Must Boys Be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation & Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Missions

Must Boys be Boys?2.25 MB

Executive Summary

In early 2004, abuses by peacekeepers in the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) made international headlines and were subsequently the subject of UN Security Council meetings and US Congressional hearings. However, sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers is not limited to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Charges of sexual exploitation and abuse have dogged UN peacekeeping missions around the world and Refugees International (RI) has found that the UN peacekeeping missions in Liberia and Haiti are equally vulnerable to such abuse. This report provides a comprehensive look at the causes of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers in Liberia and Haiti, the efforts made by the UN to address the problem, and concrete recommendations for further action.

Effective peacekeeping operations can transform conflict and bring about a stable peace so that displaced people can return home and societies can begin to rebuild. Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse cast a dark shadow over the positive impacts that UN peacekeepers have made and compromise their mission to secure the peace. However, it is essential that a thorough and honest discussion of the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers occurs to ensure that peacekeeping missions are able to accomplish their goals of protecting the vulnerable.

Since the bulk of personnel in peacekeeping missions are men, a hyper-masculine culture that encourages sexual exploitation and abuse and a tradition of silence have evolved within them. This culture has produced a tolerance for extreme behaviors such as sexual exploitation and abuse. “What do you think is going to happen when you have thousands of men away from home?” is the common response to the behavior. This “boys will be boys” attitude will continue to taint the debate until approaches to sexual exploitation are changed to reflect the fact that sexual exploitation and abuse are primarily problems of abuse of power that merit disciplinary action, and only secondarily problems of sexual behavior.

In October 2000, the UN Security Council passed UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a resolution on women, peace and security that mandates that the commanders of UN peacekeeping missions must take into account the differential impact of their actions on women and men. This resolution provides a potential basis for combating the masculine culture within peacekeeping missions. However, the process of mainstreaming gender into peacekeeping missions, or incorporating gender perspectives into all areas of work, has yet to truly take hold within the UN missions that RI visited.

Responses to sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping missions vary. The policies and guidelines set by UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) about sexual exploitation and abuse in missions are not always followed in the fi eld. The attitude of senior management in UN peacekeeping missions towards sexual exploitation and abuse can make a major difference in ending the problem. Effective leadership that conveys a serious commitment to a “zero tolerance” policy influences the culture of the organization and the ability of the organization to address problems. RI recommends that the Special Representatives to the Secretary-General (SRSG) in UN peacekeeping missions as well as all managers must be held accountable for ensuring that sexual exploitation and abuse are taken seriously and perpetrators are punished.

While experts on the issue often focus mostly on military personnel, the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by civilian personnel may be much larger yet less visible. The majority of the complaints heard by RI in the field were about expatriate men, both UN employees and others, carrying on inappropriate relationships with local women. In reality, it is easier to discipline military personnel in peacekeeping missions than civilians. While there are command structures in place in the military, the multiplicity of civilian agencies and personnel in these missions makes investigating and punishing their abusive behavior more difficult.

One of the most common suggestions for addressing sexual exploitation and abuse and mainstreaming gender within UN peacekeeping missions is to provide training to the troops. Pre- and post-deployment training are critical to reducing or eliminating some of the problems associated with troop deployments, but training in and of itself is insufficient. There must be follow-up and monitoring of training results. RI also recommends that regional peacekeeping institutes incorporate UN curriculum and expand to support troop-contributing countries. Additionally, troop-contributing countries must work more closely with local women’s groups to incorporate culturally appropriate curriculum into their military training.

While the UN is focusing on the appointment of personnel to address allegations of exploitation and abuse, too often information on how to report an abuse and what will happen to the perpetrator is unclear to UN mission personnel, their colleagues in humanitarian agencies and most importantly, the local community. While the UN has begun to distribute materials to publicize the problems of trafficking and exploitation, public information campaigns still lag behind. Local humanitarian agencies and women must be informed how to report an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse. Every person in the reporting chain—the person who gets the initial call, the police, the investigators, the officers—must understand and practice gender sensitivity. For complicated issues such as sexual exploitation and abuse, where the victims are not always certain that it is their right to complain, it is imperative. There must also be feedback that informs the victims of the investigation outcome and the judicial process, if any.

Currently peacekeeping troops report to their home country commanders. If a soldier is found guilty, that person is sent back to his country for discipline. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for victims and their families to determine what, if any, actions have been taken. In order for local communities and victims to trust the UN enough to begin reporting violations, victims must know they will be protected and treated with respect when they report and that there will be action taken against the perpetrator.

Finally, because eradicating sexual exploitation by peacekeepers is intrinsically linked to improving the status of women in post-conflict countries, all programs undertaken within these countries must challenge the social, cultural, and political determinants of discrimination against women. Programming must seek to include women in the decisions that will impact their lives.

