Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Editorial | Predators in uniform

Published:Saturday | December 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM

The world has barely blinked at the news that United Nations (UN) peacekeepers fathered hundreds of children in Haiti then turned their backs on the women they raped and the children they bore. This is Haiti, a country struggling to overcome deep poverty and underdevelopment. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has also borne the ravages of extreme climate events and a cholera epidemic.

Perhaps if this UN sex scandal got a fraction of the media attention given to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sex crimes, such abhorrent behaviour would have stirred outrage around the world. Sadly, it has escaped the condemnation it truly deserves.

Allegations of sexual abuse against UN peacekeepers and civilian staff have been in the news since the 1990s. The UN deploys about 100,000 uniformed military and police personnel and nearly as many civilians around the world.

For the period 2004-2016, there were about 1,700 formal complaints of sexual misconduct against UN peacekeeping forces worldwide. But estimates by the global sexual abuse charity known as ‘Hear Their Cries’ suggest that peacekeepers and civilian UN staff could have carried out as many as 60,000 acts of rape, sexual assault and abuse between 2010 and up to 2018.

In Haiti, UN peacekeepers who established a presence in 2004 are alleged to have operated a child sexual ring for several years. For example, a group of Haitian children identified 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers in 2007 who they alleged had sexually exploited and abused them. One boy told investigators he slept with at least 100 soldiers, averaging four per day. No one was jailed and Sri Lanka continued to participate in missions in Haiti and elsewhere.

These and other accounts paint the picture of peacekeepers as predators in uniform, operating under the immunity umbrella of the United Nations. It is alleged that young girls were sometimes forced to perform sexual favours just to get a meal to satisfy their hunger. These girls, uneducated and mired in poverty, were then left with babies to care for with no help from the men who fathered them.

From our research, only about 50 peacekeepers have ever been arrested and punished for sexual crimes. One is compelled to ask the question: Has the UN done enough to hold the guilty accountable and end this evil practice? An independent panel found in 2016 that the UN did not act with the “speed, care or sensitivity required,” in the circumstances.

HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE

Following charges about the various atrocities and lack of redress and accountability in these matters, the international body unveiled a slew of proposals designed to combat sexual abuse and exploitation within the ranks of its peacekeeping forces. New measures were also introduced in 2017, essentially to accomplish what had not been achieved in 2005.

We appreciate that the UN does not have jurisdiction to prosecute peacekeeping troops but the member states, who provide these staff should be compelled to hold them accountable. There ought, we believe, to be some mechanism to identify the perpetrators of sexual crimes and ensure that they are prosecuted in their home countries and made to stand up to their responsibility of fatherhood, once DNA evidence is established.

Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed a seven-member panel of distinguished persons to serve on the Civil Society Advisory Board on prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. The board’s functions include advising the secretary general on ways to strengthen preventative measures and accountability.

Acknowledging the expert view that being a single, unemployed mother is the number one risk factor for poverty, the future seems bleak for these Haitian mothers and their fatherless children. These Haitian mothers were not protected by their peacekeepers and they ought to be compensated for their pain and suffering.