In a world order that seeths with the most insolent corruption, inhumanity and injustice in so many places, the revelations that French soldiers with the United Nations Minusca peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic were sexually abusing starving and homeless young boys in exchange for food is a shocking disgrace.
The acts in question allegedly took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for internally displaced people at M’Poko airport in Bangui, and they only became public after the Geneva-based UN aid worker Anders Kompass passed an internal report to the French authorities, because he didn’t believe that the UN were taking action to prevent them.
In response the UN has suspended Kompass – a man with more than 30 years involvement in humanitarian work, has been suspended from his post as director of field operations and placed under investigation. Kompass has also had his emails seized.
The UN has a long history of sexual abuse by its peacekeeper forces – and of covering up or failing to act on such abuse when it becomes known. In 1996 the former Minister of Education for Mozambique Graça Machel produced a report for UNICEF on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, which studied the new role of children in global conflicts, as child soldiers and also as victims of rape and sexual abuse.
The report found that ‘In 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict… the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.’
Cambodia, Mozambique, Bosnia and Kosovo, Sudan, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – in almost every country where UN peacekeepers have been deployed, their soldiers have been dogged by allegations of involvement in rape, sexual abuse of minors and prostitution. The fact that such things take place in ‘post-conflict’ situations, or in conflicts in which the UN is supposedly protecting civilians who may already be traumatized and vulnerable is both a gross abuse of power and a violation of the principles the UN is supposed to represent.
On one level this isn’t entirely surprising. Such things tend to happen when armies are in a position of power over a civilian population or when an army remains in a foreign country for a long time – unless their commanding officers take steps to ensure that they don’t happen and punish the perpetrators when they are found out.
The persistence of such behavior amongst UN peacekeepers suggests that their commanding officers – and the bureaucrats who oversee these missions, are not doing either. Even worse, the dangerous grey area of accountability, between soldiers whose behavior is supposedly regulated by the countries that send them on peacekeeping missions, and the control that the UN itself has over their behavior, may actually be facilitating such practices and enabling abusers to act with impunity.
Point 4 of the ‘Ten rules of Personal Conduct for Blue Helmets‘ introduced by the UN in 1998 declares: ‘Do not indulge in immoral acts of sexual, physical or psychological abuse or exploitation of the local population or United Nations staff, especially women and children.’
Yet in 1999, the American police investigator Kathryn Bolkovac working with the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia was sacked by her employer, the British company Dyncorp Aerospace, a subsidiary of the US-based DynCorp International, after she alleged that UN police officers and peacekeepers were involved in forced sexual enslavement of children and young women, sexual trafficking, racketeering, bribery and falsification of documents.
And in 2005 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told the Security Council that the UN would ‘leave no stone unturned’ in rooting out sexual abuse amongst peacekeeping forces. Yet that year, an investigation by the UN’s Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that soldiers were using food to solicit prostitution from refugees they were supposed to be protecting.
The OIOS also found that the UN’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards such practices was not being enforced, producing a situation of ‘zero compliance with zero tolerance.’ The allegations in the Central African Republic suggests that this has not changed. Today the UN continues to insist that ‘ all peacekeeping personnel adhere to the highest standards of behaviour and conduct themselves in a professional and disciplined manner at all times’, and its website carries a quote from Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, which declares:
‘The United Nations, and I personally, are profoundly committed to a zero- tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel. This means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully. It means zero impunity.’
The treatment of Andreas Kompass and the UN’s unresponsiveness to the allegations that he leaked, do not bear out these worth declarations.
This needs to change – and it needs to change now. The French government has promised that will find the perpetrators and punish them. Let’s hope it does, but it shouldn’t have taken a whistleblower to make this happen. The UN shouldn’t be punishing the man who brought these horrific acts to light, and the fact that it is doing so is almost as disturbing as the acts themselves.