World

UN peacekeeper changes, penalties recommended after sexual abuse claims

A high-level panel urged a major overhaul of UN peacekeeping operations Tuesday that would make political solutions the paramount goal, speed up deployment of peacekeepers, and require the naming and shaming of countries whose troops commit acts of sexual abuse.

Panel also proposes ways to speed up deployments

In this Tuesday, March 30, 2010 file photo, United Nations peacekeepers patrol an earthquake survivors makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. (Jorge Saenz/The Associated Press)

A high-level panel urged a major overhaul of UN peacekeeping operations Tuesday that would make political solutions the paramount goal, speed up deployment of peacekeepers, and require the naming and shaming of countries whose troops commit acts of sexual abuse.

The panel delivered its report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon amid a growing controversy over allegations of child sexual abuse by French soldiers in Central African Republic. Confidential documents show the UN's top human rights officials did not follow up for more than six months after their staff discovered the alleged exploitation.

While the panel made recommendations on issues ranging from the use of force by peacekeepers to funding operations and restructuring the UN Secretariat, the spotlight at a news conference launching their report was on its proposals to address sexual exploitation and abuse.

The panel's chairman Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and East Timor's former president, called the news of sexual misconduct "the saddest for the UN," saying it "undermines the most important power the UN possesses — its unquestionable integrity."

"It will take firm leadership and enormous effort to overcome this dark chapter," he said.

For UN peacekeepers who can only face justice in their home countries, the panel stressed that "immunity must not mean impunity."

It supported Ban's recommendations for a six-month deadline for investigations of alleged sexual abuse by troops, and recommended that countries be required to disclose disciplinary action taken against soldiers, as well as any government failures to report.

The panel also called for the secretary-general's reports to identify the home countries of peacekeepers committing sexual abuse, not just the number of cases. And it said countries listed in the annual UN report for using or sexually abusing children in conflict should be barred from contributing troops to UN missions.

In contrast to UN peacekeepers, civilians in UN missions facing credible allegations of sexual abuse don't have immunity, and Ramos-Horta said their missions must immediately cooperate with the host country in an investigation.

"This is what has to be very clear: you commit a barbarity, you have no protection whatsoever," he said. "You are subject to the laws of the country where you are operating. You cannot hide under the United Nations roof."

Ramos-Horta said the panel also proposed that the 193 UN member states support and fund a program to assist victims of sexual exploitation, and any children born to them.

In other key recommendations, the 16-member panel appointed by the secretary-general urged "extreme caution" in requesting a UN peacekeeping mission to undertake offensive operations. It also said the UN should not engage in military counter-terrorism operations which are beyond its capabilities.

To reinforce the importance of political settlements to conflicts, the panel called for much greater cooperation between the UN peacekeeping and political departments and the appointment of a new deputy secretary-general responsible for peace and security. It called for a greater focus on conflict prevention.

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