The “boys will be boys” attitude which has characterized previous UN peacekeeping missions is slowly changing. Positive changes include the appointment of a female Special Representative to the Secretary-General to lead the UN peacekeeping mission in Burundi, the inclusion of gender advisors on assessment missions, and increased importance of the office of gender advisors within peacekeeping missions. In addition, in July 2004, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the Permanent Representative of Jordan, His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, a former civilian peacekeeper and the UN ambassador of one of the major peacekeeping troop contributors, to prepare a comprehensive report for the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.

Zeid’s report, “A Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” is an honest and far-reaching account that makes numerous important and bold recommendations, notably that troop-contributing countries hold on-site courts martial for guilty parties and adopt formal memoranda of understanding in advance of deployment so that the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse are forwarded to their competent national or military authorities. RI supports the major recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report and urges the major troop-contributing countries to adopt them immediately. While the report is an important first step, all members of the United Nations must fully support these initiatives.

In principle, every SRSG and military commander has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sexual exploitation and abuse. But without the ability to actually implement these recommendations, zero tolerance is meaningless. The UN must move beyond strong rhetoric and take action. As the UN continues to discuss new reforms to strengthen its agencies, it must enact the recommendations outlined in this report to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse and the tolerance of these activities throughout the United Nations.


Mainstreaming gender principles into UN peacekeeping missions

  • DPKO move to hire more male gender advisors to counter-balance the idea that gender issues can only be addressed by women;
  • Donors and others interested in effective peacekeeping and UN reform continue to advocate for increased attention to mainstreaming of gender principles within all UN bodies;
  • UN peacekeeping missions separate the positions of Gender Advisor and Sexual Exploitation Focal Point or personnel involved in conduct and discipline units. If this is not possible, adequate resources,both financial and human, must be allocated to the position;
  • Member states provide more human resources within DPKO Headquarters for gender mainstreaming;
  • Member states actively put forward the names of qualified female candidates for senior management positions;
  • The UN Security Council encourage more female representation in troop-contributing countries;
  • Troop-contributing countries examine their policies for recruiting women in the military and police forces and sending them to peacekeeping missions and send numbers of females proportionate with the national average of women in their security forces;
  • US Department of State insist that the contractors it uses to recruit for civilian police officers provide women for UN peacekeeping missions and, if they fail to do so, discontinue their contracts;
  • The UN deploy key personnel such as Code of Conduct officers, Senior Gender Advisors and investigators of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the early stages of peacekeeping missions.

Changing attitudes within senior management of UN peacekeeping operations

  • The UN make measures to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse as part of the performance goals for all managers and commanders and rate managerial performance in accordance with the actual implementation of these goals;
  • An independent watchdog organization be set up by humanitarian agencies and donors to monitor actual implementation of UN policies in the field;
  • Any SRSG or senior UN employee who fails to implement measures to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse be removed from his or her position.

Focusing on civilian personnel

  • The Secretary-General appoint a group of experts to review UN personnel rules and recommend ways to ensure that loopholes that allow civilian personnel to avoid prosecution be tightened;
  • The UN amend Staff Regulations to specifically provide that acts of sexual exploitation and abuse constitute serious misconduct.

Training within UN peacekeeping missions

  • Training on UN universal mandates such as gender mainstreaming and enforcement of human rights should be mandatory for civilian and military personnel;
  • DPKO must ensure that training on gender concepts and human rights is carried out by bona fide trainers with expertise on the subject matter;
  • Donors fund regional peacekeeping training centers to mainstream gender into all training courses and provide training on sexual exploitation and abuse prevention for troop-contributing countries;
  • DPKO should conduct an evaluation to determine what messages resonate with peacekeepers and the effectiveness of their trainings;
  • Militaries from troop-contributing countries actively work with local women’s groups in their own countries to design culturally appropriate responses to mainstreaming gender and combating sexual exploitation and abuse;
  • Country commanders train their troops using country-specific training modules and verify completion of training in writing to the Force Commander;
  • Military commanders and civilian personnel supervisors follow up and continually emphasize training on sexual exploitation and abuse.

Improving access to the UN complaint system

  • Public Information directors for UN peacekeeping missions design programs along with local women’s groups to inform and educate the local population regarding sexual exploitation and abuse;
  • Public Information programs in UN Peacekeeping missions communicate the findings of investigations into sexual exploitation and abuse;
  • The UN actively move to protect “whistle-blowers” by strengthening confidentiality rules;
  • The UN install a person focused on coordinating actions towards trafficking in all UN peacekeeping missions.

Empowering women in the local communities

  • Donors fund income-generation projects and micro-credit schemes aimed at women in post-conflict countries;
  • Donors and designers of DDR programs pay particular attention to the reintegration needs of former female combatants;
  • All donors ensure that programs in post-conflict countries mainstream a gender perspective and encourage women’s empowerment in social, political, and economic activities.