In March, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2272 in response to ongoing revelations that French and west-African peacekeepers raped and sexually exploited civilians they were deployed to protect in the Central African Republic.  The Resolution endorses a proposal by the Secretary General to return home the peacekeeping contingent of a country whose peacekeepers sexually abuse civilians.

Hold your applause.

The problem of predatory peacekeepers is decades old, having plagued operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia, Haiti, the DRC, and Liberia – to name just a few countries.  More than a thousand accusations have surfaced since 2007 alone.  It’s easy then, to shrug off the Resolution as a last-minute attempt to restore the UN’s damaged reputation – at least until it delivers concrete results.

And whether that will happen, is doubtful. The Secretary General is in the process of formulating the procedures that would trigger repatriation, but the individuals he chose to lead that effort are the same high-ranking UN officials, as described by the Code Blue campaign, whose “negligence, indifference and subsequent cover-ups compounded the horrors” in CAR.

The Code Blue campaign is a special project of Aids-Free World, the advocacy group that uncovered the scandal in CAR.  The group derides the current proposal as “the fox guarding the hen house,” and calls for an independent oversight board that reports directly to member states and operates entirely separate from the UN.  Nothing in the current proposal, they say, “suggests the kind of change that needs to happen, to extirpate peacekeeping sexual abuse, once and for all.”

The potential for corruption and mismanagement may be the most problematic concern with Resolution 2272, but it’s not the only one.  Let’s take a look at some additional problems, after we clarify how the Resolution operates.

Resolution 2272: Two things must be established before peacekeeping troops will be repatriated back to their home country.  One involves the “action” of peacekeepers themselves. The other involves “inaction” by the country that sent the peacekeepers.  Specifically, troops would be removed only after finding:

  • “credible evidence” that peacekeepers engaged in “widespread or systematic sexual exploitation or abuse;” and
  • that the contributing country has not “taken appropriate steps to investigate,” or “hold the perpetrator accountable,” or “inform the Secretary General of its investigation or action.

I call this the “wait and see” approach to repatriation.  The two part showing means that troops would not be removed for sexually exploiting civilians, but only after the contributing state’s response to that exploitation is measured. What happens to troops in the meantime is unclear, so add that to the list of questions we still need answers to.

Here are some additional concerns:

Resolution 2272 is not a “law.” The Resolution is not a “law” in the traditional sense.  It does not impose a legal obligation to act – not on the part of the Secretary General, member states, or contributing countries.  Nor does it create a right capable of being enforced – a right that might otherwise be invoked by rape victims against individual peacekeepers, contributing countries, or the UN itself.  It simply expresses the Security Council’s sentiment – “deep concern” it says – over abuse by peacekeepers, “endorses” additional action on the part of the Secretary General, and “calls upon” member States to prevent and respond to abuse.

But does the Resolution legally “do” anything? Not really.

How is the two-part showing made?  Look closely at what is required before troops are removed.  What is “credible evidence” of abuse? Is it “believable” or “trustworthy” evidence, or something more like “corroborated” evidence?  And what makes a problem “widespread or systematic.” The number of victims? The number of perpetrators? The ratio of perpetrators to victims? The perpetrator’s rank?

And how will we know when a country has taken “appropriate steps” to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable? Three men are on trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo for raping a woman when they served as peacekeepers in CAR.  Human rights organizations have called the trial an important first step towards accountability, but note the absence of victims as a major roadblock for the prosecution. When do the logistics of prosecuting someone in another country far from the site of abuse become so burdensome that practically speaking, perpetrators can’t be held accountable?

Alternatively, does “accountability” depend on how a peacekeeper is punished?  The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has covered reports of several Quebec police officers who engaged in sexual misconduct while deployed as MINUSTAH peacekeepers in Haiti.  Two of the men fathered a child with Haitian women, and were suspended from their job between 5-9 days.  Those men were punished, but were they held accountable?

Must troops always be removed?  Moreover, no-one has clarified whether the decision to repatriate troops is discretionary.  Must troops be removed upon finding of systematic abuse and non-accountability, or do other considerations come into play?  Where is the check against political favoritism? French troops are accused of being major players in the CAR sex abuse scandal, yet France is a permanent member of the Security Council.  Under what circumstances, then, would the Secretary General order French troops removed from a peacekeeping mission?

To some extent, Resolutions like this are vague by their nature, and would not be drafted with the specificity of a legal code.  But there’s so much room for interpretation here, it’s just not clear when accusations of sexual exploitation and abuse would trigger remedial action.  The Security Council “requests” the Secretary General to give immediate effect to his proposal by “urgently finalizing” guidance to UN peacekeeping operations. Whatever time is left, perhaps the focus should be on clarifying these operations; or better yet, as Code Blue is doing, finding an entirely different solution altogether.

-Kathleen Bergin