In 2016, new reports of United Nations (UN) Peacekeeper exploitation of children in the Central African Republic (CAR) emerged in the media. The UN Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse issued its Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic, concerning predatory peacekeepers in CAR, revealing nearly 100 incidents of peacekeepers sexually exploiting children. The report also included evidence that Peacekeepers traded food and ration boxes for sex from minors in CAR. One child “who initially reported to the [Human Rights Officer] HRO that he was a witness to the oral and anal rape of his friends, reported that he himself had been orally and anally raped.” In another report, children as young as seven were forced in engage in bestiality. Amnesty International also reported the rape of a twelve-year-old girl, and the indiscriminate killing of a sixteen-year-old boy and his father in August 2015 by UN Personnel in CAR.

CAR has been in an ongoing civil war for several years. Bangui, the capital of CAR, was captured in 2013 by rebel groups in an attempt to overthrow the government. In 2014, the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, deployed about 10,050 Peacekeepers and 2,000 police officers to help end the conflict between the rebel groups and the unstable government. The mission has struggled to provide security in key areas and adequately protect civilians. Unfortunately, in many cases, the UN Peacekeepers and police officers have perpetrated violence.

These are not the first incidents of sexual abuse by UN Peacekeepers in states they were entrusted to protect. UN Peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse since the early 1990s with cases reported in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Cambodia, East Timor, West Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, and South Sudan.

The fact that MINUSCA was deployed to CAR to protect civilians, support the transition process, facilitate humanitarian assistance, promote and protect human rights, and support justice and the rule of law, makes these abuses so much more heinous. UN Peacekeepers have taken their power to protect and used it to exploit, thereby transgressing the very human rights conventions they were meant to model. MINUSCA is a multidimensional United Nations Peacekeeping operation staffed by volunteers from various Nation-States. These volunteers are accountable to their sending States and those States are bound by the UN Conventions they have signed and ratified. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 34 requires that “States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent: [(a)-(c) forcing a child to engage in any form of sexual activity].” The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by 196 countries and signed by the United States. It is a broadly accepted convention that most States are obligated to uphold.

CAR ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. It was the CAR government’s duty to protect the children of the Central African Republic, even from UN peacekeepers. More importantly, this convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, and as an extension of the UN, Moreover, the UN is bound to enforce its own conventions and protocols. It is incumbent upon the UN to ensure that the provisions of their treaties are effectively implemented t abuse, albeit without much success. In 2005, the UN established the Conduct and Discipline Unit to monitor peacekeeping operations as a part of a series of reforms “designed to strengthen accountability and uphold the highest standards of conduct” for peacekeepers abroad. The UN defined Troop Contributing Countries’ (TCCs’) obligations in peacekeeping missions in A Memorandum of Understanding between Troop Contributing Countries (MOU), regarding conduct and discipline of their troops. It developed mandatory pre-deployment training on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse for all peacekeepers. The UN also uses the Misconduct Tracking System to vet UN international staff applying to work in field missions against records of misconduct in prior assignment to field missions. The UN similarly vets individually recruited military, police, corrections officers, and UN Volunteers.

The UN’s prevention programming is commendable, but the MOU has been shown to be insufficient for holding individuals and TCCs accountable for abuses such as child molestation. In other words, the UN has created protocols insufficient to rectify the abuse, for they lack the ability to enforce systematic disciplinary measures against peacekeepers. At most, the UN has been transparent about the misconduct perpetrated by Peacekeepers by investigating and recording complaints. The TCCs must be empowered to, and be held responsible for, disciplining their own peacekeepers. To date, there are few, if any, cases of TCCs punishing peacekeepers for misconduct abroad.

The UN Security Council recently adopted Resolution 2272 (2016) to crack down on Peacekeeper predators. The resolution requires TCCs to investigate complaints of misconduct and turn in reports to UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon within six months. The resolution seeks to replace all military or police units from any contributing country that had failed to hold perpetrators accountable for their misconduct. Prior to Resolution 2272, Ban Ki Moon pledged to hold UN Peacekeeper predators accountable by “first – ending impunity, second – helping, and supporting victims; and third – strengthening accountability through action by Member States.”

If the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy is to become a reality, the UN as a whole—including TCCs—must recognize that sexual abuse by Peacekeepers is not a mere disciplinary matter. Rather, it is a violation of the victims’ fundamental human rights. Victims’ rights must be made the priority. In particular, the UN must recognize that sexual violence by Peacekeepers triggers its human rights mandate to protect victims. As such, it must investigate, report, and follow up on human rights violations, and take measures to hold perpetrators accountable. In the absence of concerted action to address wrongdoing by the very persons sent to protect vulnerable populations, the credibility of the UN and the future of peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy. UN Peacekeeper predators must be held accountable. TCCs must create and enforce domestic laws to prevent and punish such misconduct.