We wanted to let you know about some changes to our campaign. We are expanding our approach to addressing sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (SEA) perpetrated by UN peacekeepers.
We firmly maintain our stance that some incidents of SEA by UN Peacekeepers constitute acts of sexual violence, acts which are crimes requiring a criminal justice response.
However, we acknowledge that prosecution alone will not provide a holistic resolution to this problem - it will not necessarily restore trust between host population and peacekeepers, or indeed between the global public and peacekeeping, nor will it remedy the harm done to victims and survivors.
Our updated campaign will therefore expand to consider the interrelated questions of accountability, of the role of peacekeepers themselves, and of the nature peacekeeping as a whole. In order to do this, we are joining forces with the Together First campaign, which is pushing for civil society to be given a seat at the table in the conversation on solving global problems.
In recent years the UN has evolved its approach to sexual exploitation and abuse through a series of reforms:
These initiatives are not an exhaustive list of all UN efforts, but they reflect an acknowledgement that much more is needed to effectively address the problem. However, the impact of these mechanisms is not yet clear. SEA continues, with impunity. The UN has considerably improved its transparency with respect to people like us and other stakeholders in New York, but very little is known publicly on what happens to victims and survivors.
Unfortunately Member States have not taken the opportunities presented to them for progress on SEA. This is indicative of a wider erosion of trust between Member States: particularly between Troop Contributing Countries and donor and Security Council states. Disgracefully, Member States on the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly passed a resolution demanding that the Secretary General not follow recommendations from the UN’s auditors (para 144) that the UN select forces on the basis of discipline and performance. This undermines the positive effects of Security Council Resolution 2272 which granted the UN Secretary General the authority to repatriate peacekeeping units where allegations of SEA are prevalent.
What we're doing and how we’re going to do it
We're building on Mission Justice in three particular directions.
Reimagining accountability While the UN has made welcome and necessary reforms in accounting for the abuses through activities aimed at prevention, transparency and monitoring mechanisms, they do little to remedy the harm done to those most affected by SEA-victims and survivors themselves. We see a need for a much more nuanced and robust approach to accountability, based upon the framework of human rights and criminal justice, and putting the needs and desires of peacekeeping at its very heart. This approach builds in our previous Mission Justice work, but is expanded to reflect accountability for the abuses, of perpetrators, and to victims and survivors.
We have developed proposals in all these areas and have written to the UK's Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Lord Ahmad.
The UK government has taken a pleasingly open attitude to suggestions for improvement on this topic from representatives of civil society, academia, the charity sector and others. The UK will host a global Preventing Sexual Violence conference in November at which they will launch the "Murad Code" to improve protection of victims and survivors in evidence gathering. This is a positive step, albeit more work is needed to clarify how other proposed initiatives will work in practice. Our letter therefore urges him to use the opportunity of this conference to promote action on preventing sexual violence by peacekeepers.
We will also take these proposals forward through our partnership with Together First: a rapidly growing network of global citizens, civil society organisations, practitioners, parliamentarians, business leaders and activists from all regions of the world committed to fair, open and inclusive solutions to improve global governance. Throughout 2019 and 2020 Together First is leading a global campaign to:
Reimagining the peacekeeper has to do with changing the face of militarization in peacekeeping. Peacekeepers may be deployed from national military contingents, but their roles vary dramatically from what is expected of them at home. The push to include more female peacekeepers in missions, and to improve relationships with host populations and overall mission effectiveness marks the shift to a different kind of soldier doing a different kind of soldiering. We see a need to rethink what peacekeepers should be and what they should represent – removing the pall of toxic masculinity and replacing outdated notions of honour with those of service.
We are looking for partners, particularly in the academic sector, to further pursue this work and develop proposals for Together First. Please get in touch if you have an interest in this.
UN peacekeeping is under pressure. In all the UN’s major African missions casualties, both to the mission itself and among the civilians it is tasked to protect, have reached historic highs in recent years. Political processes are faltering, and resources are being further squeezed. Reimagining peacekeeping looks at how to bring the principles behind our suggested reforms on SEA to peacekeeping more broadly. Addressing SEA is not possible without addressing the trust deficit between the various stakeholders in peacekeeping, in particular between Troop Contributors and the wider system and between peacekeepers and the populations they serve. This likewise requires a detailed look at the power dynamics within and behind peacekeeping, the nature of the task itself, and the role of stakeholders and civil society in peacekeeping. Further, the issue presents a case study relevant to many of the issues the UN faces, especially surrounding the mismanagement of relations of power. If the international community can make headway on a topic which crosses so many issues and requires the management of so much nuance and complexity then it could set a precedent for how the UN might evolve to be fit for purpose in the 21st century.
We are looking for partners, particularly among current and former UN practitioners, as well as in the academic sector, to further pursue this work and develop proposals for Together First. Please get in touch if you have an interest in this.
On 21 September 2018, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution stressing the need to improve behaviour, leadership and accountability in peacekeeping.
The document reaffirms the Council’s support for improving peacekeeping performance and requests the Secretary-General "to act with urgency" to initiate investigations into poor performance. It also highlights the need for peacekeeping missions to have accountable leadership.
UNA-UK welcomes the resolution. Improving performance in this way will also improve the UN’s ability to respond to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in UN Peacekeeping. Specifically, the resolution could strengthen the ability of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, acting for the Secretary-General, to use objective appraisals of performance to turn down offers of troops from Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) that do not demonstrate willingness and ability to prosecute troops that commit sexual crimes – a key strand of UNA-UK’s Mission Justice campaign.
In 2017 UNA-UK launched ‘Mission Justice’ to combat the issue of sexual violence in UN – an issue which must be addressed for moral, legal and credibility reasons. The three principles of Mission Justice are clarity over responsibility for investigation, prosecution as the end goal and having no peacekeeper above the law. To implement these principles, Mission Justice belives only countries which are able and willing to investigate and where necessary, prosecute, acts of sexual violence should be considered fit to contribute personnel to UN peacekeeping.
