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Sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers remains 'significantly under-reported'

Draft UN report reveals ‘transactional sex’ between peacekeepers and hundreds of Haitian women despite ban

Members of a UN peacekeeping mission engaged in “transactional sex” with more than 225 Haitian women, according to a new report, which suggests that sexual exploitation remains significantly under-reported in such missions

The draft by the UN office of internal oversight services (OIOS) looks at the way UNpeacekeeping, which has about 125,000 people in some of the world’s most troubled areas, deals with the persistent problem of sexual abuse and exploitation.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press and expected to be released this month, highlights ongoing challenges, a decade after a groundbreaking UN report first tackled the issue.

It says about a third of alleged sexual abuse involves minors under 18; assistance to victims is “severely deficient”; and the average investigation by OIOS, which says it prioritises cases involving minors or rape, takes more than a year.

An investigation conducted a year ago in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, interviewed women who said they had had transactional sexual relationships with UN peacekeepers. “For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby-care items, medication and household items were frequently cited as the ‘triggering need’,” the report says. Women received “church shoes”, cell phones, laptops and perfume, as well as money.

“In cases of non-payment, some women withheld the badges of peacekeepers and threatened to reveal their infidelity via social media,” the report says. “Only seven interviewees knew about the United Nations policy prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse.” None knew about the mission’s hotline to report it.

Each of those instances of transactional sex, the report says, would be considered prohibited conduct, “thus demonstrating significant under-reporting”. It was not clear how many peacekeepers were involved.

In 2014, the total number of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against members of all UN peacekeeping missions was 51, down from 66 the year before, according to the secretary general’s latest annual report on the issue.

The draft report does not say over what time frame the “transactional sex” in Haiti occurred. The peacekeeping mission there, first authorised in 2004, is one of four peacekeeping missions that have accounted for the most allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in recent years, along with those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and South Sudan.

A spokesman for the peacekeeping office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The UN does not have a standing army and relies on troops contributed by member states. The states are responsible for investigating alleged misconduct by their troops, although the UN can step in if there is no action.

UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous and field support chief Atul Khare point out in the report that while the number of peacekeepers has increased dramatically over the past decade, the number of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation has gone down.

The UN prohibits “exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex,” and strongly discourages sexual relationships between UN staff and people who receive their assistance, saying they are “based on inherently unequal power dynamics” and undermine the world body’s credibility.

But that has led to confusion, the new report says, with some members of peacekeeping missions seeing that guidance as a ban on all sexual relationships with local people. The report says the guidelines need to be clarified.

“Staff with long mission experience state that was a ‘general view that people should have romantic rights’ and raised the issue of sexuality as a human right,” the report says.


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