The United Nations’ (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and corresponding French peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic (CAR) have received a new wave of discredit after a French court decided in January not to bring charges against French soldiers accused of sexual abuse allegations. The lack of international media coverage or political attention on the matter has left the belligerents with minimal levels of international criticism or condemnation. Reports of peacekeepers abusing children, men and women in the CAR are not new, yet little to no punishment has followed.
The allegations were compiled in a UN confidential report earlier in 2014 by human rights investigators, however, the UN took little action to rectify the abuse. According to Code Blue, a campaign to end impunity for sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers, the allegations passed “from desk to desk, inbox to inbox”. The process failed to protect the rights of vulnerable civilians.
French authorities only became aware of the allegations when Anders Kompass – a director of UN field operations based in Geneva – leaked the report. The report detailed the abuse of children by French troops and was addressed to prosecutors in Paris, after the UN showed no inclination to act. Anders was later forced to resign. The confidential report chronicled testimony given by six children, aged 9 to 13, who described abuse by the soldiers from December 2013 to June 2014 in a camp at Bangui M’Poko international airport, near the country’s capital.
Nearly one-third of alleged cases against UN peacekeeping personnel in 2016 involved its troops in the CAR. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) interviewed 139 victims of abuse in the country, of which 25 were children, and detailed their accounts. Using photos and corroborating evidence, the OIOS managed to identify 16 possible perpetrators from Gabon and 25 from Burundi, according to Stéphane Dujarric, the UN Secretary-General’s spokesman. The perpetrators were handed to their host nations to face justice, although there has been no word of follow-up action. Most of the 139 allegations could not be pursued due to the absence of firm evidence.
The root of the problem is impunity. None of the suspects face a real threat of criminal prosecution and prospective offenders do not fear punishment. Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS Free World, highlights that “the system now in place permits almost all criminal perpetrators within UN peacekeeping missions to escape prosecution.”
Even more perverse is the UN’s lack of accountability. To fail to punish members of their own ranks, who are known to be guilty, but to punish the few like Mr. Kompass who seek justice and transparency, is in contradiction with the UN Charter principles. In the rare case where the UN does find a perpetrator responsible for abuse, there are next to no consequences. The responsibility often lies with the troop-contributing country, which often leaves the perpetrators unpunished.
A more active and aggressive approach towards internal justice at the UN is required. Preventative measures, such as the use of local mediators, should be used to avoid the gross misuse of power. Accountability must be made public and troop-contributing countries must be encouraged to seek justice on their own.
MINUSCA has long been criticized for its inability to protect civilians. These allegations of sexual abuse, however, portray the complexities and perversions of many actors, even those with mandates to protect.
The peacekeeping mission in the CAR suffers from bureaucratic complacency, a complete lack of transparency, and the dismissal of basic justice. Given the uncertainty facing the current geopolitical landscape, the author, who is an advocate of liberal approaches to international peacekeeping, believes that a present re-evaluation of UN “liberal” peacekeeping has never been more critical.
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