After declaring that there were 99 claims of abuse in 2015 against its peacekeeping forces, the UN adopted new measures to try and address the incidents of child rape and other sexual offences emerging from the many countries its troops were stationed in, especially the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As part of the reforms, the UN started, for the first time, naming the countries of alleged perpetrators, a move meant to pressure states to pursue allegations that, UN records show, they have often let slide.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the resolution “a significant step in our collective efforts to combat the terrible damage caused to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse”.
He also pledged to speed up investigations and to make information available about outstanding allegations on a new website.
Yet just last month the UN was forced to admit that it had already received 44 new allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers and staff in UN missions so far this year involving more than 40 minors.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 29 allegations were reported in the Central African Republic, seven in the Congo, and two in Haiti.
One allegation each was made in South Sudan, Ivory Coast, Mali and the disputed Abeyi border region between Sudan and South Sudan as well as in the political missions in Libya and overseeing the Middle East peace process.
These new allegations should unfortunately come as little surprise after an independent report published in January determined that there was “a gross institutional failure to respond to the allegations in a meaningful way”.
UN peacekeepers have been accused of doling out supplies and aid in exchange for sex as well as counts of beastiality and gang rape but to date few have been prosecuted.
Three investigations have so far been completed: A peacekeeper from Bangladesh serving in CAR was sentenced to one year in prison for sexually abusing a minor; an Egyptian peacekeeper serving in CAR was court martialed and sentenced to five years for sexually assaulting an adult; and a UN civilian staffer has been put on leave without pay pending a decision on action to be taken.
There are more than 100,000 troops and police currently active in UN peacekeeping operations so whilst these allegations represent the actions of only a small minority in a global operation, the accusations of a systemic failure are worrisome to say the least.
The complex political situations of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo help to explain why so many crimes can go unreported for so long; there are large swathes of both nations where the rule of law has long since broken down and the mechanisms usually in place to try and prevent such crimes from being committed do not exist.
However, this is precisely why the UN peacekeepers have been sent into these areas, the blue helmets do not come rolling into a nation unless its infrastructure is no longer up to the task, so the peacekeepers are in theory trained for such conditions.
Unfortunately, as has been seen with the UK government’s own response to the allegations of widespread child abuse amongst its own political elite as well as the accusation of war crimes committed by British soldiers in Iraq, those in power have a way of dragging these things out.
So with only three investigations having been completed so far against individuals peacekeepers, it seems unlikely that the structural issues that permitted such crimes to take place will be addressed nor will those in charge be offering resign despite their failure to get to grips with the situation.
All the tears and press conferences count for nothing unless the victims of these crimes see justice and other innocent people are protected by the peacekeepers not put in danger because of them.
Samantha Asumadu, founder of Media Diversified, has started a petition demanding accountability from the UN over these allegations and you can sign it here.