This post was originally published by UNA-UK, founders of the Mission Justice campaign.
This post was originally published by UNA-UK, founders of the Mission Justice campaign.
The House of Commons International Development Committee recently published its report into “Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector” and UN peacekeeping. At 2230 on 1 August Channel 4 will air a documentary on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and staff.
The report was damning with respect to the response of the aid sector to the issue, and the outrage it expressed at the lack of action is legitimate. While noting progress made at the UN on tackling sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), it also highlighted the serious gaps that remain, particularly in terms of accountability. However, as UNA-UK said at the time, and as the documentary will hopefully make clear, there are limits on what the UN can do in that respect, as uniformed personnel remain under the jurisdiction of their governments. The UN can refuse and repatriate troops - and we believe this should be done more often - but it cannot prosecute them.
UNA-UK welcomed the Committee's inquiry and made written and oral submissions (summarised here), drawing on our Mission Justice campaign on sexual violence in UN peacekeeping.
While SEA is abhorrent in all forms, we are particularly focussed on acts committed by uniformed personnel and on acts of sexual violence. SEA is a term that covers a broad range of conduct from the criminal to the professionally inappropriate. Sexual violence is conduct that constitutes a crime in international law, and where there is a strong consensus that it should always be treated as criminal, and not as a disciplinary offence. If uniformed personnel commit such acts, their home country must be willing and able to prosecute them for it.
As the UK takes up its presidency of the UN Security Council, we have written to Ambassador Karen Pierce outlining measures that support greater accountability, including:
These steps should have the effect of supporting a criminal justice first approach to the problem of sexual violence, and placing the spotlight on the member states that alone have the ability to effect meaningful change. We also hope it will move the debate in the direction of the development of mechanisms to prevent the deployment of peacekeepers who believe that they have impunity for criminal acts including sexual crimes.
With respect to the report of the House of Commons International Development Committee, we were pleased to see the committee make extensive use of our evidence, particularly when it came to the nature of sexual exploitation and abuse, accountability measures and sectoral regulation and oversight.
“UNA-UK explained that whilst peacekeepers can be prosecuted by their home country, they have immunity from prosecution by the host country. If their home country do not exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction, or if certain acts of sexual abuse are not recognised as a crime, then even the home country will not be able to prosecute.”
We were also pleased to see the Committee support an idea that we and many other civil society groups have championed, that of appointing an independent ombudsperson with a mandate to review and oversee UN actions on sexual exploitation and abuse across all aspects of the United Nations. The Committee's focus on the needs of victims, and on the nature and consequences of abuse was also welcome. We would agree with the Committee's remarks regarding the weakness of coordination mechanisms across UN trusts and agencies. We are grateful for the support for the approach of our Mission Justice campaign contained in paragraph 175
"It is imperative that all [SEA] cases referred to Member states are thoroughly investigated and brought to trial where there is a case, and that the outcome of this judicial process is communicated back to the initial complainant. The UK must lead the way and use its influence within the donor working group to ensure that other Member States do the same
In addition, the report referenced an allegation against UK personnel taking part in the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) who “were alleged to have been involved in sexually exploitative relationships with refugee/displaced children in Freetown.” According to the report, no inquiry was made by the Royal Military Police as a result of the initial allegation. This is a serious issue that we hope to see the Government comprehensively address in its response; the ability of the UK to insist that other member states hold their troops to account will be severely compromised if the UK does not follow best practice itself.
Nonetheless, we believe that there is a gap between the rightful outrage expressed by the Committee, and the solutions proposed, which we do not feel are in proportion to the scale or seriousness of the issue. We also hope that the Committee will follow up on this work by investigating in more detail what concrete actions could be taken and which actors are best placed to take them forward. For example, we echo the Committee's call for the UK's Department for International Development to show sustained leadership on this issue, and hope that more thought will be given to what leadership entails. Safeguarding is a sensible and overdue first priority, but it needs to be complemented by action - domestically and internationally - to strengthen investigation and prosecution of criminal acts. Even the most comprehensive safeguarding system will not prevent incidents of SEA. Accountability is a crucial element of prevention and deterrence.
Overall, the Committee's report makes an important contribution to raising the profile and broadening thinking of the issue of SEA which is, as the Committee states, "at its core, an abuse of power". As we noted in our evidence, SEA is not limited to the humanitarian aid sector or to the UN but exists wherever power imbalances and impunity are to be found. In that regard, it is important to recognise the crucial role that the UN and aid sector play in bringing about a more equitable world in which sexual exploitation and abuse is less prevalent.
There is a real risk that, in seeking to tackle SEA, the valuable work of these organisations will be forgotten, less supported, or impeded in ways that may not actually have the intended outcome. There is also a risk that the SEA agenda could be instrumentalised by actors seeking to undermine the humanitarian sector and its objectives. It was positive to see the Committee acknowledge some aspects of this, for example, that organisations need to be resourced if they are to take the necessary steps on safeguarding. This is important given the pressures that UN bodies and aid groups are under to spend as little money as possible on what is seen as 'red tape'.
Going forward, UNA-UK hopes that the Committee will place emphasis on these issues, and ensure that it is as unequivocal in its support for organisations contributing to the eradication of SEA and the inequality from which it stems, as it is in its condemnation of their shortcomings.
Photo: MONUSCO helicopter Credit: Carver/UNA-UK
This blog post was written by UNA-UK, the founders of Mission Justice. It originally appeared on the UNA-UK website.
Our work on this issue forms part of our Mission Justice campaign on sexual violence in UN peacekeeping.
The written evidence looked at the lessons UN peacekeeping has learned and needs to learn, and which of these lessons could be applied to the broader aid sector.
The oral evidence is visible below, and you can read a transcript here.
