By LISA FERDINANDO, DOD NEWS
More than two dozen participants from 11 African nations learned how to hold United Nations peacekeepers accountable for sexual misconduct and other crimes during a course for national investigative officers in Entebbe, Uganda, in January 2018.
The course focused on how peacekeepers should address sexual exploitation and abuse allegations, said Mark Swayne, acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability and humanitarian affairs. Oversight will result in greater accountability for people and units responsible for abuses.
“Ultimately, this should lead to a decrease in these incidents, which not only severely harm the people and communities peacekeepers are charged with protecting, but also undermine the credibility of the entire U.N. peacekeeping enterprise,” Swayne said.
The need for such a course is clear. In February 2018, Reuters reported that 40 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation were made during the last quarter of 2017 against United Nations peacekeeping missions and other efforts and groups. Of those allegations, 15 were associated with peacekeeping missions, and 17 came from U.N. agencies, funds and programs. Partner organizations reported the remaining eight.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters that the 40 allegations covered 54 victims, of whom 30 were women and 16 were girls. The ages of eight others were not known. Twelve cases happened in 2017, seven in 2016 and three occurred in 2015 or earlier. The dates of the other cases were not known. As of February 2018, two cases had been substantiated, three were not substantiated and the rest were being investigated.
“Every allegation involving our personnel undermines our values and principles and the sacrifice of those who serve with pride and professionalism in some of the most dangerous places in the world,” Dujarric said.
The U.N. has required that all troop-contributing countries designate at least one national investigative officer per unit since early 2015.
Experts from the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Institute of International Legal Studies co-developed and taught the course.
The national investigative officers course teaches investigation basics, the particulars of investigations in a peacekeeping environment, and augments participants’ understanding of national standards and legal requirements for successful justice and accountability in the troop- contributing country’s justice system, said U.S. Air Force Col. Kirk Davies.
“Specifically, the course seeks to build the knowledge, skill and ability of participants so that they can more effectively respond to and investigate possible misconduct of contingent personnel in peacekeeping operations,” he said.
There are plans to offer two programs annually in Africa. Course instructor Barry Harrison, a retired Navy judge advocate, said the effort will make a difference in global operations.
“The greatest success is to have a role in assisting peacekeeping forces to more effectively and professionally carry out the important mission and vital tasks in highly complex contemporary peacekeeping missions,” he said.
The top challenges were overcoming language barriers and helping participants understand how to apply course information in their own justice systems and processes.
“Watching the participants eagerly interact with course facilitators, subject-matter experts and with each other over the course, and see[ing] them grow in their knowledge and capability was very fulfilling,” Harrison said.