EXCLUSIVE: Senator Bob Corker, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is wading into the highly charged debate about United Nations peacekeepers and sexual abuse with fast-track proposals to push back against a “culture of impunity” that the U.N.’s own experts have said still permeates the far-flung peacekeeper operations.
His proposals to push the pace of establishing peacekeeper accountability are bound to ratchet up the urgency of the highly sensitive sex abuse issue, particularly after President Barack Obama’s high-profile meeting at the U.N. last month with some 50 countries to drum up new pledges of military personnel and equipment to bolster U.N. peacekeeping effectiveness.
The U.S. is by far the largest financial contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, responsible for more than 28 per cent, or $2.35 billion, of the current $8.27 billion annual budget.
As Corker notes in a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday, and obtained by Fox News, the U.N. and its troop providing countries have “analyzed and reported on this issue, but meaningful action to date has been insufficient. The United States must take the lead in matching words with action.”
A Corker aide further told Fox News that the Senator has been” shocked by the reporting and frustrated with the evident inability of the U.N. to put in place appropriate rules and safeguards to bring an end to acts that undermine the essential legitimacy of these missions. Peacekeepers are supposed to be helping local populations, not further victimizing them.”
Among his proposals:
- Encourage countries that contribute troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions—there are currently 16, largely in Africa and the Middle East—to set up on-site military tribunals to deal quickly with sex-crime allegations. “Not only is this in accordance with current U.N. policy that requires peacekeepers to be tried by their national government, but it also ensures that military justice authorities have access to witnesses and evidence,” the letter says.
- Urge the U.N. Security Council, which decides on peacekeeping missions, to create its own ombudsman for peacekeeping oversight and report whenever peacekeeping mandates are renewed.
- Start a process in the Security Council and U.N. Secretariat to establish a “standing claims commission” in every peacekeeping mission to deal with, among other things, civilian claims of alleged sexual abuse. The commissions would be empowered to pay civil damages for harm done, something that the U.N. largely avoids under its diplomatic immunity.
As the Corker letter notes, claims commissions are allowed under the terms of U.N. immunity, but since 1990, the letter adds, “reports indicate” that the U.N. has never established even one while signing 32 separate agreements governing the establishment of peacekeeping forces.
- Urge the U.N. to develop a policy to cut off training funds to, or even suspend participation in peacekeeping operations entirely by countries that have the highest rate of sexual offenses among their blue-helmeted forces.
Many of those ideas ought to look familiar to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has promoted several of them—the standing claims commission idea a notable exception—as part of his not hugely successful efforts to push reforms on the topic for much of his eight-year tenure.
Further urgency has recently been added by a peacekeeping sex abuse scandal involving non-U.N. troops in the Central African Republic, which led to the temporary suspension and continuing investigation of a senior U.N. human rights staffer who bypassed normal channels to report the allegations directly to French authorities in a bid to immediately end alleged abuse of children aged 8 to 13.
The subsequent uproar led Secretary-General Ban to create a three-person “external independent review” to examine the U.N.’s handling of the Central African Republic case, “as well as a broad range of systematic issues related to how the U.N. responds to serious information of this kind.”
The review panel was initially supposed to report in early September. That deadline was subsequently extended to the first week in November.
George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or on Facebook.com/George Russell