The United Nations is taking some hits over a disturbing Daily Telegraph report alleging that some peacekeeping officials in the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) have sexually exploited children in southern Sudan. There are about 13,000 UN personnel in southern Sudan, overseeing a two-year-old peace accord that ended a bloody 20 year civil war in Sudan. The new Secretary General has pledged to investigate thoroughly these allegations and has re-affirmed the UN’s policy of “zero tolerance, zero complacency and zero impunity” for sexual exploitation.
However, one of the paradoxes of peacekeeping is that the United Nations has no legal authority of its own to prosecute individual troops. Unlike conventional militaries, such as the United States Army which can prosecute serving soldiers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the United Nations is not vested with sovereign legal authority to charge peacekeepers with a crime and lock them up. Rather, when allegations of misconduct are substantiated, the UN orders that the accused be repatriated. It is up to the each home country to decide if and how to prosecute their own nationals.
Meanwhile, the actions of a few peacekeepers should not serve as an indictment of the UN mission in Southern Sudan. With peacekeepers maintaining a stable security environment there, other UN agencies have been able to maximize their ability to deliver key services to the people of southern Sudan. The World Food Program, for example, announced that it plans to feed two million people there this year.