The controversy over a report detailing misconduct by peacekeepers has not abated. Today's New York Times has this article on the controversy and some of the unanswered questions, including the slow pace of both proceedings and disclosure to the public. The situation suggests an unresolved tension between the UN's peacekeeping and human rights missions. Excerpts from the Times's story:
For five months, an unknown number of people in the French forces, sent to protect civilians from the violence tearing the country apart, forced boys to perform oral sex on them, according to testimonies collected by the United Nations. The boys, aged 9 to 15, said they had sometimes been lured with the promise of military rations.
Now, nearly a year after the allegations came to light, no one has been charged, let alone punished.
Instead, the allegations and the aftermath have highlighted an abiding problem of international peacekeeping: How can foreign forces be held accountable when those who are sent to protect civilians in war zones end up grievously hurting them instead?
Whether peacekeepers serve the United Nations or are under their own national commanders — as in the case of the French troops in Bangui — it is ultimately up to the soldiers’ home countries to investigate and prosecute such cases.
The United Nations does not have the legal authority to prosecute or punish a country’s soldiers, even when they are serving under the banner of the United Nations.
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Officials point to the case of Pakistani peacekeepers accused of raping a boy in Haiti a few years ago as a model of accountability. Pakistan sent military judges to conduct a trial in Haiti. One peacekeeper was convicted, and then, to the dismay of many Haitians, whisked back to Pakistan to serve a one-year jail sentence.
“People can always say punishment was too light or whatever, but the system worked as it should,” Anthony Banbury, the United Nations assistant secretary general for field support, said of the case.
Though the United Nations does not have the authority to prosecute a sovereign country’s soldiers, it does have leverage: It can bar a unit commander or an entire country from getting a lucrative peacekeeping contract because of the way it has handled sexual abuse allegations. Even so, that is extremely rare.