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When Peacekeepers Do Damage: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Tears

Courtesy of Matt Rinne/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) on 4 January 2017.

Deploying more female soldiers in peacekeeping missions will not in itself prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. Strengthening gender training and investigative capacities are small, yet feasible steps forward.


Recommendations

  • The UN and troop-contributing countries (TCCs) should enhance cooperation between the UN conduct and discipline teams and the national investigation teams.
  • The UN and TCCs should strengthen in-mission investigative capacities to ensure the availability of reliable evidence and local witnesses.
  • The UN should put pressure on TCCs to hold their defence leadership accountable for effective command and control enforcement.
  • There should be a focus on continuous gender training in all units, both prior to and during deployment.

According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325), increasing the number of female peacekeepers will reduce sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in peace operations. However, this does not seem to be the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where UN peacekeepers from South Africa have been more involved in SEA than peacekeepers from other nations, even though the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has the highest number of female peacekeepers deployed in the DRC. In the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), 243 of the 1351 SANDF troops deployed (18%) are women. However, changing a military culture that tacitly accepts SEA as a part of everyday life in the camps requires more profound measures than simply deploying more women.

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Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeepers: Zero Tolerance is a Political and Medical Responsibility

Nothing That Belongs to Us

Courtesy Dee Ashley/Flickr

In recent years, cases of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of vulnerable individuals by UN peacekeepers and police have been surfacing with alarming regularity. The extent of the crisis was revealed by Human Rights Watch, which documented that between December 2013 and June 2014 children residing near the M’Poko Internationally Displaced Person Camps in Bagui, Central African Republic (CAR), reported that they had been abused or had witnessed other children being abused by French Sangaris Forces, who used food or money as incentives. After demands that the UN investigate these allegations, an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic was established. Its report, published in December 2015, found that:

Some of the children described witnessing the rape of other child victims (who were not interviewed by the HRO [Human Rights Officer]); others indicated that it was known that they could approach certain Sangaris soldiers for food, but would be compelled to submit to sexual abuse in exchange. In several cases soldiers reportedly acknowledged or coordinated with each other, for example by bringing a child onto the base, past guards, where civilians were not authorized to be, or by calling out to children and instructing them to approach.

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Damaging Education

Waiting for a decent education, photo: TheAdvocacyProject/flickr

According to a report by the Kenyan Teachers Service Commission (TSC), up to 12,600 girls were sexually abused by teachers over a five-year period from 2003 to 2007. Most of the victims were aged between 12 and 15; and in some cases, teachers abused as many as 20 girls before they were reported.

As a result, a total of 600 teachers were fired in 2009, and this year so far the number totals 550. In addition, the survey, done jointly with the non-profit Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), found that 633 teachers were charged with sexual abuse in the five years covered by the study. The report went on to state that these numbers probably only represented the tip of the iceberg, as most cases went unreported.

Failure to report cases of sexual abuse to the police or the TSC was often attributed to either the fear of stigmatization, or the collusion between teaching staff and the officials investigating the abuse. In some cases, education officials even collaborated with the offenders. In addition, many parents did not want to involve the notoriously corrupt police out of fear of repercussions. » More