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UN Peacekeeper Immunity Challenged

The Honorable Romeo Dallaire speaks during We Day at Air Canada Center on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, in Toronto. The retired Lt. General supports the Code Blue Campaign. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

A new initiative has been launched to block U.N. peacekeepers from being granted immunity when accused of sexual exploitation and abuse. At least 50 such alleged incidents occurred last year, but Code Blue Campaign supporters say the actual number is probably much higher.

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The U.N. has admitted that sexual abuse by peacekeepers is a problem and that it has a zero tolerance policy toward it. But Paula Donovan, Co-director of AIDS-Free World, said that policy is not enough.

“Both by the U.N.’s own accounts and by anecdotal accounts and information coming from the field and frompeople within the U.N. system, who don’t feel at liberty to speak publically, we know that the problem is actually much more severe than the U.N. is reporting to the General Assembly.”

Donovan said U.N. claims are not backed by the evidence.

“Each year, the Secretary-General reports on the numbers of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse and claims that the problem is slowly, but surely being solved. In fact, our research shows that that’s not the case at all. That the problem is quite extensive. That the U.N. does not report in the most accurate or transparent ways about the problems that come to their attention,” she said.

AIDS-Free world is joined in the Code Blue Campaign by Graça Machel, who led a 1996 study of sexual exploitation of children in armed conflict; Retired Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, who commanded the U.N. mission during the Rwanda genocide; African Women’s Development Fund CEO Theo Sowa and former U.N. Under-Secretary General Anwarul Chowdhury.

Donovan said justice is not being served when the U.N. investigates sex abuse allegations against peacekeepers.

“We decided to try to determine where the breakdown starts and what we learned was that it’s a chain reaction that actually stems from the fact that under a 1946 convention U.N. staff, police and experts on mission – in peacekeeping missions – have immunity. So, we’re calling for the end to what we are perceiving as a misinterpretation of a very old convention,” she said.

She said immunity was originally meant for diplomats, but is now being applied to accused criminals.

“So, we will also be calling for a complete and thorough commission of inquiry independent entirely of the United Nations that will look at what’s broken within the system and not only how it needs to be fixed, but who is responsible and who needs to be held to account for the dreadful way that these cases are handled, covered-up and misrepresented to the public,” said Donovan.

Naming the campaign Code Blue, she said, is not just because the U.N. operates under a blue flag.

“In the United States and some other countries, when all efforts have failed to keep the patient alive and the patient is going into cardiac arrest in a hospital, an announcement is made throughout the hospital – code blue in room such and such – and all who can help to keep the patient alive rush to the scene and help to resuscitate the patient who is near death. So, we feel as though we’re at that point with the United Nations.”

The Code Blue Campaign calls for amending the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. It said the convention should exclude sex-related crimes from the immunity granted to U.N. personnel. Another option, said Donovan, is to have the Secretary-General “issue a policy bulletin” of the convention “that reflects today’s realities.”

“That immunity should never have been in place or applied where these particular accusations are concerned. And you have the double standard here. You can say you have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse – but you’re tolerant enough to have the presumption of immunity when someone is accused,” she said.

Campaign organizers denied the effort will harm U.N. operations. They said it will “strengthen the reputation and credibility of a critical U.N. function.”

Accusations of sexual abuse have been leveled against French and African peacekeepers in Central African Republic after an internal U.N. report was leaked in April. The United States has called for an inquiry into how the U.N. dealt with the allegations. The report says alleged abuses against children occurred between December 2013 and June of 2014.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powers said if the allegations are true it would be a “profound violation…of the dignity and physical security of individuals in their most vulnerable state.”

To listen to interview with retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire on his support for the Code Blue Campaign, click on the link below.

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