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Latest allegations of peacekeeper sexual abuse reinforce Code Blue's call for external oversight

January 29, 2016: The new allegations of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic published today by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are, as always, horrifying. The apparent inability to contain the sexual violence is a scathing commentary on the behaviour of a significant number of troop contingents assigned to peacekeeping operations.

But that’s not the only disturbing factor in the news release issued by the OHCHR. In the ongoing effort to combat sexual exploitation and abuse amongst peacekeepers, the carefully manipulated words of the release constitute a real setback.

As was the case in April 2015, when the story first broke, there is a concerted effort in the release to focus blame on non-UN soldiers. In 2015, it was Sangaris from France. In 2016, it’s troops from the European Union. This pattern of attempting to separate the UN from responsibility was definitively rejected by Judge Deschamps in her report. It’s the last refuge of damage control, and it’s completely unworthy of the OHCHR. 

But it gets worse. Note the last words of the release: "While the cases raised by the High Commissioner relate to non-UN military forces," (again the self-serving blurring of responsibility) "a number of cases involving UN peacekeepers came to light during the interviews carried out by the joint UN team. Those cases are being raised separately with the relevant Troop Contributing Countries by UN Peacekeeping (DFS/DPKO), in accordance with the standard policy of UN headquarters in New York.”

It’s a sad commentary on OHCHR. It has been reduced to public relations puppetry by DFS/DPKO. In its release, there is no information on specific allegations of abuses by UN peacekeepers, unlike the detail available in the case of the European Union. No information on the specific troop-contributing countries involved in the abuse, unlike the detail available in the case of the European Union. The management of these cases of abuse has been given to DFS/DPKO … exactly the same crowd who oversaw the “gross institutional failure” identified by the Judge Deschamps and her Review Panel. 

What is therefore most distressing about the release today from OHCHR is that it’s business as usual where the UN is concerned. Except now it is the High Commissioner for Human Rights becoming the point person for the UN on these issues. It won’t work. Neither DPKO nor DFS will relinquish control over the troop-contributing countries when it comes to sexual exploitation and abuse. Once again, the system will be fragmented, and we’ll end up with the kind of obfuscation and sleight-of-hand that landed the UN in this dreadful situation and has made such a mockery of zero tolerance.

Only an external oversight body, taking UN peacekeeping into ‘guardianship’ for two to three years and directly responsible to the Member States as AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue campaign has recommended, can solve the chaotic and negligent UN response to sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations.

(UN Photo / Marie Frechon)