United In 2016, the UN registered a

United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations began in 1948 and the light
blue helmets and berets have been deployed to many of the world’s trouble spots
designed to achieve a myriad of goals. They seek to advance international
interests: promotion of peace, stability, democracy, markets, civil society,
and good governance in countries in conflict and post-conflict situations. The
charter of UN gives the UN Security Council the primary responsibility for
maintaining international peace and security and peacekeeping has evolved into
one of the main tools employed by UN to achieve it.  There are almost 120,000 peacekeeping
personnel from more than a dozen countries which are rotated through the UN
operations every year. UN peacekeepers have been hit by a series of accusations
of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians in its missions across the globe.
UN has been accused of burying cases and failing to act
promptly or transparently to incidents perpetrated by its troops. An
AP investigation in 2017 found around 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation
and abuse have been registered since 2005 to date. In 2016, the UN
registered a total of 103 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving
UN field missions. The world has been justifiably sickened and outraged by one
allegation after another of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. It
has become the case of protectors becoming perpetrators. According to a report
released in 2015 by the UN’s internal oversight body, in more than one-third of
the cases of reported sexual abuse by peacekeepers from 2008 to 2013, the victims
were children. In addition to the horrible mistreatment of those who are under
the protection of the U.N., sexual exploitation and abuse undermine the
credibility of U.N. peace operations and must be addressed through an effective
plan and commitment to end abuses and ensure accountability.

The United Nations has adopted policies to curb this problem in recent
years, including better vetting and training of peacekeepers. In 2017, on an
average more than 8,000 personnel were vetted every month in comparison to 208 personnel
vetted in 2013. Since 2015, troops and police contributing countries are
required to certify that individuals deployed have not committed/alleged to
have committed violations of human rights law or been repatriated from a UN
operation. Personnel undergo pre-deployment and in-mission mandatory training
on prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.  There exists a lack of clarity as to the legal
obligations of the UN and its peacekeepers and hence in placing accountability
for their actions as well. When a peacekeeper is accused of sexual abuse, the
UN can repatriate them. States contributing troops for UN peacekeeping
operations retain exclusive criminal jurisdiction over their military and are
thus the only ones able to prosecute their individual peacekeepers. It was
difficult to bring these criminal behaviors to justice, with the individual
countries ignoring communications and it was impunity without action. UN is
currently enforcing stricter transparency standards with public disclosure of
all the information including the nationality, interim actions, description of
the allegation, details of actions taken by the troop contributing country,
reporting mechanism and criminal accountability with detailed near- real- time
updating and interactive timelines. This has helped in keeping individual
countries accountable. In 2016, out of 15 substantiated cases, five
peacekeepers were sent to jail and four were dismissed or “separated from
service.” In two cases, “administrative action” was taken and the rest are
still pending. Furthermore importance is attached to investigations in a
thorough and timely manner. Average time to appoint national investigation
officers has dropped from 79 days in 2012 to 8 days in 2016. Since 2015, some
troop contributing countries are opting to conduct investigations jointly with
the UN office for internal oversight services. Average duration of
investigations in days has dropped from 266 in 2012, to 185 in 2015. A 6 month
timeline for completing investigations has been adopted by the secretary
general with 3 months for serious cases. UN suspends personnel reimbursements
for uniformed personnel accused of sexual exploitation or abuse until investigation
is carried out. If the allegation is substantiated, then the funds withheld are
transferred to the victim’s relief fund. Efforts have been focused on providing
assistance to victims with robust policies and mechanisms and through
coordination between UN entities, NGOs and member states and establishment of
Victim Assistance Tracking Database. 74% of victims received assistance in 2016
and member nations contributed $436K towards the victims’ trust fund. The vast
majority of the troops and police in peacekeeping missions serve honorably and
do not commit crimes. And most contributors are serious about prosecuting
soldiers and police from their forces who perpetrate these crimes. But these
allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse tarnish all peacekeepers. Hence
Niger feels the urgency along with other members in stamping out this serious
problem.

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Most often peacekeepers have little
regard for the local population and work with the notions that they are their saviors.
There is a pervasive power disparity between the peacekeepers and the local
community and hence a potential for power to be abused. Instances of abuse and
exploitation may go unreported not only to protect the reputation of the
peacekeepers, but also because victims are silenced by fear and shame. The
circumstances that render women and children vulnerable to these situations
include low economic empowerment and displacement due to conflict, leading to a
lack of food, security and shelter. There have been no UN missions in Niger and
hence no such violations have occurred in our nation.

 

Women and children are recruited from Niger and transported to Nigeria,
North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe and are often subjected to forced
labor, sexual abuse, terrorism and human trafficking. Niger serves as a country
of transit for migratory flows from the conflict regions of West and Central Africa
towards North Africa and Western Europe. Continued growth of migrant ghettos
along the migrant routes and continued instabilities in the neighboring
countries increase pressure on already limited resources, posing a threat to
the fragile security balance within the nation. Rippling effects of crisis and
issues affecting Niger’s neighbors in the Sahel region are felt by Niger as
well.

The UN must demonstrate leadership by strengthening its monitoring and
evaluation of troops and police in the field. UN has to institute a system of
periodic assessments of units. International community has to help to build
appropriate training and equipping capabilities if there is a lack of it. Rules
established regarding conduct of the troops, repatriation in cases of
misconduct and their subsequent conviction have to be strictly adhered to. Every
participating country has to be made accountable for the conduct of its troops.
A key to peacekeepers’ success in challenging new environments is maintaining
their legitimacy and the faith, and trust, and confidence of the local
population. The importance of fostering relationships and interactions with the
host communities should be encouraged and emphasized. People believe in
peacekeeping to protect vulnerable people just like them. With all the
dispiriting reports about the UN peacekeeping operations, Niger believes it is
in the interest of the world to counter the negative reputation of the UN’s
peacekeepers and take urgent steps to address and resolve it. 

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