The United Nations currently has over 100,000 peacekeepers deployed worldwide, participating in 14 separate operations. Peacekeeping operations are called upon not only to maintain peace and security, but also to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, and assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. Peacekeeping missions are also often responsible for supporting the organization of elections, protecting and promoting human rights, and assisting in the restoration of the rule of law. According to the Peacekeeper Standards of Conduct, peacekeepers must “respect local laws, customs and practices, treat host country inhabitants with respect, courtesy and consideration, and act with impartiality, integrity and tact.” Despite this code of conduct, over 2,000 cases of sexual abuse and misconduct have been reported to the UN since 1990.
Abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers is enabled by the peacekeeper’s position of power. Seen as authority figures and as a refuge from unstable conditions in the region, victims will seek peacekeepers for safety. Abusive peacekeepers use scarce resources, such as food and money, to exploit these vulnerable populations. In 2006, peacekeepers in Liberia and Haiti were accused of forcing girls to perform sexual acts in return for food. Eight cases of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers were reported in 2015 in the Central African Republic. Also in 2015, it was reported that over 200 women and underage children had been coerced into sexual acts by peacekeepers in Haiti in exchange for basic necessities like food or money.
Despite several sexual exploitation cases being reported to the UN, out of the 2,000 reported cases of abuse and exploitation over the last 30 years, only 53 uniformed peacekeepers and one civilian have been jailed. It is possible that the current process for handling such cases is partially to blame for this record of inaction. Once reports of abuse by peacekeepers are made to the United Nations, the UN allows the peacekeeper’s home country to assume jurisdiction over the investigation, even though a majority of cases assumed by the home country are dismissed. If the home country defers to the United Nations for investigation, the case is handled by the Office of Internal Oversight Services. Victims are left powerless throughout this drawn-out process, often having no evidence other than their own testimony. With this context in mind, how can the Security Council implement policies to better protect civilians from peacekeeper abuse? What changes to peacekeeper operations, regulations, or reporting policies need to take place to prevent abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers?