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A 12-year-old girl is reported to be the latest victim of sexual abuse by the very people dispatched to protect her: United Nations peacekeepers. In the most recent case we know of, documented by Amnesty International, UN peacekeeping forces are said to have raped the girl in August during a house search in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). In a very unusual step, the UN secretary-general requested that the head of the CAR peacekeeping mission resign.

In May, French peacekeepers acting alongside the UN mission in CAR were accused of raping children and demanding sex in exchange for food at a displacement camp. In reaction, the UN secretary-general in June appointed an External Independent Review Panel to investigate these crimes, and to provide “recommendations on how the UN should respond to similar allegations in the future and on any shortcomings in existing procedures.” Its report is due in September.

A U.N. peacekeeper from Sri Lanka patrols the neighborhood of Grand Ravine during U.N. envoy to Haiti Edmond Mulet's visit at the area in Port-au-Prince September 6 2006.  © 2006 Reuters

Such shocking stories have unfortunately occurred for years. Eight years ago the UN announced that 12 percent of the Sri Lankan troops deployed in the UN’s Haiti mission engaged in acts of sexual exploitation and abuse against children there. None of the 114 alleged perpetrators was repatriated, and victims’ advocates in Haiti were never told if any criminal charges were pursued.

The UN reports there have been 101 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in the Haiti mission, including 6 from 2015. This likely hides the true number of cases, as any one reported allegation could reflect many victims and perpetrators, and it ignores the many cases that are never reported.

Will the UN and its member states finally make good on this promise to the survivors of these crimes?

A decade ago, the Zeid report detailed the UN’s problem with sexual abuse and recommended how to fix it. However, the lack of accountability on these cases to date has put justice out of reach for most survivors, and has made a mockery of the UN’s stated “zero tolerance” policy.  The review panel should build on the Zeid recommendations by requiring greater transparency on investigations, and stronger systems to ensure prompt action on allegations and support for victims. But as long as states that contribute peacekeeping troops remain largely unwilling to hold their soldiers to account, the sexual abuse crisis will continue. 

The Secretary-General said yesterday that he stands with the victims of these crimes. Will the UN and its member states finally make good on this promise to the survivors of these crimes?

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