As It Happens

Graça Machel demands the UN stop sex abuse by peacekeepers

Nelson Mandela's widow joins a chorus of high-profile figures calling on the UN to end sexual abuse and exploitation by UN soldiers.
Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela's widow (The Elders)

It must end.

Graça Machel is Nelson Mandela's widow and one of those heading up a campaign called "Code Blue." She and other prominent figures are calling on the UN to put a stop to the exploitation of children by peacekeepers and to stop protecting those who already have.

A recently leaked report documenting how French UN peacekeepers serving in the Central African Republic sexually assaulted boys as young as nine years-old. The report also presented evidence suggesting the UN knew about the abuse for months and did nothing about it.

Graça Machel tells As It Happens host Carol Off that what the French UN soldiers did in the Central African Republic caused her deep outrage.

"People, particularly children and women, they look at these UN forces as those who are at their side," she says

"It's hugely devastating when that trust, and that hope, of having someone who is going to help you to heal, goes back and abuses you. I think, really, it should be punished in the highest way possible".

French troops in Bangui, Central African Republic, in December 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Machel is the author of a landmark UN study on the impact of armed conflict on children. 

"I really struggle to understand what happens to an adult when he or she gets to a point where they're not moved by love and care for a child, and see a child as a tool for barbaric instincts, like sexual abuse," she says.

"We should question how they are being selected to be sent to these kinds of missions and how they are being prepared to go to a mission of this nature."

Graça Machel wants to see UN immunity removed for abusers.

"The system has been corrupted, the system is not working, the system is not on the side of those who are vulnerable, the system is allowing perpetrators to go free".

Machel called on member states of the UN to press for a crackdown.

"When we say United Nations, it's countries. So we need the leadership from countries to stand up and say you cannot continue to do this in our name . . . not in our name."