Our evidence made the point that the UN has come a long way in its administration of this problem, but that criminal acts require a criminal justice-based mechanism which must come from member states:
"The response of United Nations officials was far too slow. However, UN peacekeeping has significantly improved when it comes to some issues such as: its response to victims, priority and prominence given to the issue, training and sensitisation, and – most recently – data gathering and collection. These reforms were highly necessary, although it is our contention that they will only be sufficient if reinforced by a meaningful accountability mechanism. In other areas, such as the investigation of allegations – a process handled by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) – there has not been the same extent of reform. Nevertheless, UN officials can, with some justification, claim that many of the most urgent steps that remain – particularly around criminal accountability – now require state action."
The evidence then details trends with respect to sexual exploitation and abuse and the reasons it is hard to track, leading to the question of definitions and the reasons why, we believe, the more judicially applicable definition of sexual violence is a more useful lens for measuring the UN’s response to criminal behaviour than the broader and more administrative definitions of sexual exploitation and abuse. We talk at length about the strengths and weaknesses of the UN’s zero tolerance programme, before concluding:
"Without prejudice to either side of this argument UNA-UK feels that it is important to understand that the UN’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual exploitation and abuse is an administrative approach to the problem, not least due to the organisation’s constraints when it comes to pursuing accountability for peacekeeping troops. Overcoming this will require a comprehensive, criminal justice-based approach, which would need to be based on sexual violence, rather than SEA, if it is to result in meaningful, consistent and universal processes of accountability."
Read our article on the UN’s zero tolerance programme.
With respect to the jurisdictions that apply to UN peacekeeping, our evidence examines where responsibility for prosecution lies:
"The UN as an organisation has no ability to prosecute military and policy personnel on peacekeeping missions. It can, at most, pass on the findings of its administrative investigation to competent legal authorities. Prosecuting individuals is the exclusive prerogative of the member states that provide peacekeeping troops."
The UN Security Council’s ground-breaking resolution 2272 gives the Secretary-General considerable powers to repatriate troops and bar them from participation in peacekeeping if they are unwilling or unable to seriously pursue criminal accountability. However not enough work has been done to instrumentalise the powers that the Secretary-General does have, and other powers are missing. Our evidence states:
"UNA-UK therefore believes that both the UN and TCCs – and, most importantly, victims – would be well served by establishing objective and evidence-based baseline criteria for contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions. This would take the decision out of the hands of the overstretched DPKO, thus avoiding both the political sensitivities of UN officials being seen as “evaluating” TCCs and reducing the risk of selectivity and politicisation that TCCs fear. Above all, it would mean that the Security Council would not be waiting for abuse to occur before it acted, but would be taking proactive steps to ensure that troops and police cannot be deployed unless their contributing country has demonstrated a willingness and ability to prosecute personnel who commit sexual crimes."
Our evidence explains how this could be done using slight improvements to existing processes that already exist such as the listing mechanism in Security Council resolution 1612 and processes established in UN Security Council resolution 1960 on sexual violence in conflict. This is the purpose of our Mission Justice campaign.
Our evidence then considers how these lessons could be applied to the wider United Nations, in particular civilian staff, and the wider aid movement. We support the call made by various experts and NGOs for the UN to establish an independent, impartial ombudsperson with a mandate to review and oversee UN actions on sexual exploitation and abuse across all aspects of the United Nations, and we call for all sectors to consider a judicial response to the issue, rather than purely viewing the matter through an administrative lens.
Finally, we end with a call for policymakers to use firm but considered language with respect to this issue, and particularly with respect to the UN, to avoid generating complacency regarding this issue in other sectors and industries and undermining the confidence of the British public in the United Nations – an organisation that is crucial to addressing this issue:
"sexual exploitation and abuse is prevalent in all sectors. It is likely to be particularly rife in situations where there are significant imbalances of power and weak accountability processes: both of which are characteristics of humanitarian settings. The scandals that have recently surfaced in relation the United Nations and the humanitarian aid sector need to be understood in that context. Their “#metoo” moments have come; they will no doubt follow in other sectors and industries."
It is therefore important that the United Nations and the humanitarian aid sector be held to account, but that in doing so, policymakers do not lose sight of the fact that sexual exploitation and abuse is a symptom of our world of unequitable power relations. The efforts of humanitarian aid workers, and of UN agencies, in addressing these inequalities are vital in helping us to move towards a world free of sexual exploitation and abuse.
During the oral evidence our Executive Director, Natalie Samarasinghe, was joined by Sarah Blakemore, Director, Keeping Children Safe and Paula Donovan, Co-Director, AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign.
All three made the case for more robust action by member states. Natalie Samarasinghe stressed the political pressures that member states place the United Nations under, and the progress that the UN system has made despite those political pressures. She further called for Mission Justice’s recommendations surrounding Security Council resolution 2272 to be implemented, so that member states – not the UN secretariat – take the pressure regarding troop contributions and the UN secretariat be empowered to employ consistent and objective standards.
Sarah Blakemore spoke about the commendable work Keeping Children Safe have done with their safeguarding and auditing toolkit. Paula Donovan spoke about Code Blue’s recommendation for a special courts system for UN staff and expounded upon the idea that there was an inherent conflict of interest in the United Nations leading investigation of its own personnel.
Following this session the committee heard from two former Secretaries of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP and Clare Short. Both called for the UK to take a leading role on this issue and suggested it was a task well suited to the United Kingdom Permanent Mission to the United Nations. By coincidence later that same day the United Kingdom Mission helped to launch the United Nations Sexual Exploitation and abuse risk management toolkit – a tool developed with the support of the British government.
This blog post was written by the Sri Lanka Campaign, supporters of Mission Justice. It originally appeared on the Sri Lanka Campaign website.
At this very moment, over a hundred thousand UN peacekeepers are deployed in nearly twenty countries around the world. Their purpose is just as their name suggests: to keep the peace; to stand between civilians and the forces that would harm them; to protect. And, by and large, they do just that, facilitating transitions away from conflict, and preventing the emergence of wars at a fraction of the cost and political energy that would be required to contain them once they begin.
Sadly, however, the noble goal of peacekeeping has too often been belied by the behaviour of peacekeepers themselves. As uncovered by one Associated Press investigation, there have been over 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers against civilians in the last twelve years alone.
