*by Seble Mulugeta
Peacekeepers can play an important role in protecting civilians, especially women and children from sexual violence during armed conflict. Since the early 1990s, mandates for United Nations’ (UN) peacekeeping missions explicitly include provisions for the protection of civilians. Yet, a series of Human Rights violations especially with regards to women and children by male peace keepers in several African PeaceKeeping and Support Operations (PSOs) have been observed and recorded. In 2014, French peace keepers were accused of sexually exploiting children in the Central African Republic (CAR) triggering a massive scandal in the UN.
The UN and the AU have both clear mandates as to the details of the protection of civilians during peace missions including the protection of women and children. Furthermore, both institutions have taken steps to mainstream gender in the sector of peacekeeping. Policies like UNSC 1325 have informed the adoption of the 2010 UN frame work related to gender mainstreaming. Its purpose is to ensure that the needs of men and women in host societies are met adequately. In addition to UNSC 1325, UNSC 1820, specifically addresses the issue of sexual and gender based violence in armed conflict. The resolution urges concrete measures to protect women from Sexual Gender Based violence. Additionally, the resolution also calls for training to help prevent, recognize and respond to incidents of SGBV and encourage member states to deploy a higher percentage of women. The AU on its side has incorporated those principles in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa despite the fact that a concrete Gender Mainstreaming policy in its Peace Support Missions is still being developed. Yet, the success of gender mainstreaming, however, depends on how seriously international actors incorporate it in their policies and implement it on the ground.
According to recent UN reports there are 124,746 personnel serving in 16 Peacekeeping Missions worldwide. In 2015, 69 sexual abuse allegations claims against peace keepers were made, an increase from 52 in 2014. Out of the recent claims that were made 1/3 are accusations against UN Peacekeepers operating in the Central African Republic.[i] This has made the news due to the extent of the abuses. In 2015, French troops deployed by the international community to protect civilians from crisis in the CAR are accused of not only sexually abducting and raping women but also children as well. In this particular case, the pain for the victims is not only related to the abuse itself but also to the sense of betrayal by the people they trusted would protect them.
In 2014, the UN has launched an inquiry into this CAR sexual abuse scandal and the measures were harsh. The head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in CAR, General Babacar Gaye was fired in August 2015 and the UN is currently reviewing a mechanism for the punishment of the peacekeepers involved in the crime.
The UN approaches accusation of sexual violence and abuses through two specific frameworks. One relates to its sexual violence as well as Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (‘SEA”) clause concerning acts committed by its staff members. In fact, it is articulated through its clear gender protection and safeguard mechanism. The second one derives from its UN Human Rights mandate and principles enshrined in the preamble of its charter and operationalized through a number of Security Council resolutions and UN polices. As such, sexual violence in the UN is not merely a disciplinary matter, but a serious Human Rights violation as well. Yet, the implementation process is questionable, that is why gender based violence by peacekeepers is occurring constantly.
On March 11 2016, UNSC resolution 2272 was adopted, in reaction to the increased number of Sexual abuse cases by peace keepers. With the push from UNSG Ban Ki Moon, the new resolution stipulates “three steps that a country should take if its personnel are accused of sexual exploitation or abuse [are] to investigate, hold the personnel accountable and inform the secretary-general of the progress of investigation”.
Yet, the resolution does not address all challenges of gender based violence and abuse. For acts that happened at the UN level, the prosecution should be under and by the UN itself. Reporting it back to member states for investigation and prosecution delays the justice victims deserve. Even if the perpetrators were to be prosecuted in their member states, what guarantee do victims have that there are clauses and mechanisms to deal with gender based violence in those states. In fact, many of the countries that deployed their troops and listed By Ban Ki Moon as perpetrating gender based violence are still countries that have not well developed frameworks for gender. Moreover, developing countries in Africa are places where the majority of women live a subordinate life under an extensive patriarchal system. Even so, all have different levels of punishments and gender sensitive policies for the same sexual abuse act committed.
Therefore, it would have been better if the UN addresses all these gaps by developing a mechanism or even an ad-hoc court of its own to specifically address issues of sexual abuse in peacekeeping missions. The UN should set a standard that all should adhere to because we still have in this 21st century countries that lack gender sensitive and friendly policies and frameworks.
*Seble Mulugeta (email@example.com ) is a Research and Policy Dialogue Officer at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies. With an MA Gender Studies, she is interested and passionate about issues of gender especially the advancement women’s rights and voice in the realm of peace and security in Africa. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Marie Deschamps chair Hassan B.Jallow yasmin sooka, 17 Decmeber 2015