An international expert panel of leaders convened today in New York City to launch the Code Blue campaign demanding an end to sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces and the automatic immunity they are afforded when abuses occur.
In recent weeks a scathing, formerly classified, report: Sexual Abuse on Children by International Armed Forces, was leaked revealing French peacekeeper soldiers sexually abused boys as young as nine during their Central African Republic Sangris operation between December 2013 and June 2014. The report, which was ultimately leaked by a senior UN aid worker and director of operations, Anders Kompass, states that mostly homeless and orphaned boys were sexually exploited. The sexual exploitation, including sodomy and rape, by French peacekeepers occurred in exchange for food and money. The abuses allegedly occurred at the renown M’Poko airport in Bangui where thousands retreated to relative safety during the height of the ethnic violence between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic’s near genocide.
Kompass was subsequently disciplined for breaking UN protocols. Meanwhile, the report was first leaked in July of 2014 and stagnated until it was revealed recently by AIDS-Free World.
The UN, however, contends the peacekeeping soldiers in question are not a part of their operations. “The forces referred to in the Guardian story are French and do not fall under UN authority,” says a UN official. “The issue of confronting sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel remains one of our highest priorities.”
It is worth noting that when the French sought to investigate these abuses, it is alleged that UN immunity was invoked at every turn stalling the process.
“Right now you can have force commanders that might not know what has happened because contingents are closed-lipped and don’t want embarrassment,” said Lt. General Roméo Dallaire (ret’d), Force Commander for UN mission during Rwandan genocide. “This can be changed.”
In March of this year, AIDS-Free World accused the UN of ignoring a 2013 report it independently produced on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and the gross injustices they cause during peacekeeping missions. Even before that, the first report of child sexual abuses during armed conflict was shared with the UN General Assembly 19 years ago by Ms. Graça Machel, founder of Graça Machel Trust.
“We came across women and girls who had been sexually abused by peacekeeping forces,” Machel said during today’s Code Blue press conference. “It was shocking to us. How do we engage them because they never signed the conventions and protocols?”
Code Blue is a new global campaign that calls on the removal of immunity that is afforded to UN peacekeeping missions.
“Sixty-nine percent of allegations of SEA in 2014 were leveled against people covered by immunity, said AIDS-Free World co-Director, Paula Donovan. “They are UN staff, police, people on mission and who report to the UN Secretary General.”
At the outset of the press conference Stephen Lewis, co-Director of AIDS-Free World mentioned that it’s not widely known that sexual violence is more prevalent among non-military than amongst the military in peacekeeping operations.
“Removing immunity is the signal aspect of our campaign,” Lewis reiterated.
Currently, the French are still investigating the accusations leveled upon its troops last year and have vowed to get to the heart of the matter and be “merciless” to those involved.
“I find it heartbreaking and really, really infuriating that we are sitting here talking about these issues after the report twenty years ago,” said Theo Sowa, CEO of African Women’s Development Fund. “Years later to sit in refugee camps listening to 15 and 16-year-old girls who have said they have been raped and abused and terrified into silence by the very people who were supposed to protect them….it’s unforgiveable.”
“When immunity becomes an excuse for impunity, it’s time to change the system,” Sowa continued . “It’s that simple.”
Photo: United Nations