UN Secretariat and Assembly must approve new rules for UN peacekeepers – report

Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein

24 March 2005 – A new report requested by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on sexual exploitation occurring in peacekeeping missions recommends the UN standardize rules so that all personnel are held equally accountable and that laws in troop-contributor countries and individual responsibility for victims, including "peacekeeper babies," be strengthened.

The report was prepared by Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan and himself a former civilian peacekeeper, after extensive consultations with officials from the UN Secretariat and from troop-and police-contributing countries, as well as a visit last year to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where many of the allegations have surfaced.

"Resolving the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping personnel is a shared responsibility and can only succeed with firm commitment and action by both the Secretariat and Member States. We are committed to implement the necessary reforms as quickly as possible," Mr. Annan said in a statement after he forwarded the report to the General Assembly.

"I also call upon Member States to act with determination and due haste and to provide the necessary resources to the Secretariat and the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes to put in place the important changes required."

The UN's top peacekeeping official, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said he concurred fully with the report's findings. "What [Prince Zeid] says provides the basis for a sound strategy to address the issues. Now we want to push it forward," he told reporters.

The report says, "United Nations peacekeeping has a distinguished history of helping many States and peoples to emerge from conflict with the hope of a better future." It adds, however, that peacekeeping personnel have all too often "read normalcy into situation that is far from normal."

"And it is this inability on the part of many peacekeepers to discern the extent to which the society is traumatized and vulnerable that is at the root of many of the problems addressed in the present report."

It points out many gaps in liability, especially since the present peacekeeping regime recognizes different categories of personnel, governed by different sets of rules.

Because "troop-contributing countries are responsible for the conduct and discipline of their troops," it says, the General Assembly should apply the rules in Mr. Annan's bulletin on measures for protection from sexual abuse to all categories, including civilian police, military observers, members of national contingents, UN Volunteers (UNV), consultants and contractors.

On military personnel, the model status-of forces agreement has assumed that the Secretary-General will obtain formal assurances from a troop contributor that it will exercise criminal jurisdiction over its troops in return for the immunity given by the host State, the report says.

However, "such formal assurances are no longer obtained," it points out, calling for such clauses to be inserted once again into the model memorandum of understanding "to ensure that troop-contributing countries have a legal obligation to consider for prosecution acts of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by military members of peacekeeping missions that constitute crimes under the laws of the troop-contributing country or the host State."

Troop contributors must report how they followed up with the investigated cases the UN refers to them but since "a decision whether or not to prosecute is an act of sovereignty," the Assembly is asked to decide that contributors must agree on these procedures before their troops and other personnel are accepted for a mission, it says.

The General Assembly must also authorize a professional investigative body with "experts who have had experience in sex crime investigations, particularly those involving children," it says.

A military prosecutor from the relevant troop contributor should be part of this professional investigating mechanism and a troop contributor handling accusations should hold on-site courts martial, since that would facilitate access to witnesses and evidence in the mission area, the report suggests.

"Troop-contributing countries whose legislation does not permit on-site courts-martial should consider reforming their legislation," it says.

Since "soldiers are only as good as their commanders," commanders who imposed discipline or cooperated with investigations should be rewarded with a special commendation, or a medal.

Missions should have extensive programmes of outreach to the local population and the number of female peacekeepers should be increased, it says.

Abandoned mothers of peacekeeper babies are in a desperate financial situation, the report says. Upon identification through blood or DNA tests, fathers who are not UN staff members could make payments to a proposed UN Trust Fund for Victims, which would also take care of children whose fathers were known to be peacekeepers, but who could not be identified.

A UN staff member who is a father of a peacekeeper baby, in addition to facing other punishments set out under UN regulations, could pay the mother "say, the equivalent of one year's salary of a local employee of the mission," the report says.

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