Open Letter to the Secretary-General: Leaked Documents Reveal Scandalous Inaction by the UN to Prevent Sexual Abuse
A notorious battalion in the Central African Republic has been repeatedly flagged as a potential hive of dangerous predators. By failing to act, the UN is setting the stage for future abuse and placing women and children in harm's way.
Read our open letter to Secretary-General António Guterres below:.
DOWNLOAD: the MINUSCA ORA and the memo.
June 6, 2017
Mr. António Guterres Secretary-General
One United Nations Plaza New York, NY 100017
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
From the opening moments of your tenure, you have pledged to address the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeeping personnel as an urgent priority. At your direction, the UN has adopted a “new approach” that recognizes the failures of the past and calls for a “victim-centered strategy rooted in transparency, accountability and ensuring justice."
You have spoken movingly of the plight of victims and described how their accounts will haunt you forever.
Yet we at AIDS-Free World and the Code Blue Campaign have come into possession of internal UN documents that call into question the UN's commitment to adopting “structural, legal and operational measures to make zero tolerance a reality,” as you pledged on 9 March.
The documents, which include a 66-page assessment report and single-page memo, concern a peacekeeping battalion in Berbérati in the Central African Republic. The memo was faxed by the force commander of MINUSCA (Lt. Gen. Balla Keïta) to the military advisor for peacekeeping operations in New York (Lt. Gen. Carlos H. Loitey) on 12 May 2017.
Lt. Gen. Keïta told New York that the battalion “is notorious for SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] misconducts, fuel trafficking, and poor discipline.” He said the problems are not new. “On such a poor display of leadership and military discipline, I have addressed no less than six blame letters to the battalion commander since the beginning of the year 2017.”
We note that the addressee in New York, Lt. Gen. Loitey, was one of nine officials selected for the Task Force that crafted the UN's “new approach” to the peacekeeper sexual abuse scandal.
The 66-page report—an In Mission Operational Readiness Assessment conducted from 14 to 16 March 2017—records how 120 of the 750 peacekeepers in the battalion were repatriated to the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) “on SEA cases,” representing 16 percent of the total force in Berbérati.
The repatriation of the 120 occurred in February 2016, following sexual exploitation and abuse incidents involving at least 7 victims (6 of them children) and at least 11 troops. According to the website of the UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit, six of the allegations have been investigated by Congo-Brazzaville authorities, but the results of the investigations are still “pending,” a shocking delay in the administration of justice. We are left to wonder whether suspected child rapists have been allowed to escape justice.
In reading over the 66 pages of the ORA, it is obvious that the Berbérati camp is a breeding ground for further acts of sexual violence.
The command structure is rickety. Two company commanders have been relieved of duty. “Consequently, discipline standards are not enforced and most of the personnel spend the day in idleness and unfitting military attire.” (Page 4.)
The local population—which no doubt includes many children and women vulnerable to predation— has ready contact with the soldiers. “The public roads that goe [sic] through the camp towards the town in [sic] not properly guarded and the civilian population can easily get access to the camp due to lack of proper perimeter fencing.” (Page 9.)
Without canteen facilities, the peacekeepers are required to walk to nearby markets for such items as toothpaste and undergarments, engaging in further “unnecessary” contact with locals. (Page 12.) The battalion vehicles that would carry them to and from civilian zones are shoddy and “susceptible to break down at any moment.” (Page 50.)
There is no kitchen. There are no dining facilities. (Page 14.) “Food was not cooked centrally for all troops rather it was distributed on individual basis,” which could lead to “food-for-sex” transactions of the sort that characterize many sexual exploitation and abuse cases. (Page 16.)
The camp lacks a proper water supply or ablution system, an appalling circumstance in light of the UN’s culpability in the cholera outbreak in Haiti. (Page 12.) “The troops are using temporary latrines without any cleared [sic] markers of male/female latrines,” the report says. “This is potential indication with the great risk of being accused of Sexual abuse and exploitation.” (Page 64.)
We were left breathless by the details contained in the ORA.
According to the UN’s current policy—as outlined by the Special Measures report of 28 February, which was crafted by the Task Force that included Lt. Gen. Loitey—“the existing risk assessment framework will be applied to identify missions considered to be at increasing risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.”
Is not the Berbérati camp in flagrant violation of the very standards that the UN has promised to uphold?
On a just-concluded visit to the Central African Republic, our staff members learned that Lt. Gen. Keïta, during a trip to UN headquarters in New York, was expected to recommend the repatriation of
the entire battalion.
If he has, we urge the UN to heed his warnings and act to protect civilians in the Berbérati area. We do not see how it is possible to maintain a zero-tolerance policy in the face of such revolting conditions.
Official statements from UN headquarters about “game-changing strategies” will do nothing to prevent further sexual exploitation and abuse if the UN fails at the basic job of due diligence. Your top military expert in the Central African Republic has warned headquarters repeatedly that women and children are at imminent risk of further sexual exploitation and abuse from a particular battalion under his command. Surely UN headquarters does not require even more evidence before it will act.
We respectfully request your immediate attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.
Co-Director, AIDS-Free World
Co-Director, AIDS-Free World
Photo: UN / MINUSCA