You are here: A new campaign and poll launched on Peacekeepers day

23 May 2017

The United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) will use its commemoration of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers – the biggest of its kind in Europe – to release a six-point action plan for tackling sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by UN peacekeepers.

180 experts and practitioners will attend a day-long conference on 24 May at which they will hear presentations from Hilde F. Johnson, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and Major General (retired) Patrick Cammaert, former General Officer Commanding, East Division, United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and the author of the Independent Special Investigation into the violence which occurred in Juba in 2016 and UNMISS response. The conference is organised jointly with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and our Westminster branch.

At 1300, a memorial service will be held at the cenotaph at which Alok Sharma, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, General Sir Christopher Deverell, Commander of Joint Forces Command of the United Kingdom, other VIPS, and representatives of the embassies and high commissions of over 110 countries will lay wreaths to commemorate fallen peacekeepers.

Last week, UNA-UK polled its nationwide supporter base and found that 88% think that not enough has been done to prevent SEA by UN peacekeepers. This is despite a 20+ year process of reform at the UN, culminating in a new task force and report from the UN Secretary-General in April of this year.

But reform needs to stretch beyond the UN. Indeed, only 29% of respondents felt that the UN Secretary-General and Department for Peacekeeping Operations should do more. By contrast, 71% felt that the countries that contribute peacekeeping troops must take responsibility. Peacekeepers remain under the jurisdiction of their country, not the UN, which can therefore take only limited action.

UNA-UK’s Mission:Justice campaign calls for states to live up to their responsibility to prosecute criminal acts of sexual exploitation and abuse. Released today, our six-point plan calls for states to act on six measures that will help countries to prosecute peacekeepers that fall under their jurisdiction, and to ensure the international community steps into the gap when they do not.

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of UNA-UK, said,

“Sexual abuse destroys lives. Sexual abuse in conflict destroys communities. Sexual abuse by peacekeepers destroys trust – putting at risk the country’s future and even peacekeeping itself.

We believe passionately in peacekeeping. We also believe passionately in listening to, and helping, victims of abuse. That is why we are launching this campaign.

“Multiple attempts at reform, dating back several decades, have seemingly not led to a marked reduction in the nature or severity of allegations. We believe this is because they are constrained by the structural and systemic immunity peacekeepers enjoy. If peacekeepers believe they will not be prosecuted it fosters a climate of impunity and severely curtails the impact of the commendable steps taken by the UN Secretary-General.

 “This is a shared responsibility. It falls in the first instance to the states that deploy peacekeepers to prosecute. If these states are not able to live up to their responsibility then the international community, and the UN, should help them to do so. If this too is unsuccessful, then the international community must step into the gap.”

Launching his own report into the issue last month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said,

“Such acts of cruelty should never take place. Certainly, no person serving with the United Nations in any capacity should be associated with such vile and vicious crimes. Let us declare in one voice: We will not tolerate anyone committing or condoning sexual exploitation and abuse. We will not let anyone cover up these crimes with the UN flag.”

Photographs will be live tweeted over the hashtag #Peacekeepers17

Read our six point plan