Ambassador Gambari: Zero Tolerance on Sexual Abuse in Peacekeeping

Photo: Eeva Reittilä

Trends and lessons learned of United Nations peacekeeping operations were discussed at the University of Helsinki on May 20th, when Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari held a keynote speech on the topic at a conference organized by Historians Without Borders and the UN Association of Finland.

Ibrahim Gambari is the former Minister of External Affairs of Nigeria and has served as the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations. He has also acted as the Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations among many other positions at the UN.

Mr. Gambari emphasized in his keynote speech that peacekeeping has really become a principal tool of the UN in maintaining international peace and security. However, the concept and conduct of peacekeeping in the UN have significantly evolved over time. He admitted that there have been some notorius failures amongst the past operations.

"While the United Nations Peacekeeping operations have adapted to changing international political environment and indeed have contributed significantly to the successful resolution of conflicts such as in Namibia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there have also been conspicuous failures such as the Mission in Bosnia and UNAMIR in Rwanda."

Ambassador Gambari laso pointed out that UN peace operations are often deployed in an environment where there is little or no peace to keep in the first place. The spread of violent extremism and the scourge of terrorism, overlaid onto long-simmering local or regional conflicts and the growing aspirations of populations for change, is placing pressure on governments and the international system to respond to these challenges.

"There is a clear sense of a widening gap between what is being asked of UN Peace Operations today and what they are able to deliver", Mr. Gambari said.

He acknowledged that with a current generation of conflicts proving difficult to resolve and with new ones emerging, it is essential that UN peace operations, along with regional and other partners, combine their comparative advantages and unite their strengths in the service of peace and security.

Zero tolerance on sexual exploitation and abuse on missions

Professor Helena Ranta, who reflected on Ambassador Gambari's  keynote speech, raised up the recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), made against UN peacekeeping troops - the most egregious ones emerging from the MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic. Mrs Ranta pointed out that the cases of SEA in peacekeeping missions are seriously undermining the work of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in many mission and have clearly pointed out the absence of an effective accountability mechanism.

Despite existing UN policies to prevent SEA in UN peacekeeping missions, recent allegations bring to light the failure by the UN and Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) to prevent occurrences, but also to effectively report, investigate, bring perpetrators to justice, and provide adequate assistance to victims. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed implementing a 'naming and shaming' policy in order to tackle the problem. The policy would allow the Secretary-General to disclose in his future reports to the UN General Assembly “country-specific information on the number of credible allegations being investigated by Member States". This was done for the first time earlier this year, despite earlier resistance from TCC's in the General Assembly's Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. A naming and shaming policy had already been proposed in 2005 by then Ambassador Zeid of Jordan.

Ambassador Gambari expressed his strong concern on the recent allegations, which according to him, have earlier been silenced. He expressed his implicit support to the Secretary-General's proposal on establishing a naming and shaming policy, as well as to the enforcement of an absolute zero tolerance on SEA in all UN peacekeeping missions.

Under the current legal framework, the UN depends on TCCs in holding their military members accountable for any criminal misconduct on missions. To allow a peacekeeping operation to function independently, both civilian and military peacekeepers receive immunity from the jurisdiction of the state in which the operation is situated.

'Sensitivity has to be taught to peacekeeping personnel'

Major General Juha Kilpiä (ret.), second member of the panel following Ambassador Gambari's speech, underlined the need to pre-train troops in employing sensitivity on missions.

"Peacekeeping troops need to know where they are acting. We have to understand local history and traditions in order to be part of the solution  - and not part of the problem. We take this aspect seriouly into account when training Finnish troops."

Ambassador Gambari's keynote speech can be read in whole from the attachement below.

Watch Gambari's speech in whole below:


More information on current peacekeeping operations by the UN




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