[Download case summaries as a PDF]
New York, September 13, 2017—A confidential source has provided AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue Campaign with internal case files that reveal the United Nations’ egregious mishandling of sexual exploitation and abuse complaints against its own peacekeeping personnel.
The materials include 14 fact-finding inquiries into complaints lodged against military peacekeepers from nine different countries serving in the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). They offer a rare glimpse into what really happens when the UN learns of violations of a sexual nature allegedly committed by peacekeepers.
All of the fact-finding inquiries were conducted in 2016 in a single UN mission. Unfortunately, the UN’s New Approach of 2017 would not rectify the injustices revealed in the files.
The 14 cases are initial-stage inquiries into complaints against military peacekeepers to determine whether to proceed.
While military peacekeepers remain under the exclusive jurisdiction of the countries that sent them, the UN assumes the role of making prima facie determinations and, if necessary, referring the cases for further investigation to appropriate authorities from the “sending state.”
(Non-military peacekeepers—civilian staff, experts on missions, contractors, and some police—are subject to the jurisdiction of the “host state,” but the UN rarely relinquishes its personnel to the often deficient judicial systems of peacekeeping countries. Instead, most non-military personnel are only subjected to the UN’s internal administrative procedures.)
Of the 14 fact-finding inquiries, ten were conducted solely by UN personnel. Three were conducted jointly by the UN and representatives from the accused soldiers’ battalions. One was conducted by national investigation officers (NIOs) from the home country of the accused soldiers.
The accused peacekeepers hail from a total of nine different countries: Pakistan, Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville, Burundi, Morocco, Egypt, Cameroon, Gabon, and Niger.
The case files demonstrate:
- An overwhelming bias against victims. In eight of 14 cases, the alleged victims were not interviewed by fact-finders. In two cases, the alleged victims were interviewed in hostile settings surrounded by large groups of men, many in uniform. In at least four cases, fact-finders gave weight to unsubstantiated assertions suggesting that the accused peacekeepers were the true victims in the incidents.
- Haphazard, ad hoc, and prejudicial investigative procedures. Potential corroborating witnesses were not sought out for interviews. The testimony of local authorities with no connection to the alleged incidents was given investigatory credence. Inquiries didn’t typically begin until at least a week after the incidents occurred. In two instances, at least a month passed before fact-finders arrived on the scene to determine whether a crime may have been committed.
- Scant understanding of crimes of sexual violence. In one case, a peacekeeper accused of sexually assaulting women and attempting to sexually assault girls was described as having committed “sexual harassment,” a lesser designation that may have aided the soldier’s escape from punishment. Fact-finders were skeptical of claims made against peacekeepers deployed in rule-abiding or religiously observant units.
- Allegations hidden from public view. We could not find ten of the 14 cases anywhere on the website of the Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU), which is responsible for the public recording of allegations against UN peacekeeping personnel. Four of the ten were referred for investigation, but the fact that they cannot be found on the CDU website likely means that no action was taken. The remaining six cases were not pursued further, or the accused peacekeepers were subjected to minor administrative sanctions.
We are deeply troubled by what is manifestly a sham process.
The 14 cases reveal an absence of investigatory standards. Interviews are conducted seemingly at random. Systematized guidelines do not appear to be used to determine whether or not a complaint is moved forward. And troubling incidents of sexual misconduct are lost in a bureaucratic morass in the vital early days following a complaint.
“These 14 cases demonstrate that the UN filters reports of complaints, usually tossing them out before the matters ever reach the competent authorities from ‘troop-contributing countries,’” said Sharanya Kanikkannan, a lawyer with the Code Blue Campaign. “This filtering ensures that there is no access to justice for the vast majority of victims since they cannot gain access to law enforcement authorities without first convincing UN staff to believe them.”
In all but four of the cases, qualified investigators from the accused soldiers’ troop-contributing countries never even got a chance to conduct proper investigations. Cases in which crimes may have been committed are made to vanish by the UN’s initial fact-finders and are never recorded on the public website.
“These leaked files simply prove our long-held suspicions,” said Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign. “We knew that cases referred to troop-contributing countries are seldom followed up fully by the UN, leaving victims in the dark. We knew that the UN regularly shields its non-military personnel from any form of criminal justice, treating even violent sex offenders as though they’d simply broken administrative rules and leaving them free to attack again. But during this improvised preliminary vetting stage, cases simply disappear before victims are even given the semblance of a hearing.”
Only four of the 14 cases we examined have been revealed publicly. How many more cases loom in the shadows? How many more victims?
The Code Blue Campaign has long been concerned by the confusion and opacity of the data on the UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit website. For example, for 2016, the 103 “allegations” that are publicly reported actually involve at least 206 identified alleged perpetrators, and at least 283 identified victims.
The leaked files corroborate what Code Blue Campaign staff members learned during a recent visit to the Central African Republic: If UN Member States knew that the data in the official UN database represents just a fraction of the reports, concern would quickly turn to alarm.
The Code Blue Campaign is an advocate of independent accountability. Our proposed Special Court Mechanism would provide real justice in cases involving UN non-military personnel. In the case of military peacekeepers, it would provide the professional fact-finding, evaluation, referral, and follow-up that are so lacking in the cases symbolized by the 14 we are disclosing today.
Click here to read summaries of each of the 14 cases. Click here for an overview of Code Blue’s proposed solution.