Some of the gravest incidents documented in recent times have been committed by Sri Lankan troops. According to a confidential UN inquiry, at least 134 were implicated in the systematic sexual exploitation of children during a deployment to Haiti (MINUSTAH) between 2004 and 2007, leading the UN Secretary-General to call for the biggest repatriation of troops to date. As doggedly investigated by Journalists for Democracy (JDS) and the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), the punishments against those named in the UN report have been woefully inadequate. Not a single individual has been held criminally accountable. Indeed, some of those involved appear to have been promoted.
Green to blue helmets
Despite this disturbing history – not to mention the outstanding allegations of grave war crimes committed by government forces during the final stages of the civil war – Sri Lanka’s aspirations to become a major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces have grown apace in the last few years. In September 2015, President Sirisena outlined publicly the government’s plans to increase the number of Sri Lankan troops deployed as part of peacekeeping missions around the world. Recent reports have placed the total pledged figure at 3,500. Meanwhile, senior military officials in Sri Lanka have been eager to talk up the financial benefits that such contributions would bring.
Undeterred by the absence of accountability for past violations by Sri Lankan troops, the international community have accepted the offer of increased contributions of peacekeepers from Sri Lanka. According to one recent report, Sri Lankan peacekeeping personnel are now present in at least nine missions worldwide.
Under pressure, however, these contributions have been accompanied by various processes of vetting and screening to minimise the accompanying risks. Both as a result of global concerns about violations committed by peacekeepers generally – as well as those committed by Sri Lankan ones specifically – a patchwork of ‘nets’ have been developed and deployed to filter out known and potential human rights abusers. These include:
Unfortunately, this patchwork appears to be failing to prevent civilians in conflict-zones from being placed at risk by Sri Lankan troops. As highlighted in a major new report by ITJP, not only have the nets been applied inconsistently, some of them contain serious holes.
For example, the most effective vetting and screening to date – the process carried out by the OHCHR with support from experienced UN investigators into war crimes in Sri Lanka – was a time-limited arrangement that covered but a small fraction of Sri Lanka’s overall proposed contributions.
Despite the transfer of that mandate to the Sri Lankan National Human Rights Commission in 2016, there remain serious concerns about how effective the new arrangement has been in rooting out problematic troops. Earlier this month, for instance, it emerged that 49 soldiers had been deployed to Lebanon without any vetting whatsoever, nor the Commission’s apparent knowledge. This followed revelations in February that three contingent commanders, whose frontline experience in the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war ought to have exempted them from any peacekeeping role, had also been sent on the mission.
STF witness, testifying to ITJP (2018)
A wider concern raised by ITJP’s report relates to the criteria that is currently being applied by the Commission – and in particular, it’s adequacy in screening out members of Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force (STF), an elite paramilitary unit within the police widely accused of serious human rights violations both during and after the war. These violations include – as documented by the ITJP through some extraordinary insider testimony – abduction, torture and extra-judicial killing, among others. According to the report, one frontline STF officer alleged to be involved in some of these crimes is currently serving in a country in Africa.
As for the remaining layer of vetting and screening by the UN DFS, the report highlights a number of fundamental flaws in the processes that it adopts that cast serious doubt on its ability to act as ‘back-stop’ to the screening and vetting ostensibly taking place within Sri Lanka. In short, the report concludes, existing “vetting and screening at the level of both Sri Lanka and the UN is completely unsatisfactory.”
Beyond naming and shaming
The naming and shaming of problematic Sri Lankan troops is an important step in ensuring that perpetrators do not assume the role of protectors. To that end, ITJP has prepared a list of 56 individuals who should not be sent as peacekeepers, and has identified the name of one STF officer currently serving as a peacekeeper in Africa, which it has shared with UN officials. But a lasting solution will require much much more than journalists and human rights groups pre-empting troops from making it through the net when they should not, or catching them when they do.
Our view is that no Sri Lankan soldiers should serve in a blue helmet so long as allegations of serious human rights violations committed by them remain unaddressed. This is not simply what we think is the right thing to do; it is also what UN member states have said should happen, according to the terms of Security Council Resolution 2272, adopted in 2016. That Resolution empowers the Secretary-General to “assess whether a Member State has taken the appropriate steps to investigate, hold accountable [perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation] and inform him of the progress of its investigations when determining whether that Member State should participate in other current or future United Nations peacekeeping operations.”
Plainly, the fact that no Sri Lankan soldier has ever been criminally convicted for acts of child rape committed during the 2004-2007 Haiti mission constitutes a serious failure of accountability – and ample reason for the Secretary-General to exercise his discretion to refuse any further peacekeeping contributions from Sri Lanka until something is done. The near total impunity enjoyed by Sri Lankan troops in relation to the “widespread and brutal” use of sexual violence during the final stages of the civil war – as well as recent revelations that the Sri Lankan military is now disregarding the agreement entered into between the government of Sri Lanka and the UN enabling vetting by the National Human Rights Commission – should further add to the case for him to act.
Short of such action from the Secretary-General, the international community must, as ITJP urge in their latest report, take the lead and begin to invest resources in a process of thorough and meaningful vetting. To date, it is only the process led by the OHCHR that has effectively fulfilled that role. Unless that same, or an analogous, procedure is developed – with transparent criteria being applied by individuals with relevant expertise – it seems only a matter of time before the nets currently in place fail again and new victims of abuses by Sri Lankan peacekeepers emerge as a result.
Should that happen, it would be the product of gross negligence on the part of the international community and the UN. In light of the proven failures of the current arrangements, they can no longer be bystanders to the serious risks currently posed by Sri Lankan troops to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
 Speaking in April 2018, the Commander of the Sri Lankan army stated that “since 2004, Sri Lanka has been earning a minimum of USD $2.5 million per annum from peacekeeping missions overseas,” revenues which, “are utilised to train more and more soldiers.” While the scale of hard currency earnings accruing from Sri Lankan peacekeeping contributions remains unclear, a reading of one independent analysis suggests that this sum may be exaggerated.
