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U.N. peacekeeping abuses scrutinized

Six nations pushed for more accountability in U.N. peacekeeping at a meeting on progress towards ending mismanagement, sexual abuse and other violence.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — Six nations including the United States pushed for more accountability in U.N. peacekeeping operations on Friday at a high-level gathering to review progress on eliminating mismanagement, sexual abuse and other violence.

The meeting at the U.N.'s headquarters in New York was organized by the United States — a permanent U.N. Security Council member that provides US$1.7 billion a year for the U.N.'s US$6.5 billion annual peacekeeping budget — along with peacekeeping contributor nations India, Portugal, Senegal, Uruguay and Vietnam.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told participants that "new systems and tools to evaluate performance" were helping make a difference on the ground as part of his "Action for Peacekeeping" initiative, a response to a U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution in September 2018 to impose tougher action against U.N. peacekeepers that abuse or fail to protect civilians.

"These include regular military and police unit evaluations, hospital evaluation systems and other mechanisms to address the work of civilian personnel," he said in a prepared statement. "As a result, we are engaging with member states in a more focused way. In some cases, we have repatriated underperforming troops; in others, we have deployed mentors or training teams."

Guterres said the world body was doing "everything possible” to improve accountability and end sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers through better prevention and response measures, including the appointment of a victims' rights advocate.

Peacekeeping is a shared responsibility of the world body and member nations. There are now 13 peacekeeping operations, most of them in Africa. More than 1 million men and women have worked for U.N. peacekeeping missions since 1948, with 3,500 killed while trying to sustain peace.

"Our peacekeepers represent the last, best hope for millions of people around the world," said Guterres. "Some of them operate in highly dangerous environments, just short of full‑blown conflict."

The biggest operations are in Congo, with 16,747 personnel; South Sudan, with 16,683; Mali, with 13,576; Central African Republic, with 13,348; and Lebanon, with 10,252, according to U.N. figures as of the end of October.

The largest troop-contributing nations are Ethiopia, with 7,026 personnel; Bangladesh, with 6,417; Rwanda, with 6,369; India, with 6,183; Nepal, with 5,685, and Pakistan, with 5,072.

The U.N.'s undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, emphasized the importance of adequate financial support. "Ensuring that peacekeepers have the requisite training and capacity, in many cases entails member states providing the requisite support,” he said.

Guterres also has made it a priority to include more women in peacekeeping operations. He said the percentage of female military staff officers and observers has doubled to 14.5% since 2017, which will "improve the effectiveness of our protection for all civilians, and in particular for women."

Reality versus image

For years, the United Nations has contended with sexual misconduct throughout the U.N. system, including allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, particularly in Central African Republic and Congo. Since becoming U.N. chief in 2017, Guterres has emphasized U.N.’s “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual abuse and exploitation throughout the world body.

There were 94 reported cases of sexual exploitation in the U.N. system, and 109 allegations involving U.N. partner organizations last year, according to U.N. figures. The number of such cases reported in U.N. peacekeeping and political missions fell to 54 in 2018 — three-quarters from U.N. peacekeeping in Central African Republic and Congo — down from 62 a year earlier and 104 in 2016. The remaining quarter occurred in peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Liberia, Mali and South Sudan.

The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, said the purpose of the Security Council peacekeeping resolution last year was to hold people more accountable through clear, objective performance standards, better incentives and improved reporting for U.N. personnel.

Despite the efforts made to fulfill the U.N. secretary-general's initiative, Craft said, the United States believes U.N. peacekeeping operations continue to suffer from "a serious lack of progress in accountability for poor performance, which begins with setting expectations." She called on Guterres to develop "an accountability mechanism" for enforcing standards with troops, police and civilians.

"The images of blue U.N. helmets and white U.N. planes are associated by people around the world with men and women saving lives, delivering humanitarian assistance, and supporting peace processes," Craft said in a prepared speech.

"While we strongly support effective peacekeeping, we must also be forthright in acknowledging that peacekeepers too often fail to meet the standards of their mandates," she said. "But of far greater concern is that it puts human lives at risk: those of the people the U.N. is mandated to protect and the peacekeepers sent to protect them.  For all their sakes, we must hold peacekeeping missions, leadership, and uniformed and civilian staff accountable."