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.”
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
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. 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 Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.