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UN peacekeeping problems

Chrispin Mwakideu
August 13, 2015

The activities of UN soldiers in Central African Republic are in the spotlight, following the sacking of their head of mission. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acted following a string of allegations, including rape.

UN troops in a truck in Bangui, capital of CAR
Image: picture-alliance/AA

The firing of Babacar Gaye, a 64-year-old Senegalese army general, comes after rights group Amnesty International accused UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR) of killing a teenage boy and his father and raping a 12-year-old girl. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a special session of the UN Security Council to discuss the sexual abuse allegations. Gaye was appointed the first head of the 12,000-strong Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in July 2014 and is also Ban's special envoy to CAR. To find out more about the scale of the problem, DW has been talking to Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director with the International Crisis Group.

DW: Is the UN finally taking allegations of sexual abuse by its peacekeepers seriously or is Gaye a scapegoat?

Thierry Vircoulon: I think [the issue] is probably bigger than the allegations of sexual abuse. In addition to those allegations and what was reported about the behavior of the peacekeepers, there have also been very serious problems with UN peacekeepers in CAR, one of them being the botched operation to arrest a militia leader in Bangui a couple of weeks ago. This botched operation led to the killing of several civilians in the district where they were trying to arrest the militia chief. There have also been several murders between peacekeepers. The first case, I think, was among the Burundian contingent of MINUSCA when one of the peacekeepers shot dead several of his colleagues. Something similar happened within the Rwandan contingent a few weeks ago when a peacekeeper shot dead several of his colleagues. I think it's is not only the misconduct which led to the resignation of the head of MINUSCA, it's not only the misbehavior of peacekeepers, but also very serious internal problems between the peacekeeping contingents.

Thierry Vircoulon speaking at a conference
Thierry Vircoulon is an expert on the countries of Central AfricaImage: privat

Who should bear responsibility for atrocities committed by UN peacekeepers in CAR?

It goes without saying that there is a chain of command. So, of course, the head of the mission is regarded as accountable but it goes without saying that there are probably some other people who should also be held accountable. Especially, I think, at the military level and it's quite clear that if the only action of New York is to force the head of the UN mission to resign, then this is not going to fix the internal problems of the mission. There must be a review of what is going wrong with UN peacekeepers in CAR. You must remember that, basically, MINUSCA was built with the forces of the MISCA mission, which was an African Union (AU) mission. The troops which were deployed for that AU mission were taken over by the UN. When the transfer of troops was done last year, it was said there would be a review of the contingents who are fit for a UN mission and who respect the UN standards for training, etc. My feeling when I saw several contingents in CAR is that this review has not been done very seriously because you still have contingents that are highly problematic and who may not meet the UN standards for peacekeeping. It is high time now that there is a very serious review of the contingents in the UN mission.

According to Gaye's resignation letter (that was seen by AP) he claims to have sent many peacekeepers home for misconduct. What happens to them when they arrive back in their respective countries?

If people were sent back home because they were found guilty of misconduct or crime, then there is an agreement between the UN and troop-contributing countries that the troop-contributing country is responsible for judging those people. I don't think that these people are arrested or prosecuted when they get back home and this is one of the problems of the UN peacekeepers, that when they commit crimes during their UN mission, they are not held accountable by their own authorities on their return. This is a very problematic issue because at the end of the day you give the impression that there is impunity for peacekeepers.

The UN doesn't have powers to investigate or prosecute peacekeepers - isn't it time to change that in the light of what is happening in CAR?

For such a change to happen, it will need an agreement between the contributing countries and the United Nations.

Thierry Vircoulon is the Central Africa project director with the International Crisis Group

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu

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