May 29 is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. The day was established to honour the memory of UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the cause of peace. It pays tribute to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage.
This year is different. The proverbial “good guys” are enmeshed in an ongoing rape scandal. Anders Kompass, the director of field operations for the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, was suspended and faced the sack after he shared confidential documents detailing the exploitation of children by French troops in the Central African Republic. The information was given to authorities in Paris due to the UN’s failure to stop the abuse.
The scandal was first reported in April 2015, with the allegations of children being raped by “Blue Helmets”, as the peacekeepers are known. The UN repeatedly condemned his actions, contending that he had breached protocols by sharing a secret internal document. For nine months, Kompass was under disciplinary investigation. In January 2016 he was exonerated – Kompass was informed in a letter that the internal investigation, run by the Office of Internal Oversight, had cleared him of all charges.
Media Diversified is a growing non-profit organisation formed in July of 2013 which seeks to cultivate and support skilled writers of colour by promoting content online through its own platform. In April 2016, founder and editor-in-chief Samantha Asumadu began the #PredatoryPeacekeepers campaign to highlight the prevalence of Blue Helmet sexual abuse and the plight of the survivors by demanding accountability from secretary general Ban Ki Moon and the United Nations.
The reports are disturbing. Three girls in the CAR have spoken of a French peacekeeper tying them up and forcing them to engage in bestiality. Another peacekeeper is accused of sexual extortion by exchanging food for sex from young men and boys. The UN mission entered the CAR in 2014 with the objective of protecting civilians after the country’s coup. Since then the number of allegations against the mission is growing; in 2016 alone there were 44 cases lodged against peacekeepers. There were 99 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by the Blue Helmets in 2015.
A panel of independent experts looking into the abuse summed up the situation as a “gross institutional failure”. They criticised high-level officials for purposely stymieing investigators’ efforts. As a result, Ban Ki-Moon fired Babacar Gaye – his special representative in the area. The UN’s delayed reaction has been widely criticised as weak and ineffectual.
The UN printed posters (with the confusing wording that implies it is merely sex not rape) and The United Nations Security Council passed its first-ever resolution to tackle sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Ban has pledged to speed up investigations and to make information available about outstanding allegations on a new website. The website exists yet it’s not easily accessible nor is it regularly updated. The Conduct and Discipline Unit – where updates are supposed to be located – features little information on the status of the allegations. The UN had also pledged to provide resources to support survivors of abuse. Yet there is no apparent information on how many victims have been reached and who is providing the assistance.
This year Media Diversified and other activists are demanding accountability and for punitive measures to be taken against UN troops who have committed sexual assaults.