Peacekeepers on Trial

by Brytnni Toddy

The Central African Republic (CAR) holds some of the largest deposits of precious resources in the world, but its people are some of the poorest and are the victims of violent, internal conflict. Now there is fear that these same people are facing abuse by those that the international community has sent to help them. The United Nation’s peacekeepers are being accused of raping women and children, impregnating them, and exploiting them for money and food.

The CAR has a history of civil wars and power struggle coupled with outside conflict that has damaged the country. In 2013 a Muslim rebel group overthrew the president, Francois Bozize, throwing the country into chaos as Muslim and Christian groups continue to fight for power. People were displaced and forced from their homes and violence has taken over the area.

In September of 2014 the United Nations sent peacekeepers to bring stability to the CAR but after a few months the accusations of sexual abuse began to pour in. The Washington Post documents some of the women’s experiences of being exploited for food or money, impregnated, and then left with a baby that they can’t afford to take care of, adding to the poverty and starvation of the people. [1] There have been accusations of U.N. peacekeepers perpetrating sex crimes since the1990s and in several countries such as Bosnia, Liberia, Haiti, The Democratic Republic of the Congo and now in the Central African Republic. [2] These sexual abuse accusations are adding to the list of abuse charges that together call into question the accountability of the U.N. What can be done to bring justice becomes an increasingly complicated issue because of the immunity that personnel such as peacekeepers, receive.

Generally, U.N. personnel working in a foreign country receive immunity from being prosecuted in the country they are working in and are returned to their own country and prosecuted under those laws. Prosecutions of these kinds are rare though because it is difficult to gather evidence abroad, the laws around the world are contradictory and there are many holes in the framework that is the basis for these laws. If a person does go to trial and earns a conviction for their crimes the punishment often does not fit the crime. Since military personnel provided the original outline for dealing with international workers the issue becomes even more complex with civilians, such as those working under the U.N. Currently in the CAR investigations are in process and the country’s officials are under pressure to do what they can to alleviate the problem. [3]

Though prosecution and justice have been mostly absent throughout the disturbing history of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, April marked an important step for the U.N. and their accountability, as the U.N. holds the first trial for the CAR. Three men from the Congo are going to trial for sex crimes against children while working as U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The Congo is holding the trial in a military prison north of the capital, Kinshasa, and could take months to resolve. France also opened investigations into new accusations against troops stationed in the CAR. [4]

All of this will affect the upcoming election of the U.N. Secretary General, frequently dubbed the most difficult job in the world. Usually a very secretive event, for the first time candidates for secretary general openly discussed their positions in an informal debate last month. This marks another monumental step for the U.N. in trying to restore their accountability. According to the NY Times all of the candidates claimed that there would be “zero tolerance for sexual abuse.” [5]

The United States is one of the biggest donors to peacekeeping projects and U.S. senators are expressing their disapproval of the U.N. Many are calling for more oversight of U.N. projects, such as Maryland Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, the top Democratic Senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin also threatened that Congress would come up with a plan if the U.N. did not. The article also stated that Bob Corker, Republican Senator and Chairman of the Senate FRC, strongly expressed his disdain for the U.N. saying that he would not trust peacekeepers around his wife. [6]

People around the world have come together in response to allegations of abuse by U.N. personnel trying to bring justice to victims that get lost in the politics of international relations. Code Blue is a global campaign that works to end impunity, the lack of punishment, and bring justice to those that have been sexually abused by peacekeepers. The campaign calls for revision of laws and for the implementation of a stable system of applicable legal standards. [7]

The purpose of peacekeeping is to help countries in need of support but because of the complications that arise when holding abusers accountable for offenses, victims get lost in technicalities. Everyone holds a stake in U.N. operations and it is important to be aware of the impact these projects have on the people they are meant to help.

 

[1] Kevin Seiff, “The Growin UN Scandal over Sex Abuse,” The Washington Post (February 27, 2016): Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2016/02/27/peacekeepers/.

[2] Rosa Freedman, “Why Do Peacekeepers have Immunity in Sex Abuse Cases?” CNN (May 25, 2015): Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/22/opinions/freedman-un-peacekeepers-immunity/.

[3] Andrew Ladley, “Peacekeeper Abuse, Immunity and Impunity: The Need for Effective Criminal and Civil Accountability on International Peace Operations,” Kent Law (2005): Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.kentlaw.edu/faculty/bbrown/classes/IntlOrgSp09/PEACEKEEPERABUSEIMMUNITYANDIMPUNITY.pdf.

[4] “The UN Peacekeepers go on Trial for CAR sex abuse,” Al Jazeera (April 5, 2016): Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/peacekeepers-trial-sex-abuse-car-160405040318812.html.

[5] Somini Segupta, “At U.N., Ambassadors Hold Auditions for Next Secretary General” The NY Times (April 15, 2016): Accessed April 16, 2016. “http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/world/united-nations-secretary-general-candidates-audition.html?_r=0.

[6] Somini Segupta, “U.S. Senators Threaten U.N. Over Sex Abuse by Peacekeepers,” The NY Times (April 13, 2016): Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/14/world/africa/us-senators-threaten-un-over-sex-abuse-by-peacekeepers.html.

[7] “The Campaign” Code Blue website: Accessed May 9, 2016. http://www.codebluecampaign.com/about-the-campaign/.

 

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