NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sex abuse by U.N. peacekeeping personnel has been a problem for decades, and it is still happening despite the world body's official policy of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation, a group of former diplomats and U.N. officials said on Wednesday.
The group, including Graça Machel, author of the landmark study "The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children", is joining with AIDS-Free World in a campaign called Code Blue to demand that the United Nations remove the immunity that protects sexual abusers within peacekeeping missions.
Several senior United Nations officials, however, told reporters ahead of the event that there is already a policy of waiving immunity in most cases for civilian staff and U.N. police when they are accused of crimes like rape or sexual abuse.
So-called “functional immunity,” they said, only covers actions that are part of someone’s job, which means that any alleged criminal activity is not immune from prosecution.
Peacekeeping troops, however, are subject to the military laws of individual troop contributing countries, which are responsible for prosecuting alleged crimes by their troops. Apart from demanding repatriation of the suspected perpetrators, U.N. officials say they have few options to punish or enforce accountability.
Over the past 20 years, a succession of media accounts and U.N. reports have exposed the sexual exploitation and abuse by both civilian and military U.N. peacekeepers in places from Bosnia to West Africa, Haiti to Democratic Republic of Congo.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported 79 recorded allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in 2014.
The Code Blue group argues that the problem of abuse by peacekeepers cannot be solved until a long overdue first step is taken: U.N. immunity can no longer apply to those accused of sexual offenses.
"It’s a perverse irony that the U.N. should be the only place on earth where even the most depraved and violent sex offenders can expect immunity from legal processes,” said Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World.
"It’s time to call ‘Code Blue’: no more immunity, ever, for people working under the U.N. banner who are accused of sexual exploitation or abuse,” she said.The senior U.N. officials said the U.N. policy on ensuring criminal accountability in cases of sexual abuse was outlined in a 2012 memorandum distributed throughout the U.N. system.
But they acknowledged that it was often extremely difficult for the United Nations to hold perpetrators accountable and said they are are forced to rely on member states and host countries of U.N. missions for that.
“We want them not wearing a blue beret,” Anthony Banbury, a senior U.N. peacekeeping official, said about perpetrators of sexual crimes. “We want them in jail, in my view, rotting.”