Notes From the Margins…

The UN’s Child Rapists

  • April 30, 2015
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Even in a world that seethes with corruption, inhumanity and injustice in so many places, the revelations that French soldiers with the United Nations Minusca peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic have been sexually abusing homeless young boys in exchange for food is a shocking disgrace.

These acts allegedly took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for internally displaced people at M’Poko airport in Bangui, and they only became public when the Geneva-based UN aid worker Anders Kompass passed an internal report to the French authorities, because he didn’t believe that the UN were taking action to prevent them.

In response the UN has suspended Kompass – a man with more than 30 years involvement in humanitarian work – from his post as director of field operations and placed him  under investigation. Kompass has also had his emails seized.

The UN has a long history of sexual abuse by its peacekeeper forces – and of covering up or failing to act on such abuse when it becomes known.   In 1996   the former Minister of Education for Mozambique Graca Machel produced a report for UNICEF on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, which studied the new role of children in global conflicts, as child soldiers and also as victims of rape and sexual abuse.

The report found that “In 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict… the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.”

Cambodia, Mozambique, Bosnia and Kosovo, Sudan, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – in almost every country where UN peacekeepers have been deployed, their soldiers have been dogged by allegations of involvement in rape, sexual abuse of minors and prostitution.

The fact that such things take place in ‘post-conflict’ situations, or in conflicts in which the UN is supposedly protecting civilians who may already be traumatized and vulnerable is a gross abuse of power and a violation of the principles the UN is supposed to represent.

Such things tend to happen when armies are in a position of power over a civilian population,  or when an army remains in a foreign country for a long time – unless their commanding officers take steps to ensure that they don’t happen and punish the perpetrators when they are found out.

The persistence of such behavior amongst UN peacekeepers suggests that their commanding officers – and the bureaucrats who oversee these missions – are not doing either.   Even worse, there appears to be a grey area of accountability, regarding peacekeeping troops who simultaneously under the command of the countries that send them and under the command of the UN itself, which  enables abusers to act with impunity.

Point 4 of the ‘Ten rules of Personal Conduct for Blue Helmets‘ introduced by the UN in 1998 insists that soldiers should not ” indulge in immoral acts of sexual, physical or psychological abuse or exploitation of the local population or United Nations staff, especially women and children.”

Yet in 1999,   the American police investigator Kathryn Bolkovac, who was working with the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia,  was sacked by her employer, the British company Dyncorp Aerospace, a subsidiary of the US-based DynCorp International, after she alleged that UN police officers and peacekeepers were involved in the forced sexual enslavement of children and young women, sexual trafficking, racketeering, bribery and falsification of documents.

In 2005 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told the Security Council that the UN would “leave no stone unturned” in rooting out sexual abuse amongst peacekeeping forces.   Yet that same year, an investigation by the UN’s Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that soldiers were using food to solicit sexual services from the refugees they were supposed to be protecting.

The OIOS also found that the UN’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards such practices was not being enforced, producing a situation of ‘zero compliance with zero tolerance.’   The allegations in the Central African Republic suggests that this has not changed.

Today the UN continues to insist that “all peacekeeping personnel adhere to the highest standards of behaviour and conduct themselves in a professional and disciplined manner at all times”, and its website quotes Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon:

“The United Nations, and I personally, are profoundly committed to a zero-  tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel. This means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully. It means zero impunity.”

The treatment of Andreas Kompass   and the UN’s unresponsiveness to the allegations that he leaked, do not bear out these declarations.

This needs to change.   The French government has promised to find the perpetrators and punish them.

Let’s hope it does, but it shouldn’t have taken a whistleblower to make this happen.   The UN shouldn’t be punishing the man who brought these horrific acts to light, and the fact that it is doing so is almost as disturbing as the acts themselves.



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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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