October 28, 2016

UN urged to step away from peacekeeping rape probe

The UN has been in the spotlight for the past year after scores of allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers [Zahra Moloo/Al Jazeera]

The United Nations is not in a position to investigate claims of sexual abuse committed by its own peacekeepers and must step aside to allow the law to take it course, a lobby group has said.

The call by Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue Campaign to End Impunity for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeepers on Monday, came as pressure mounted on the UN after a series of allegations against its troops in the Central African Republic.

Donovan described the UN’s ability to investigate itself on such sensitive matters as untenable.

“We are saying that the UN should excuse itself in the law enforcement in assessing the crimes and in determining who should hold responsibility and be accountable for those crimes,” Donovan, who is also a director at the AIDS-Free World NGO, said in a media briefing broadcast over the internet.

“This is a conflict of interest and they need to remove itself from the criminal side and focus entirely on the care of victims and allow the appropriate law enforcement officials to do their job.”

Dark allegations

The UN has been in the spotlight for the past year after scores of allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in CAR, were made.

As recently as March, it said it learned of 108 new sexual abuse cases in CAR.

According to a US-based advocacy group, three girls in CAR alleged they had been tied up and forced to have sex with a dog by a French military commander in 2014.

Donovan said that, considering the UN had failed to deal with the issue, the onus was now on member states to create an independent and impartial body made up of prosecutors and judges to monitor and rule on these crimes.

Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said he “would disagree respectfully with Ms Donovan”.

Speaking at a briefing on Monday, Dujarric said his colleagues at “UNICEF and other agencies who are dealing with this issue, know how to do their jobs […] I don’t think anyone is trying to bury these cases and trying to make them go away.”

Between March 2013 and late 2015, CAR was divided by communal violence. After a Muslim-led rebel group, Seleka, took over the capital Bangui in a coup, they launched attacks on the Christian community.

Reprisals from vigilante Christian groups forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes as the country became locked in a cycle of violence.

There has been much less violence during the last five months, with Bangui protected by UN peacekeeping forces. But the operation has been marred by a dark sequence of allegations of sexual abuse leveled at its troops.

Trauma and damage

In January, the Independent Review Panel on UN Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Foreign Military Forces in CAR released a report condemning the UN for failing to respond to allegations of child abuse against peacekeepers.

Also speaking during the online press briefing on Monday, Yasmin Sooka, one of the authors of the scathing report, said the UN had yet to implement measures that approached the issue “from a serial perspective.”

Sooka said the UN had very little expertise in offering support to victims or even in carrying out investigations.

She added that the process was still marred by incessant secrecy and there was little regard for the rights of victims.

“One agency told us about a young girl taken to the French military and told ‘identify from this group of men who the perpetrator is,'” Sooka said.

“You can imagine in that kind of context, the kind of trauma and damage but also the long term repurcussions and possible victimisation and stigmatisation.”

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