When one thinks of peacekeeping forces, one's mind immediately goes to the UN peacekeepers. Their task, in various parts of the world, in Africa too, is precisely that of protecting populations from the horrors of war, from the raids of armed militias, from the abuses that are perpetrated on the helpless population, in particular on women with systematic rapes used as war weapon. A horror in horror. The Blue Helmets, their uniforms, have the task of reassuring and protecting these people. You would never ever imagine that they are the ones who make unworthy abuses against the population. Yet it happens. One of the latest cases forced the UN to withdraw the Gabonese contingent from its mission in the Central African Republic. The allegations are serious: sexual abuses. It is not the first time that this happens. We must think, how can this happen?
Certainly, on the one side there is a lack of training and the difficulty, on the side of the UN, to find well-prepared and trained military contingents. In many cases, these contingents belong to armies of countries having in their DNA the abuse as a weapon. In many African countries, the militaries use force against the same citizens they are supposed to protect.
Moreover, they use the uniform as a tool of repression or of economic family support through blackmail or retaliation if they are not paid what they ask in exchange of keeping their victim out of trouble. From the Blue Helmets, however, you would expect better behavior.
What happened in the Central African Republic by the Gabonese contingent is only the latest in a series of shameful episodes. From 2010, the United Nations, on its website, has listed 1,265 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse caused by its personnel (military, police and civilians) in the context of peacekeeping.
Upon his arrival in January 2017, Secretary General Antonio Guterres promised "zero tolerance" on such an issue. For now with questionable results. It is worth remembering the most striking cases of the last 16 years, since 2005.
Central African Republic: Since its beginning in 2014, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has faced an avalanche of sexual assault allegations, but no investigation has so far led to convictions, at least publicly. In March 2018, Libreville announced the repatriation of its contingent of 444 soldiers following "equipment problems", but the reality was different: sexual abuse. A year earlier, in June 2017, allegations of sexual assault and various trafficking had led to the dismissal of a battalion of over 600 Congolese soldiers. In 2016, 120 Congolese blue helmets had already been fired for the same reason.
Soldiers of the French force Sangaris, deployed under the auspices of the UN between 2013 and 2016, have also been accused of rape and sexual abuse, especially on minors. The case erupted in April 2015 when the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported on a UN internal memo concerning the hearings of six boys between the ages of 9 and 13 who accused soldiers of abusing them in the camp for internally displaced persons at M'Poko airport in Bangui (RCD). Rape committed in exchange for money and food rations between December 2013 and June 2014. In January 2018, the French justice dismissed this case without charge, for lack of "sufficient evidence."
Democratic Republic of Congo: During its deployment, from 1999 to 2010, the MONUC was hit by several scandals involving military and civilians. In February 2005, the UN decided to forbid peacekeepers from having sex with Congolese females after reports of sexual abuse of 13-year-old girls. A few days later, Morocco announced legal measures against six of the MONUC soldiers implicated in child sexual violence. The most sensational case occurred in September 2005, when 120 Nigerian police officers of the MONUC were sent back to their country; some were suspected of sexual harassment on Congolese women.
Ivory Coast: On September 2, 2011, the Unity Nations operation in the country (UNOCI, closed in June 2017) expressed its "deepest regret" after the accusations against its peacekeepers. At the end of May 2008, UNOCI opened an internal investigation into the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Ivorian girl by ten peacekeepers. Episodes revealed by the NGO Save the Children. In July 2007, UNOCI denounced proven abuses committed by the Moroccan peacekeepers in Bouaké, accused, in particular, of sexual relations with minors, after a preliminary internal investigation, the first since its deployment in 2004.
Sudan: In January 2007, the UK's Daily Telegraph, based on a UNICEF report, announced that UN personnel and peacekeepers in southern Sudan were accused of sexually abusing hundreds of children, including many of 12 years old. The Sudanese government has also reportedly gathered evidence, including a video showing Bangladeshi soldiers.
These are the most striking events that have occurred in Africa - we should add those that have occurred in other parts of the world such as in Haiti. Shameful and gruesome episodes, which were not followed up with adequate investigations. Almost none. The alleged perpetrators returned to their respective countries and continued to carry on their duties as police or military. This too should make us think.