FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse

It’s the sort of thing to turn many an otherwise calm stomach, but the revelations that UN peace keeping staff have been involved in sexual assault has done its fair share of upsetting.  Legislators in the United States, many sceptical of the body to begin with, are taking note.  Such revelations draw out the worst of missions supposedly altruistic in nature but demonic in execution.  In a range of instances, an international organisation went sexually rogue, its representatives assuming predatory roles.

In recent days, papers have noted how 612 women and children have alleged to have been victims of abuse, with 353 separate claims made against UN staff in peacekeeping operations.  UN official statistics similarly show that 131 cases resulted in pregnancy, many of the claimants being underage at the time.  Few UN personnel have faced jail (the current number stands at 30), with even fewer being fined, demoted or removed from office.

Such behaviour has also been cloaked by secrecy and collusion.  Bureaucrats and managers close ranks to protect this brand of ignoble humanitarianism.  According to one consultant, who reached out to The Guardian, “If you report it, your career is pretty much over, especially if you’re a consultant.  It’s like an unsaid thing.”  Things are easily left unsaid in peripheral and remote stations, where authority takes dismal precedence over diligent oversight.  Out of sight is an easy precursor to making sure something is out of mind.

The pattern is unmistakable, and repetitive in the business of rescue, the tasks of providing aid.  The United Nations is merely the most conspicuous and notable of organisations, but aid and humanitarian agencies are similarly culpable on a global scale.  Missions to rescue often morph.

Ripples started being made two decades ago when sexual offences committed in Cambodia by the blue helmets surfaced, a situation that was further aggravated by the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  Vulnerability is magnetic, attracting exploitation and the abusing initiative of the protector.  The turn from the rescuer to the abuser is a quick one to make.

In 2005, a report by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, Jordan’s ambassador, specifically focused on the behaviour of troops involved in UN missions.  The observations shed a miserable light on a situation deemed near insoluble.

“Despite the distinguished role that United Nations peacekeeping personnel have played over the last half-century, there regrettably will always be those who violate codes of conduct and dishonour of the many who have given their lives in the cause of peace.”

Then comes the disheartening, common observation that, “Sexual exploitation and abuse by military, civilian police and civilian peacekeeping personnel is not a new phenomenon.”  Where there is war and social dysfunction, abuse, even from the protectors, will thrive.

Such realities as “prostitution and other sexual exploitation in a peacekeeping context is profoundly disturbing because the United Nations has been mandated to enter into a broken society to help it, not to breach the trust placed in it by the local population.”

Like many such reports, there are tantalising recommendations, a spirit of reform designed to reassure readers that change is possible, even imminent.  “Rules against sexual exploitation and abuse,” it urges, “must be unified for all categories of peacekeeping personnel.”  Individual and financial accountability for the consequences of such conduct is advanced, while “organizational, managerial and command measures must be instituted to address sexual exploitation and abuse.”  But as yet, these have to translate from dusty book shelf to cautious mission, largely because peacekeeping troops can only be investigated by the country of origin, not the UN proper.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, as a veteran of the peacebuilding business, elaborates upon the mechanics of this dilemma.  There are promises, false undertakings, and basic mendacity, followed by institutional indifference, and further cruelty.

“Where poverty is rife, the promise of a bar of soap and some food was often enough to entice a teenager, let alone promises of marriage and security.  But the ending is always the same.  Some girls become pregnant, others may be diseased, but the soldiers disappear, and the authorities typically deny, obfuscate, or promise investigations that ultimately lead nowhere.”

The symbols of such vulnerability never change.  Women and children become, for some peacekeepers, less subjects of salvation as objects of exploitation.  Children, for instance, were the victims of sexual violence occasioned by the activities of French and Georgian peacekeepers in the Central African Republic in 2014.

Two years later, the UN turned its attention to exploits in Burundi and Gabon, with its Office of Internal Oversight Services revealing 41 cases of abuse at the hands of peacekeepers.  Some 139 possible victims were interviewed, and eight paternity claims made, six by minors.

Heading a body both monster and monstrosity is a tall order, and the UN Secretary General, António Guterres has gone through the motions of moral repetition: things will change, and we intend making sure they change.

His predecessor, the ever meek and near invisible Ban Ki-moon, made similar promises, which took the form of sacking a former general of the Senegalese Army Babacar Gaye as head of the plagued mission in the Central African Republic.   Ban’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, hailed the executive measure as “unprecedented”, a gesture of scant comfort.

Last year, Guterres seemingly wanted to go further, advocating a “new approach”, which seemed, in some ways, stilted.  All UN personnel would have to attest, for instance, that they understood the policy against sexual abuse and exploitation, part of which included payment for sex.  A new assistant secretary-general position at the UN headquarters, serving as victims’ advocate “to ensure that every victim receives appropriate care, follow-up attention, and information on the progress of his or her case” was proposed.

Reform, however, requires substance, bruising and cracking a few eggs.  Former chief of operations at the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre in Pakistan, Andrew MacLeod, suggests vigorous prosecutions by police and offences of aiding and abetting by negligence.  Reforming a colossus that has become attractive for a set of disturbing reasons is bound to be frustrating, not least of all in the very philosophy of rescue missions themselves.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail