SOURCE: CBC Radio, 'As It Happens'
13 April 2017

Read the transcript of CBC 'As It Happens' interview with the Code Blue Campaign's Paula Donovan: 

Guest: Paula Donovan

JD: New revelations about how UN peacekeepers sexually abused children in Haiti paint a shocking picture. According to a leaked UN report, between 2004 and 2007, nine Haitian children were exploited by a child sex ring involving more than 100 Sri Lankan soldiers. And that may have influenced the UN Security Council's decision or the vote unanimously, earlier today, to end its mission to Haiti. Paula Donovan is co-director of AIDS-Free world and its Code Blue Campaign, which aims to end impunity for UN peacekeepers who are accused of sexual exploitation. We reached Paul Donovan at UN headquarters in New York.

CO: Ms. Donovan, given the evidence we have of what has happened in Haiti with UN peacekeepers does it seem appropriate that the mission should come to an end?

PAULA DONOVAN: It certainly seems as though the world has determined — the world's governments — have determined that the peacekeeping mission has outstayed its welcome. And part of that lack of welcome on the part of Haitian people has to do with the way that peacekeepers have behaved in the country and the terrible reputation that the UN has garnered partly because so many of the local people have been sexually exploited and abused by peacekeeping personnel.

CO: We like to think, especially in Canada, that the blue helmet is a symbol of security, of bringing some kind of relief to people in violent areas. Tell us a bit about what happened to these children in Haiti at the hands of the UN peacekeepers?

PD: The children in Haiti who were children and primarily women who have been sexually exploited and abused are being violated by people who are not typical of peacekeepers. But since the UN is doing such a dreadful job of responding and making sure that justice is served for the few who give a dreadful reputation for the many then this has become sort of symbolic of the way that peacekeepers deal with the local public with disdain and disregard for their well-being and their dignity.

CO: But this report — this UN report — that has just surfaced shows that there were about 100 Sri Lankan peacekeeping soldiers involved in this child sex ring and that they identify nine children who were exploited by those soldiers. So it's not all peacekeepers, but a pretty large organization that is doing this over a long period of time. How can they do it with such impunity? Why is this not reported earlier?

PD: I think that what happens is the United Nations tends to wash hands of it and say there's nothing we can do. We rely on sovereign states — on member states — to contribute their soldiers. They have jurisdiction over their soldiers when they are accused of wrongdoing unless the troop contributing countries step up and provide justice where it's due. There's not a thing that we can do. What we've realized is that half of all the allegations made against United Nations peacekeeping personnel are actually made against the civilian personnel. The international civil servants people who are at the staff and experts who work for the UN who are not soldiers. So the gold standard isn't being upheld and justice is being served for those who are actually working directly under the United Nations and for the United Nations. Those people are just treated as if they have committed an administrative faux-pas and they might be fired, but there's no justice served. So that model is not good.

CO: No justice served why not?

PD: Because the UN feels as though if their international civil servants in a peacekeeping country are accused of a violent crime they won't get the true justice that they deserve if they turn them over to the local authorities. Because they're afraid that their police aren't functioning, that judiciary's aren't functioning and that's why we're proposing that a special court mechanism be set up specifically to deal with international civil servants, people who work for the UN, who are accused of these crimes so that an international police and judiciary can investigate and treat them just exactly the way the soldiers should be treated and the way anyone should be treated when accused of rape and other violent sexual crimes.

CO: Haiti is not the first by any stretch of countries where we have seen and learned about UN peacekeepers abusing children. There's been studies since 1990s showing the numbers of countries where this has happened. I know Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are just two examples. How extensively do you think, you said you think it's a small percentage, but how extensive do you think this activity is among peacekeepers?

PD: I think that the UN itself has conceded that this happens in every single peacekeeping mission. And people don't feel so they can report thinking that the UN personnel somehow live above the law. Just over the years 2015 and 2016, there were two hundred and fifty allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by the peacekeepers just in the Central African Republic. It is just appalling.

CO: And you mentioned this is not confined just to peacekeeping but peacekeepers are often the only authority aren't they. I mean they go in where the state has failed you know very vulnerable people who rely on the distribution of aid and material support that they need the peacekeepers have control over how that gets to people. And so there's a tremendous amount of power they have over lives. Is that the leverage they use in order to get good access to young people?

PD: That's exactly it. They use that leverage. They abuse their power and authority. And there's an assumption that these are your protectors that they have come to help you rather than to hurt you. So children in the Central African Republic, for instance, approached French peacekeepers and they were approached them to beg for food — kids who were without parents and living on the streets. And when it turned out that these French peacekeepers are exchanging food for forced sexual encounters then they reported these horrible violations to UNICEF. UNICEF documented all the information promised the children that they would help them and then it has ignored them for the past three years, which is what we just revealed yesterday at a press conference. A new documentary film made by Swedish television interviewed some of those children and they said we talked to UNICEF we talked to the UN they promised to put us in school and would help us with food and so forth. We're still on the street. We've never been helped and several of them have just been abandoned. When confronted with this, the UNICEF representative in the Central African Republic said well there may be a gap here and a gap there. So there's a level of distain and not taking this seriously. That is just crushing under any circumstances. But when you promised support to children who've been sexually abused and they have given their horrible testimonies to you and then you just abandon them to the streets. It's unthinkable.

CO: It is a tragic story to discuss with you. Ms Donovan, I appreciate you speaking with us. Thank you.

PD: Thank you Carol.

JD: Paula Donovan is co-director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign, which aims to end impunity for sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers. We reached Ms. Donovan at UN headquarters in New York.



(UN Photo / Logan Abassi)