On August 12, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dismissed the UN Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), General Babacar Gaye, for multiple allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers under him.
It came following Amnesty International alleged that a 12-year-old girl was raped by a UN peacekeeper.
This is one of very many cases allegedly committed by the UN contingent in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Most recently, it was reported that French soldiers coerced homeless young boy to perform sex acts on them in return for food or money.
UN Security Council, in its resolution 2149 (adopted on 10 April 2014), established MINUSCA, whose primary task was to protect civilians and support the implementation of the transition process, including efforts in favour of the extension of State authority and preservation of territorial integrity, among others.
MINUSCA comprise up to 10,000 military personnel, deployed to help restore order in CAR. UN rarely takes such an administrative action taken against a high profile figure representing it.
However, this is not an act that can be commended as a solution to the misfortunes of the poor victims unless investigations are conducted and perpetrators held criminally accountable.
In many cases, the UN personnel involved in sexual misconduct are relieved of their duties and eventually sent back to their home country, and then marks the end of the road. UN has been criticised for not doing enough to ensure that perpetrators of sexual misconduct face justice in domestic jurisdiction.
Besides that, there is an issue of immunity ordinarily accorded to UN peacekeepers, and they cannot be prosecuted by the host country or by the ICC.
The sexual misconduct in the Central African Republic is a tip of the iceberg among many examples in which the UN peacekeeping forces were involved in sexual exploitation in conflict zones and this has dogged the UN since the inception of the of the peacekeeping programme more than 6 decades ago.
Sexual abuse or exploitation was first documented in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Kosovo in the early 1990s, and then later in Mozambique, Cambodia, East Timor and Liberia.
Also, in recent years, sexual misconduct was widely reported in the DR Congo where UN peacekeepers paid young girls food for sex by UN peacekeeping mission.
In that regard, the UN peacekeepers threatened UN investigators investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in the DR Congo and sought to bribe witnesses to change incriminating testimony.
This mayhem does not, however, mean that there is no code of conduct for UN peacekeepers. But the enforcement of the code of conduct remains questionable!
The violation of code of conduct, particularly regarding sexual exploitation and abuse, damages the image and credibility of a peacekeeping operation. Victims of sexual exploitation and abuse suffer severe physical and psychological consequences. The sexual exploitation of children by peacekeepers is particularly extremely insidious and abhorrent.
Despite the shortcomings of UN peacekeeping operations’ mandate, three basic principles serve as a lodestar for restoring international peace and security.
Consent of the Parties: UN peacekeeping operations are deployed with the consent of the main parties to the conflict.
Impartiality: UN peacekeeping operations must implement their mandate without favour or prejudice to any party.
Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate: UN peacekeeping operations are not an enforcement tool. However, it is widely understood that they may use force at the tactical level, with the authorization of the Security Council, if acting in self-defense and defense of the mandate.
Sexual abuse and exploitation of UN peacekeepers in conflict zones is not the only weakness to pinpoint.
According to principle 3 of the foregoing principles of UN peacekeeping operations, for example, on May 17, 1994, the UN Security Council Resolution 918 expanded the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to the protection of displaced persons, refugees, and civilians in danger, which they did not live up to.
UNAMIR, specifically the Belgian contingent that was encamped at the Official Technical School (known as ETO) abandoned the refugees and subsequently the Interahamwe militias entered the ETO and killed the refugees.
Most of them were killed in the hours following the departure of the Belgian soldiers.
Second, in 1995, UN peacekeeping force Dutchbat (Dutch) in the safe area Srebrenica did not protect the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs army.
Third, a Nepalese contingent of UN peacekeeping forces (known as MINUSTAH) deployed to Haiti systematically leaked contaminated sewage into a tributary of the Artibonite River, which serves as the source of drinking and bathing water for millions of Haitians.
In October 2010, the sewage caused the deadliest cholera outbreak which killed around 9,000 people by the end of 2014.
The main legal challenge is that UN enjoys absolute immunity in all territories of UN member states! The big question is whether an alternative internal mechanism for the resolution for civil disputes arising out of UN’s presence in a country is (politically) desirable, or (legally) required.
The writer is a lecturer and international law expert