The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has been accused of sexual abuse and exploitation among its military personnel. It has announced that it is investigating the allegations, and adding additional preventative procedures to ensure that the UN’s zero-tolerance policy against abuse and exploitation is followed.
This is just the newest depressing news in a long trail of it. UN peacekeepers have been dogged by accusations of this type since 1996, when a UN study found that “In 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict…the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.” There have been allegations of peacekeeper abuse in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Haiti, Lebanon, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
That being said, it looks like the United Nations is doing everything it can on this. The Brahimi Report, issued in 2000, laid out recommendations for improving the effectiveness and professionalism of peacekeeping troops, including enforcing zero tolerance of abuse and exploitation. By all accounts, the UN has been doing a decent job of acting on the relevant Brahimi recommendations.
UN peacekeeping operations are still military operations, staffed by soldiers in conflict locations that are contributed by member nations with a variety of motivations for doing so. As long as that’s the system that provides peacekeepers, no amount of UN promulgated accountability or regulation is going to ensure good conduct from every person.
Peacekeeping units are heavily influenced by their field commanders, and their home country culture. The UN can’t change that. The best that we can expect is for the United Nations to prevent as many infractions as possible, detect them when they occur, and come down hard on perpetrators.
It seems to me that the UN is doing that. They’re investigating this UNOCI allegation, and a number of others. While they can’t force troop-contributing countries to discipline people, they can call for discipline and refuse to allow redeployment. The UN is doing that, and they’re being transparent about it. I wish there was more to do, but I can’t see what it would be in the current structure.