Want to know more? Read ITJP’s latest report here, or check out this op-ed from Canadian MP Gary Anandasangaree on why Sri Lankan troops aren’t ready to be peacekeepers.
Want to take action? Mission:Justice is a new campaign that aims to ensure that countries that fail to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence cannot contribute troops or police to peacekeeping missions. Get involved here.
A statement posted by Mission Justice founders UNA-UK.
The allegations that members of staff at Oxfam participated in acts of sexual exploitation and abuse in Haiti and Chad are distressing.
Unfortunately, they are not surprising. Sexual exploitation and abuse is prevalent in all sectors and is particularly liable to be rife whenever you have significant imbalances of power and weak accountability processes: both defining characteristics of any humanitarian context. Scandals have hit the United Nations and now Oxfam, but it would be naive to believe that this is where the problem ends or that the problem is limited to the humanitarian aid sector.
Sexual exploitation and abuse is a complicated issue that defies easy answers; tough talk around ‘zero tolerance’ can play an important role in preventing abusive behaviour from becoming normalised, but for the affected communities it rarely provides workable solutions. In the long term only a world of more equitable relations will provide the opportunity for a world free of sexual exploitation and abuse. The work of charities like Oxfam, and of UN agencies, remains vital in working towards such a world.
In the meantime, accountability – particularly criminal accountability in the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse that involve criminal acts – can provide survivors with a sense of justice and punctures the climate of impunity that enables perpetrators. This is not always easy. When it comes to UN peacekeeping troops, the campaign we have launched – Mission Justice – promotes policies to fill jurisdictional gaps and provide due process and the possibility of prosecution. This might be an approach the humanitarian sector could learn from.
Yesterday the International Development Secretary announced a review of safeguarding approaches to sexual exploitation and abuse across the sector, and rightly praised the steps the UN Secretary-General has taken to combat the issue at the UN. Greater scrutiny can only be a good thing, but as the Secretary of State has said, we must not lose sight of the vital role that charities play in building a better and more sustainable world, which benefits both people overseas and here in the UK.
An excerpt from UNA-UK's magazine issue 2017-2 "The F Word"
As a policy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse, zero tolerance seems obvious.
Tolerance in any form – active, passive or unintentional – can normalise inappropriate behaviour and create a toxic environment in which violent transgressions are more likely, and more likely to be suppressed or ignored. Even minor actions can have damaging effects when they are part of wider patterns and structures of abuse and inequality.
This will not come as a surprise to most women. Global estimates published by the World Health Organization indicate that over a third of all women – 35 per cent – have experienced either physical or sexual violence, most at the hands of their husband, boyfriend or male family member. Even allowing for serial or repeat abusers, that’s still a lot of men. Clearly, this will not be news to them either.
In most sectors, just one case can ruin an organisation’s reputation, although it seems to have taken the avalanche of allegations against prominent figures in Hollywood and US and UK politics for these industries to wake up.
The UN, on the other hand, has been grappling publicly with sexual exploitation and abuse for some time, most prominently in its peace operations. It first set out a zero-tolerance approach in 2003. This was reinforced in a 2005 report by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, then Jordanian Ambassador to the UN, now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
So what’s the problem with zero tolerance? Surely it’s the best way to stop abuse?
Well, there are three strands of criticism. The first relates to definitions. The UN defines sexual exploitation as “… abuse of position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes…” and sexual abuse as “… physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions”.
Notions of propriety are inherently cultural. In our patriarchal society, all inter-gender relations are arguably unequal; indeed, all relationships have power dynamics. Critics therefore contend that the UN, with its unique ability to create international norms, could do more to set baseline standards and establish what is never appropriate.
Second, many practitioners find the policy impractical. They argue that it has been interpreted to mean that any sexual relationship between UN staff and nationals of the host country is abusive, with the rather Victorian exception of relationships within marriage.
As a consequence, significant amounts of effort are expended determining the propriety of relationships. This can be particularly time consuming when the UN has large numbers of peacekeepers from country X stationed a few miles across the border in country Y, leading to the policing of an ill-defined border. It can also feel uncomfortably akin to judging relationships on the basis of nationality. Many feel that these resources could be better deployed tackling clear-cut cases of abuse.
Finally, there are concerns that zero tolerance fails to place enough emphasis on the importance of consent and the particular atrociousness of rape. A false equivalence might be drawn between crimes of non-consent and still serious but non-criminal professional misconduct. Some UN personnel and troops may even form the impression that all sexual acts, consensual or not, are not permissible while deployed with the UN but are acceptable at other times. Some troops have responded to investigators: “Why did you give us condoms if this is not allowed?” And consent itself is a thorny issue, not always easy to determine, not always freely given.
At the same time, the UN rightly feels that it must make clear that sexual impropriety in any form will not be tolerated. It does not want to trivialise victims’ experiences or contribute to a dangerous, enabling atmosphere. While concerns about zero tolerance are frequently raised in private, few practitioners are willing to do so publicly.
What is the solution? In part it will come from listening more closely to victims, and bringing a victim perspective into this discussion. The Secretary- General’s appointment of Jane Connors as the first UN Victims’ Rights Advocate is an important step forward in this regard.
UNA-UK believes that accountability must also be part of the equation. However one feels about zero tolerance, it is ultimately a human resources policy and no substitute for the criminal prosecution of criminal acts.
Prosecutions must be sought for all cases involving allegations of recognised sexual crimes. When no such crimes are involved, the policy must kick in with real consequences.
Seeking prosecution for acts of sexual violence is important because it punctures the climate of impunity that enables perpetrators. It is also important because it places a gradient of severity on top of the otherwise flat policy that the zero-tolerance approach risks creating. Most important of all, it can provide survivors with a sense of justice.
To find out more about UNA-UK’s work on this issue, visit www.mission-justice.org
Photo: Martine Perret. Copyright UN Photo
An excerpt from UNA-UK's magazine issue 2017-2 "The F Word"
UNA-UK speaks to Diane Corner, a former British diplomat who served as Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) from July 2014 to June 2017.
