NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 9, 2008

Organizations that send peacekeepers and aid workers to dangerous places are now facing a new concern: how to ensure the moral integrity of people who are supposed to be helping others, says the Economist. 

A report this week by the British branch of Save the Children underlines the problem:

  • In a study carried out last year in southern Sudan, Haiti and Cote d'Ivoire, Save the Children found widespread sexual abuse of children, some as young as six, by aid workers -- particularly by UN peacekeepers.
  • More than half the 250 boys and girls aged 10-17 they interviewed said they knew of such cases.
  • The abuse remained widely underreported because most children were too frightened to come forward.

The UN has an unfortunate history of sex scandals, says the Economist:

  • After a series of shocking rapes by Nepalese peacekeepers in Congo in 2003, then-UN secretary general Kofi Annan set up a committee to investigate.
  • The committee found repeated patterns of rape and other sexual abuses, which led Annan to announce a "zero tolerance" policy for such crimes.
  • Following the Congo scandal, there have been serious incidents of alleged rape of civilians by UN peacekeepers each year: in Burundi (2004), Sudan (2005), Haiti (2006), Liberia (2006), and Cote d'Ivoire (2007).
  • Last year the UN received 748 allegations of misconduct by its peacekeepers, 127 of which involved sexual exploitation and abuse.

The UN is in a difficult situation, because it has no legal jurisdiction over the alleged culprits:  

  • The UN can only dismiss alleged culprits and recommend their repatriation to their home country, which does have the authority to try and punish them.
  • All peacekeeping troops enjoy absolute legal immunity, and therefore are not subject to the laws of the host country in which the incidents occur.
  • Most UN peacekeeping troops come from the developing world -- countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria -- and many of those countries prefer to sweep such incidents under the carpet.

Source: "Who Will Watch The Watchmen?" The Economist, May 31, 2008.

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