Code Blue Campaign Statement on Withdrawal of Congo/Brazzaville Battalion from CAR
June 20, 2017
Mr. António Guterres
One United Nations Plaza New York, NY 100017
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
We are relieved by the decision you are about to announce regarding the withdrawal of a notorious battalion of Republic of Congo/Congo-Brazzaville peacekeepers from the Central African Republic.
Your action will ensure that vulnerable women and children in Berbérati will be safe from further predation by that particular battalion of severely undisciplined, unfit military personnel sent to the embattled country by the UN.
We regret, however, that the decision was not made until we at AIDS-Free World’s “Code Blue Campaign” leaked internal UN documents about the Berbérati battalion, including a 66-page assessment report from March 2017 and a single-page memo from May 2017. The documents show that UN leadership was long aware that the battalion—well known for sexual exploitation and abuse "misconducts"—had shown “no improvements” despite repeated warnings over the first five months of 2017.
We have since received additional documents revealing that the Berbérati battalion had been the subject of serious concerns for no less than two years. In June 2016, UN investigators were shocked to discover that a group of children was inside the base, making them easy prey for a battalion that had been accused of child rape.
In your first week as Secretary-General, you announced the appointment of a High-Level Task Force charged with coming up with “game-changing solutions” to the UN’s long-running sexual exploitation and abuse scandal. Jane Holl Lute, your Under-Secretary-General with overall responsibility for coordinating the UN’s response to this crisis, selected the members of the Task Force and oversaw its efforts. With one exception, the largely male Task Force was composed of UN officials with long experience in this area.
How is it possible that those hand-picked experts were unaware of the exceedingly well-documented, oft-stated concerns about the Congo-Brazzaville battalion members posted in Berbérati? Was Ms. Lute herself unaware, despite her much-publicized visit to the mission in CAR? Do the SRSG and Deputy SRSG—who have been aware that the conditions of the base in Berbérati are conducive to high levels of sexual exploitation and abuse since 2015, according to documents leaked to us—communicate with the Force Commander, who has been pleading for the repatriation of the battalion?
Why did it take the leaking of documents by Code Blue, and the resulting public controversy, for the UN to do something? Why does it always take a public controversy for the UN to do something?
In our open letter to you on June 6, we asked about the victims of the Congo-Brazzaville battalion, and we are still waiting for your response on what happened to the at least 7 victims (6 of them children) and at least 11 troops that appeared to be listed on the website of the UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit. With the results of 10 out of 15 total investigations listed on that website involving Congo-Brazzaville troops and police marked as “pending,” another listed as “incomplete,” and no final action by Congo-Brazzaville listed for 2 of the 3 cases that were deemed “substantiated,” we can’t help but deduce a shocking delay in the administration of justice.
We ask you again: Have child rapists been allowed to escape justice? We know it is the responsibility of the government of Congo-Brazzaville to prosecute its own soldiers. But the UN was warned about problems with the Berbérati battalion. You promised a “victim-centered approach” to the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse. Having placed vulnerable women and children in harm’s way, isn’t it the UN’s moral responsibility to ensure that justice is done to the victims of the Berbérati battalion? Will the UN monitor Congo-Brazzaville’s handling of the allegations recorded so far, ensuring that thorough investigations are conducted without further delay, that justice is served, and that the victims are regularly apprised? Sending the soldiers home isn't enough.
We argue that the sexual exploitation and abuse problem is systemic in the UN. A public relations strategy about "game-changing strategies" will not end the crisis.
In the coming days, we will release additional disturbing documents—involving other battalions in the Central African Republic—that will once again reveal the lack of seriousness with which the UN is addressing this crisis. The reports point to a stunning lack of uniformity—an ad hoc, chaotic non-system in which the only consistent theme across UN peacekeeping operations is impunity.
We ask, once again, for an opportunity to meet with you personally and set out what is, truly, a “game-changing solution.” We hope it won’t take more public controversies for you to act.
Co-Director, AIDS-Free World
Co-Director, AIDS-Free World
Media Contact: +1-646-924-1710; +1-647-406-5731; firstname.lastname@example.org
AIDS-Free World's Code Blue Campaign aims to end impunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel. www.codebluecampaign.com
(UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis)