacekeepers have come under increased scrutiny because of widespread charges of sexual abuse and human rights violations, claims it is now committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the “highest standards of conduct, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.”

And there are no exceptions to this rule, which applies to over 100,000 civilian, military and police personnel currently deployed in 14 UN peacekeeping operations and 23 special political missions around the world.

Nick Birnback, UN Peacekeeping spokesperson, told IPS “member States that provide personnel to UN peacekeeping operations have the responsibility to certify that all these personnel have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law, and have not been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from a UN operation.”

The most recent test case under investigation is the deployment of 49 Sri Lankan troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who did not undergo the required vetting process, this time by the local Human Rights Commission based in Colombo.

Taking a tough stand, the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has requested that “the Sri Lankan government immediately prioritize the completion of the screening for the 49 officers already deployed to UNIFIL”.

“If concerns arise regarding the 49 personnel already deployed to UNIFIL, DPKO may request that they be repatriated and replaced at the Government’s cost,” Birnback warned.

“In the case of Sri Lanka where there are specific human rights concerns”, he pointed out, the UN has put in place additional screening measures in 2016 to help ensure that deployed personnel meet our standards.

Prior to their deployment to UNIFIL, he said, the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations provided an attestation certifying that the contingent had not been involved in any violations.

“However, in February 2018, we learned that the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission — which the Government of Sri Lanka had agreed it would undertake human rights screening of all Sri Lankan personnel — had not yet completed the screening when the rotation of the unit in UNIFIL started. UN Peacekeeping immediately raised this with the Sri Lankan authorities and the deployment was stopped.”

“Meanwhile, we’ve asked the government of Sri Lanka to formalize the screening arrangements with the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission. Compliance with these arrangements will be required before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka. The government is cooperating with us in this regard,” Birnback said.

According to DPKO, the United Nations Charter requires that all UN personnel must maintain the highest standards of integrity and conduct. The UN is committed to ensuring that all its personnel deployed globally serve with professionalism, courtesy and dignity.

The UN Standards of Conduct apply to all categories of personnel deployed in UN missions. There is a three-pronged strategy to address misconduct: prevention, enforcement of the UN Standards of Conduct, and remedial action.

In July 2008, the Department of Field Support (DFS) launched the Misconduct Tracking System (MTS), a global, restricted-access database and confidential tracking system for all allegations of misconduct.

The UN Standards of Conduct are based on three key principles: highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity; zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and accountability of those in command and/or leadership who fail to enforce the standards of conduct, according to DPKO.

Meanwhile, as sexual abuse and paternity claims continue to rise against UN peacekeepers, the United Nations is actively collaborating with troop contributing countries in collecting DNA samples: a protocol introduced back in 2014.

The number of paternity claims – or potential paternity claims – has increased significantly: from 12 each in 2013 and 2014, to 15 in 2015, 33 in 2016 and 56 in 2017.

These are victims of “sexual exploitation and abuse,” according to the United Nations.

Providing an update on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the UN system– in line with the Secretary-General’s initiative on increasing transparency on ongoing allegations– UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters February 22 that from 1 October to 31 December 2017, “we have received 40 allegations for all UN entities and implementing partners. Not all allegations have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.”

Out of the 40 allegations, 15 are reported from peacekeeping operations. These 15 are not new allegations — they have all been uploaded on the Conduct and Discipline database as they have come in. And that is a publicly available website.

The remaining 25 allegations are reported from agencies, funds and programmes, and include 8 allegations relating to implementing partners.

Of the 40 allegations, 13 are categorized as sexual abuse, 24 as sexual exploitation, and 3 are of an unknown nature. The 40 allegations involve 54 victims — 30 are women, 16 are girls (under the age of 18), the ages of 8 others are unknown; 12 of the 40 allegations occurred in 2017, 7 in 2016, 3 in [2015] or prior, and the dates are unknown for 18 of them, Dujarric said.

With regard to the status of the 40 allegations, two have been substantiated by an investigation; three are not substantiated; 15 are at various stages of investigation; 18 are under preliminary assessment; two are under review with limited information provided to the investigating entity, he added.

Currently, there are 14 UN peacekeeping operations worldwide, seven of them in Africa. The more than 100,000 troops and civilian personnel come from 123 countries, with the five largest troop-contributing countries (TCC) being Ethiopia (8,326 troops), India (7,471), Pakistan (7,161), Bangladesh (6,772) and Rwanda (6,146).

The approved budget for UN peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 was $7.87 billion, which is slightly smaller than its previous fiscal year’s budget.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pointed out that UN’s peacekeeping budget – “less than one half of one per cent of global military spending — is money well spent.”

“It is a fraction of the cost of allowing conflict to spread and erode the gains of economic development. The investment is multiplied by the economic growth and prosperity that follow from stability and security after successful peacekeeping missions,” he declared last March.

He also said “UN peacekeepers are often under-equipped, under-prepared and unready [and] there are gaps in command and control, in culture, in equipment and in training.”

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council, he declared: “Our peacekeepers are vulnerable, and they are targeted for attack,” he added.

Last year, he said, 59 peacekeepers lost their lives as a result of malicious act – highest number ever and a sharp increase over the year before when the figure was 34.

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