A Practical Plan to End Impunity for Peacekeeper Sexual Abuse
The Code Blue Campaign is advocating for a new, independent system of special courts to deal with sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel. This solution will provide impartial justice for victims, the accused, and the battered populations who currently have no real recourse to justice.
(The text version on this page is the original statement, published in October 2016. A previously updated version, from January 2017, is available as a PDF here. For the Code Blue Campaign's summary of the latest version of this proposal, issued in September 2017, read "A Proposal for Change" here).
October 13, 2016: Three facts imperil the United Nations, its global peacekeeping operations and the vulnerable civilians who have no choice but to rely on them. First: the documented cases of sexual abuse by peacekeeping personnel stretch back for decades and continue to this day.
Second: the system now in place permits almost all criminal perpetrators within peacekeeping missions—whether they are employed as UN staff, officials, consultants, soldiers or police—to escape prosecution. Report after report from its own commissioned analysts have declared the Organization’s response to peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse a “gross institutional failure” that breeds a “culture of silence” and is sustained by a “culture of impunity.”
Third: while it accepts this grave diagnosis—Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced it a ‘malignancy’ and a ‘cancer on the system’—the United Nations continues to minister to the symptoms rather than undergo life-saving surgery. Mr. Ban’s blunt metaphor suggests one inevitable prognosis: without proper treatment, the Organization’s culture of impunity for peacekeeper sexual abuse will metastasize to the UN’s major organs.
There is a cure.
We have consulted worldwide with authorities on international law and human rights law; academics; past and current UN officials and staff, peacekeepers and police officers; diplomats and civil servants; human rights practitioners; victims’ rights professionals and sexual violence experts. We have analyzed the problem and surveyed the existing options. Those deliberations led to the 2015 launch of the Code Blue Campaign and, ultimately, to the solution we're proposing today: the UN’s Member States must create special courts for each peacekeeping mission to ensure impartial justice for everyone involved in or affected by cases of sexual offenses by UN peacekeeping personnel.
These international legal entities, funded directly by Member States, would necessarily be established and run entirely separate from, independent of, and unconnected to the UN Organization. These special courts would focus exclusively on allegations of sexual offenses lodged against personnel operating under the UN banner. Further, they would assume full responsibility for every step on the path to justice, from accepting reports made by victims and witnesses through to sentencing those found guilty.
Staffed by impartial, centrally appointed international and national police, lawyers and judicial professionals, this new, independent system of special courts would investigate, charge, prosecute, try, sentence, and incarcerate. They would carry out all their functions in the peacekeeping countries where the crimes occurred, implementing the rule of law in full view of victims, witnesses, and communities. For would-be perpetrators, having the courts in country would serve as an active deterrent. For victims, the courts’ presence would restore faith that the risks of reporting are outweighed by the benefits of seeing justice served. For the many UN personnel who aid and abet the culture of impunity by remaining silent, the possibility of reporting to authorities outside the UN system would liberate them from their roles as complicit bystanders.
The special courts would receive all reports, referring cases where appropriate to troop- contributing countries with jurisdiction, and handling the remainder. Member States would give the courts full legal authority to investigate and try UN non-military personnel accused of sexual offenses, as well as soldiers sent by troop-contributing countries that can not or do not respond when allegations are referred. In the spirit of UN system-wide coherence, alleged perpetrators would be held to a common standard—an agreed international definition of what constitutes crimes of sexual abuse—and would submit to one system of due process.
Overnight, this solution would correct the two major defects in the current system of “justice.” It would end the intolerably unfair conflict of interest that occurs every time the UN's own staff step in as unauthorized intermediaries in criminal matters. And it would begin to repair the damage done when the UN preaches good governance without practicing it. Citizens of peacekeeping host countries, activists, journalists and the global public have followed this crisis with mounting anger and cynicism. Respect will be restored when the UN eliminates the double standard, and removes its staff members from a range of conflicting roles, as legal advisors to both the accused and the accusers, as unqualified investigators in criminal cases involving their colleagues, as prosecutors with no legal authority or credentials to assess, substantiate or dismiss evidence, and as magistrates rendering private, extrajudicial decisions affecting the lives of victims and criminals.
The UN declares one universal standard: zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, The Organization has even conceded that the necessary protection provided by the "Convention on Privileges and Immunities" simply does not apply to sexual abuse. But in reality, each of the many people associated with UN peacekeeping missions can be subject to different processes, different standards, different consequences. As a result, impunity reigns.
Under pressure and the sustained glare of the global media, the UN Secretariat has slowly and reluctantly begun to pull back the curtain on how allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are handled. Each new revelation begs further questions, and reveals even greater gaps in how allegations are reported, recorded, investigated, prosecuted and punished.
The Code Blue Campaign is built on a strong commitment to multilateralism. We believe that this increasingly complex world cannot survive and thrive without the United Nations. That’s why we press hard for a strengthened, accountable, and transparent UN, with a policy of ‘zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse’ that truly lives up to its name.