What do you see as the purpose and value of UN Peacekeeping?
The United Nations, representing the international community as a whole, has the unique capacity to forge an international consensus, mobilise the necessary resources, and respond to a problem with an authority that no other organisation can match. Of course, it’s not always possible to reach an international consensus, and even when it is, UN engagement doesn’t necessarily proceed smoothly – in fact it almost invariably faces huge challenges. UN peacekeeping is trying to solve some of the most difficult and intractable conflicts in the world, and there are no easy solutions.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 tasks the UN with looking at peace and security through the lens of gender. How effectively have you seen this put into practice?
There have been great strides forward in some aspects but in other areas there remains more to do. Secretary-General António Guterres has been quick to address the issue of women’s representation in peace operations, setting ambitious targets for early progress. There is also already much good work within UN missions to respond to women’s specific experience of conflict. Yet more needs to be done to involve women fully in all aspects of bringing a conflict to an end. This is something the international community as a whole should champion. You cannot build peace if you exclude half of the population and, empirically, that half which is least conflict-prone.
Is UN peacekeeping still a masculine world? How does this shape the UN’s response?
In terms of percentages of women in missions, UN peacekeeping remains a very masculine world because the largest components of peacekeeping missions are military, and they are still overwhelmingly male. That will only change if troop-contributing countries change their military recruitment and promotion policies, and also put a premium on the skills needed for UN peacekeeping. For example, while peacekeepers may need to take robust action, they also need to build trust with the local population, and that can be much easier if you have women involved.
The 2015 High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) called for more people centred peace operations. How can this be translated into a new approach to peacekeeping, and what role will local women and women’s groups play in the transition?
These days a UN peace operation is more likely than not to be deployed into an arena where there is no peace, where the structures of the state may be very weak, and where the UN has to underpin international efforts to bring the conflict to an end. This is the situation [the UN peacekeeping operation] MINUSCA faces in the Central African Republic. Of course, this work involves engaging with leaders at national level but it also includes local-level work to analyse what is happening, put in place and monitor local ceasefires and tackle outbreaks of violence to build peace from the ground upwards. It’s a very different approach from the early days of UN peacekeeping, and the change reflects the immensely complex theatres in which the UN is now operating.
As one of the most senior British citizens in UN peacekeeping, how do you see the UK’s relationship with peacekeeping? Could we do more?
The UK’s contribution to UN peacekeeping, which includes personnel, resources and expertise, is highly regarded. The UK is the biggest donor to the Peacebuilding Support Fund, in many conflict situations the UK is one of the biggest donors to UN agencies, and the UK is recognised as having particular expertise in post-conflict stabilisation. Indeed, there are great similarities with the UN’s approach on stabilisation issues, for example on security sector reform or disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
I would, however, particularly want to emphasise the importance of the military contribution that the UK can make – and indeed is making – to a number of missions. British armed forces have unparalleled expertise, built up over seven decades, in modern counter-insurgency. Very few militaries come to the UN with anything like that kind of experience, and given the conflicts into which UN missions are now deployed, that skillset is of critical importance. For example, in the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a small number [five] of UK staff officers made a big impact on the mission’s effectiveness. How much the UK can contribute inevitably has to be weighed against other priorities, but I would stress that the UK should not underestimate the value that it can bring to UN peacekeeping.
You were Deputy Head of MINUSCA, the UN mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), which has faced incredible challenges but also deserves credit for stopping potential atrocities. Could you give us an overview of MINUSCA and what the future may hold for the mission and for CAR?
MINUSCA is indeed an incredibly challenging mission. Since the mid-1990s there have been around a dozen international engagements in CAR, and at least as many peace deals, and none has had a lasting impact. There are many contributing factors to the conflict: a very weak state and almost non-existent infrastructure; a plethora of armed groups, most of whom have no agenda other than personal enrichment; bad governance; predatory elites; and all this in a vast territory – CAR is the size of France and Belgium combined. It’s also a source of conflict minerals in a region scarred by war. In addition, regional movements of nomadic cattle herders into CAR’s lush pastureland each year also provoke tensions.
Since 2014 MINUSCA has focused on the west and the centre, where most of the population lives and which saw the greatest violence in 2013–15, and these regions are now much calmer though still fragile. Since mid-2016 there has been an upsurge in violence in the east, linked in part to the withdrawal of the African Union (AU) Regional Task Force, which was fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Despite the difficulties, MINUSCA protects tens of thousands of civilians every day, and without the UN’s presence in CAR there would have been a genocide. Personally, I think that success in CAR hinges on whether those guilty of terrible crimes will be punished. It is critically important to support the work of the International Criminal Court and the CAR Special Criminal Court – their work is key to bringing the violence to an end.
How do women living in CAR view MINUSCA? How does that compare to your experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone?
MINUSCA’s work to support women’s rights, including to the passage through parliament of the Gender Equality Act, has been very much appreciated by women’s groups in CAR and so too has been the work with other UN agencies to combat conflict-related sexual violence. That said, I’m not sure if there are sharp distinctions between the perceptions of the broad mass of women and those of men. There is perhaps a greater distinction in the perceptions of those living in the capital Bangui and those outside, particularly in areas where security problems are rife and where MINUSCA is the only source of protection, as shown by large IDP camps close to the Mission’s bases. Within Bangui civilian perceptions of MINUSCA are more mixed, partly due to political factors – UN Missions are an unwelcome presence for those who seek to benefit from continued chaos.
MINUSCA grew out of an earlier African Union (AU) mission, which in turn grew out of various military interventions by France and neighbouring powers. How did cultures and attitudes within the mission shift among the mission personnel once they were ‘rehatted’ with the famous blue helmets? How can UN values, particularly on gender, be instilled?
