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Experts launch ‘Code Blue,’ demand end to UN immunity when peacekeepers commit sexual exploitation and abuse

— AIDS-Free World’s campaign calls for removal of immunity and Commission of Inquiry into UN’s handling of sexual violence in peacekeeping missions —

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New York, May 13, 2015 — Speaking just steps from UN headquarters today, celebrated experts Ms. Graça Machel, Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, Ms. Theo Sowa, and Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury joined international advocacy organization AIDS-Free World to launch Code Blue, a campaign to end immunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.

Recent revelations of child sexual abuse by French and other troops in the Central African Republic, the UN’s documentation of those crimes, and its failure over the next year to report the perpetrators or to protect the victims, are just the latest in a shameful litany of tolerance for sexual abuse and subsequent UN cover-ups.

For more than two decades, the media and non-governmental organizations have uncovered depraved acts by UN peacekeepers, including human trafficking in Bosnia, sex-for-food scandals in West Africa, and the rapes of women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With each new exposé, the UN re-asserts its policy of ‘zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.’

In practice, the UN’s zero tolerance policy amounts to zero justice for victims.

With Code Blue, AIDS-Free World is determined to change that. As a first crucial step, it will seek the removal of any possibility of immunity(1) for the UN’s own personnel—the UN’s non-military staff, police, and experts on mission (2) — when they are accused of sexual exploitation or abuse, sending a powerful message to countries that supply military peacekeepers. Code Blue will also call for the creation of an entirely independent, external Commission of Inquiry to examine every facet of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations, and to investigate the way the UN system is handling the problem: from its missions on the ground, right up through the chain of command to the Secretary-General.

“UN immunity is a protective cloak that allows peacekeepers to commit atrocities knowing how unlikely it is that they will ever be stopped, investigated or punished for their crimes,” said Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World. “The presumption that UN peacekeeping personnel may be immune from legal process triggers a chain reaction that most often ends in gross miscarriages of justice. Instead of prompting immediate action, reports of abuse are caught up in a tangle of red tape while the Secretary-General decides whether to waive immunity. Meanwhile, suspects and their accomplices have time to destroy evidence, silence witnesses, and threaten or pay off victims or their families, making justice virtually unattainable.”

The scale of sex abuse among UN peacekeepers, both military and non-military, is shocking, and the United Nations is well aware that it does not know the true extent of its own problem. In a suppressed 2013 report (3) commissioned by Ban Ki-moon, an Expert Team found that “the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting,” and that “UN personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of [sexual exploitation and abuse] that are not being counted or investigated.”

Among incidents that are recorded, an appalling number of UN peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse allegations are marked “unsubstantiated,” and cases are closed by the UN because any evidence that might have led to a conviction has disappeared. Sexual abusers among the UN’s staff, experts, and police remain within the system, undetected, unpunished, and eligible for posting to the next peacekeeping mission.

“When I released [the landmark UN study] The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children in 1996, we highlighted the rise of child sex abuse associated with UN peacekeeping operations,” said Graça Machel. “At the time, we found that the investigation and punishment of peacekeepers for sexual exploitation and abuse was the exception rather than the rule. Nearly two decades later, virtually nothing has changed. Nearly two decades later, vulnerable women and children remain at unacceptable risk. Today a new chapter begins."


AIDS-Free World is an international advocacy organization that exposes injustice, abuse and inequality, the social ills that underpin and continue to sustain HIV. We apply high-level advocacy, targeted legal strategies and creative communication to work for a more just world.


[1] For more on UN immunity and how it applies, please read the fact sheet on AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue Campaign website at

[2] The term ‘peacekeepers’ applies not only to soldiers, but also to the thousands of UN police, officials, and experts who staff peacekeeping missions around the world. 

[3] Final report. Expert Mission to Evaluate Risks to SEA Prevention Efforts in MINUSTAH, UNMIL, MONUSCO, AND UNMISS [Expert Team’s Report].