• An Independent Report on Sexual Abuse Cases by UN Peacekeepers Surfaces

    by  • March 16, 2015 • Peace and Security, UN Peacekeeping, Women • 1 Comment

    United Nations peacekeepers participating in a ceremony at the mission in South Sudan.

    United Nations peacekeepers participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the mission in South Sudan, December 2014. JC McILWAINE/UN PHOTO

    A report commissioned by the United Nations but never made public — which studied sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers — has been released online by AIDS-Free World, a nonprofit organization founded by two former UN officials, Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan.

    The report, written by an independent three-person team, was based on a two-year examination of possible violations by peacekeeping personnel. The report was given to the UN by the expert team, but its assessment — highly critical of the UN Secretariat, which is run by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and countries that contribute peacekeeping troops — appears to have been discounted. It is also largely absent from the annual progress report on sexual violence abuses in peacekeeping settings issued recently by Ban’s office.

    AIDS-Free World released the expert team’s report, which was leaked to the organization, on March 16, three days after the annual report from Ban was published. That report, submitted to the General Assembly and to the Security Council, highlighted the completion, it said, of a two-year-long “enhanced programme of action to combat sexual exploitation and abuse,” including the assessment by the independent team on four peacekeeping missions.

    Yet AIDS-Free World, an often-vocal critic of the UN, said in its release of the leaked report: “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

    We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

    The expert team consisted of Dr. Thelma Awori, a Liberian government official who was formerly a top executive at the UN Development Program and was also with Unifem, a predecessor to UN Women; Dr. Catherine Lutz, a professor of anthropology and international studies at Brown University, specializing in gender violence; and Gen. Paban J. Thapa, a Nepali military officer who was the force commander of the UN’s mission in Sudan at one point.

    The team visited four peacekeeping missions — in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan — from June to August 2013 and finished the report on Nov. 3, 2013. The missions that the team visited made up 85 percent of all abuse and exploitation cases reported by the UN.

    The team’s findings recommended that enforcement of policies, such as “zero tolerance” on sexual violence by peacekeeping troops, needed to be strengthened and that help should be made for victims of sexual abuse. It found that allegations of sexual “activities” with minors and “nonconsensual sex” together consisted of nearly half of the abuse allegations. It acknowledged that the number of reported cases of abuse in the missions it visited had been decreasing.

    The team’s report calls the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse — or SEA, as the UN abbreviates it — “the most significant risk to UN peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”

    Many factors contribute to the culture of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, the report noted in detail. These factors include notions of “masculine privilege” of peacekeepers. Rape was found to occur at higher rates where victims are “devalued by virtue of her gender, race, ethnicity, or impoverishment.”





    Dulcie Leimbach


    Dulcie Leimbach was a fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of CUNY from 2012 to 2017. She is the founder of PassBlue, for which she edits and writes, covering primarily the United Nations, West Africa, peacekeeping operations and women's issues. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

    Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA, where she edited its flagship magazine, The InterDependent, and migrated it online in 2010. She was also the senior editor of UNA's annual book, "A Global Agenda: Issues Before the UN." She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies.

    Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Colorado, graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She grew up mostly in Oyster Bay and Huntington, Long Island, where her family moved a dozen times, ending up in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her first exposure to the UN was at age 8, on a summer Sunday visit with her mother and sisters, where she was awed by the gift shop. Leimbach now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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