The UN has a wealth of experience in and doctrine on peacekeeping, and it has also on several occasions re-hatted troops from another peacekeeping operation. But while a comprehensive programme of training and support was put in place for the re-hatted troops, including on gender issues and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), elements of that programme were disrupted by the ongoing conflict in CAR. Also, it’s now clear that the sheer scale of rehatting six out of a total of ten battalions (four of whom had never served in a UN mission before) and retraining them in theatre was over-ambitious and contributed to the problems SEA that MINUSCA experienced. The UN has learned a lot of important lessons from what happened in MINUSCA. The best way to prepare contingents for service in a UN mission – including on gender issues - is to train them properly before they deploy.
MINUSCA was once notorious for its levels of sexual exploitation and abuse, although many incidents took place before the mission was under UN auspices. How was the issue brought under control?
The mission still has too many cases – even one case is one too many – and within the UN we should never be complacent that SEA is a problem which has been brought under control. But it is true that the number of cases in MINUSCA has declined of late, due to a number of strands of work. First, the mission leadership recognised the critical importance of dealing with this problem. It led an intensive campaign within the mission on zero tolerance for SEA, backed up by concrete measures, including the removal of two battalions (750 troops each), and a company (120 troops), and suspected perpetrators or those who had neglected their duty to prevent SEA. Second, we resolved to be transparent about the problem, even when that put us at the receiving end of international opprobrium. Third, we sought to put the needs of victims at the heart of our response, working with the UN country team and humanitarians to provide support. Fourth, we strengthened capacity in the mission to lead on victim support, on the handling of cases and on the media aspects. It was a huge amount of work, but it was vitally important to get this right – for the mission and the wider UN system, and above all for the victims.
Why has the UN found SEA to be such a difficult issue to tackle?
I think that the UN, like so many organisations and institutions as we know now, failed for a long time to recognise the scale of the problem it had on its hands. Crimes of this nature are often hidden. Victims do not readily speak out, even more so in countries where they may be subject to reprisal for doing so, and where the institutions of justice do not exist. Of course that should have been recognised years ago.
If there is a silver lining to what happened in MINUSCA, it is that the UN’s approach to SEA has been transformed, with a senior team devoted to eradicating the problem and to supporting victims; with transparency on the number of cases; with much greater vigilance within missions; and with mission leaders held to account for their performance in tackling SEA. But the very low rates of conviction for those accused of committing SEA remains a cause for concern and troop-contributing countries still need to tackle this.
Without the right policies and structures in place, SEA can be found in every country and every organisation. That has to stop. I hope that the backlash we are now seeing in response to scandals in the entertainment industry, politics and elsewhere, marks a watershed in ensuring that women everywhere are treated with respect. And the UN’s rightful place is at the forefront of these efforts.
Diane Corner is a former British diplomat who joined the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office in 1982. Her postings included Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, Harare, Freetown, Dar es Salaam, Kinshasa and Brazzaville, before her UN appointment. A selection of four questions from this full interview ran in the print version of the magazine.
Photo: Gladys Ngwepekeum Nkeh, a UN Police officer from Cameroon serving with MINUSCA, conducts a class on gender violence at a school in Bangui, Central African Republic, October 2017 © UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The UN Secretary-General today hosted a meeting at which he launched his "voluntary compact" between states and the UN, pledging a new approach to dealing with the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.
The five-page compact commits the UN to providing more assistance to victims of abuse, to working with member states to build capacity and to strengthening investigation and accountability mechanisms. In return the UN requests states to pledge to cooperate with the UN, to conduct thorough screening and to implement accountability measures, including reforms to domestic law, to ensure that they can hold perpetrators to account.
We welcome this initiative, which should yield practical progress whilst focussing attention on the key issue of ensuring that states that contribute troops are able to control them and, crucially, to prosecute them if they commit acts of sexual violence. While it is voluntary, the compact should also help to determine which states show the willingness and ability to take this issue seriously. We also recognise that it is ambitious and technical, and some of its proposals - particularly around DNA testing and screening - may prove challenging to implement.
Our hope is that over time the compact will influence “force generation”: in other words, that the UN and contributing states can work together to create peacekeeping missions that are largely or ideally exclusively staffed by troops from states that signed the compact. This will require significant political will, both to persuade states to take the steps required to sign the compact and to persuade those that have to make meaningful troop contributions to UN peacekeeping.
However, as with previous UN initiatives our view is that these reforms will only be effective if backed up by strong action to ensure that states that contribute troops can and will prosecute instances of sexual violence. That is the purpose of our Mission Justice campaign.
Today we are launching an updated version of our action plan. Called "2272+", it calls on the UN Security Council to implement existing Resolution 2272 and build upon it with new measures designed to prevent states from participating in peacekeeping unless they can demonstrate the willingness and ability to prosecute individuals who commit acts of sexual violence. Such a move would mean that peacekeepers would know that they face criminal sanction if they commit sexual crimes. This would change the culture of missions and give survivors opportunities for justice.
Monday is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. To mark the event, a memorial ceremony and conference were held by UNA-UK in partnership with UNA-Westminster and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). The event is the biggest such occasion in Europe and this year attendance hit an all-time high.
The ceremony took place at 1315 on May 24 and was the first event to be held on Whitehall following the terrorist attack in Manchester.
The band of the Welsh Guards, veterans of the UN Veteran Association, 14 VIPs (including Tessy Antony, Princess of Luxembourg, Alok Sharma, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and General Sir Chris Deverell, Commander of Joint Forces Command) and the ambassadors, defence attaches and representatives of 115 different Embassies and High Commissions marched from the RUSI building to the Cenotaph where they laid wreaths to remember peacekeepers who have fallen in duty. Over 3,500 peacekeepers, 104 of them British, have given their lives in the service of peace while deployed with the United Nations. Photographs and a full list of participants are provided below.
Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of UNA-UK, said,
“Peacekeepers risk their lives in some of the most dangerous places on earth in order to protect people and help countries create the conditions for lasting peace. These brave women and men give a lot to make our world safer, and over the years over 3,500 have given everything. It is right that we pay our respects, and we are delighted that such a significant section of our diplomatic community chose to do so”.
The memorial ceremony was part of a day-long conference on making peacekeeping work better, attended by over 180 experts and practitioners.
Ewan Lawson, Senior Research Fellow, RUSI, opened the conference with a moment of reflection for the victims of the Manchester attack. He introduced General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, who emphasised the importance of gender representation in peacekeeping and outlined the British Government’s “3P” agenda for improving peacekeeping: better planning, meaningful pledges, and increased performance.
The first session was entitled “‘Better Peacekeeping’ or ‘People Centred Peacekeeping’? What do these approaches mean and how can they be implemented?” Chaired by Dr Karin von Hippel, Director-General of RUSI, it featured Hilde F. Johnson, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS (South Sudan) and Dr David Curran, Research Fellow, Coventry University.
Hilde Johnson succinctly captured the basic concept of ‘people centred’ peacekeeping as being "don't abuse people, work to protect people, and engage with people and listen to them”. She stressed the importance of engagement, and said that more work was needed to improve the UN Security Council resolutions that mandate peacekeeping missions, including to ensure that they recognise that the host state can be a hostile actor.
David Curran discussed the performance element of the 3P agenda, in particular questions of training and doctrine. He pointed out that the Security Council had mandated missions to ‘robustly’ use force, and had tasked missions with promoting ‘stability’ but had not adequately defined what either term meant, or how they could be squared with the traditional ‘three principles’ of peacekeeping: impartiality, non use of force, and host nation consent – all of which were coming under increasing pressure. This necessitated revisiting the fundamental doctrines of peacekeeping, something that hasn’t been done since the writing of the ‘Capstone’ doctrine in 2008.
The second session was the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Lecture. Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director, UNA-UK chaired the session and reminded the audience that the lecture was in memory of Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN’s mediator in Palestine, who was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1948, becoming the first member of United Nations Staff to be killed in the line of duty.
She then introduced the keynote speaker: Major General (Retd) Patrick Cammaert, the former General Officer Commanding of the Eastern Division of the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and a former UN Force Commander and investigator. Major General Cammaert concentrated on the need for stronger leadership and exceptional field commanders, saying leaders must have the willingness and ability to hold individuals and units to account for their actions, and the new Secretary-General must show personal leadership. He also emphasised the importance of the UN Secretariat having the right tools and mechanisms to effectively monitor performance. He emphasised that Security Council mandates were only as strong as the willingness of commanders to implement them. He also stressed the importance of the wider political processes within which peacekeeping must sit, and the need to have more women in leadership positions within peacekeeping.
A video of Major General Cammaert’s speech will be made available on the RUSI website shortly.
After lunch, the inaugural Margaret Anstee Memorial Seminar was held. It started with reflections on the life of Dame Margaret, the first woman to lead a peacekeeping mission and the first woman to reach the rank of UN Under Secretary-General. Antonio Luvualu de Carvalho, Ambassador at Large for the President of the Republic of Angola, and HE Miguel Neto, Ambassador of Angola to the United Kingdom, spoke about Dame Margaret Anstee’s importance to Angola’s peace process and presented her cousin Peter Anstee with a plaque depicting her last meeting with the Angolan President. Peter offered some spontaneous remarks about the Anstee family.
Prof Christine Chinkin, Emerita Professor of International Law and Director of the Centre on Women, Peace and Security, LSE, spoke about Dame Margaret Anstee’s importance to the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Fred Carver, Head of Policy at UNA-UK, noted that she had been a longstanding member and adviser to UNA-UK and a personal friend of many UNA staff.
The session then considered the topic: “Leadership and accountability: how to improve trust and credibility in a context of ongoing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse and a perceived failure to protect”. It was chaired by Professor Chinkin, with Nicola Dahrendorf, former Director and Senior Advisor on Sexual Abuse (SEA) & Chief of the MINUSCA Conduct and Discipline Team, Central African Republic; Dr Marsha Henry, Associate Professor, LSE, and Fred Carver as panellists.
Nicola Dahrendorf spoke about the importance of sexual exploitation and abuse being recognised as part of a wider problem, within the broader context of violence, and the broader Women, Peace and Security agenda. As an anthropologist, she felt that the deeper issues of power, gender, race, and the legacy of colonialism from which sexual exploitation and abuse often stem were largely unaddressed. She thought the response of the UN had been honest, but that member states showed varying levels of commitment to it. She made an appeal for the humanitarian doctrine of “do no harm” to be applied to peacekeeping.
Marsha Henry summarised her recent research on peacekeepers’ behaviour. This demonstrated that peacekeepers were a far from homogenous group but that in many instances anxiety drove the desire to be a peacekeeper - as peacekeeping offered stability and financial security. Some peacekeepers were therefore concerned that allegations of sexual abuse could threaten their job security. At the same time there was a sense of troops seeing what they could get away with. At the leadership level, this frequently resulted in an approach which attempted to cut down on incidents by preventing any kind of contact between peacekeepers and the local community, which was to the detriment of people-centred peacekeeping. Dr Henry further suggested that addressing sexual exploitation and abuse required far more attention to be paid to the practical needs of survivors. The attitudes of troop contributing countries to sexual abuse at the domestic and national level, and not just the behaviour of their peacekeepers or armed forces, should also be scrutinised.
Fred Carver outlined UNA-UK’s Mission:Justice campaign and the unveiled results of his recent poll and his plan for tackling abuse. He spoke about how reform attempts to date have concentrated, with varying degrees of success, on addressing issues of culture, training, coordination and process, but that there has been a limited focus on judicial processes. He felt that such reforms were entirely necessary, but would not be sufficient unless complemented by serious attempts to ensure prosecution of criminal acts of abuse.
The conference was then brought to a close by David Wardrop of UNA-Westminster and Tessy Antony, Princess of Luxembourg and a former peacekeeper herself, who thanked all the participants and our generous sponsors: the High Commission of Canada and the Consulate-General of the Republic of Angola. She summarised the day’s proceedings with some pertinent observations on the events in Juba last year, and the lessons that could be drawn in terms of coordination and leadership. A copy of her remarks is available here.