Shaheen, Collins Lead Letter Calling for Accountability in UN Peacekeeping Forces Following Multiple Reports of Sexual Abuse

February 11, 2016

(Washington, DC)—Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Samantha Power calling for action and accountability following multiple reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic.

“Vulnerable populations around the world entrust peacekeepers with their safety and security. It is unacceptable that some guardians are engaging in sexual exploitation and abuse,” said Senator Shaheen. “This problem is not limited to one mission, or forces from one country. As the largest financial contributor to the UN, the United States needs to be fully engaged in preventing these crimes.”

“UN peacekeepers have a solemn responsibility to help stabilize countries torn by conflict and protect innocent civilians from harm,” said Senator Collins.  “While the vast majority of UN peacekeepers serve their countries honorably, the multiple reports of peacekeepers engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse of children are deplorable.   It is clear that the UN must do more to improve oversight to prevent these crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.”

The letter notes that Ambassador Power assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December that her office was “working to ensure a higher standard of performance and conduct” by peacekeepers, specifically in “combatting of sexual exploitation and abuse.” However, an independent report published after her testimony revealed that multiple soldiers from three different countries participated in alleged abuse of children between December 2013 and June 2014. In January and February there have been multiple new allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.

In the letter, the Senators ask Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power to provide more information on what the United States is doing to raise the issue with the UN, provide transparency when these crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and ensure the perpetrators’ home governments hold them accountable.

The following Senators joined Senator joined Shaheen and Collins in signing the letter: Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), John Barrasso (R-WY), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Edward Markey (D-MA).

The signed letter is available here, and the text is below:

February 11, 2016

The Honorable John F. Kerry

Secretary of State

320 21st Street NW

Washington, DC 20201

The Honorable Samantha Power

Ambassador

799 United Nations Plaza

New York, NY 10017

Dear Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power:

We are writing to express dismay and indignation at yet another report of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, including eight new cases documented by Human Rights Watch this past week in the Central African Republic (CAR) and earlier reports by Human Rights Watch, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  This litany of reports reinforces to us that these scandals sadly are not isolated occurrences nor are they limited to the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeeping operation or to a single country’s peacekeepers.  This ongoing tragedy has apparently persisted despite the UN Secretary General’s stated zero tolerance policy for such horrific crimes.

Systemic changes must be made to ensure that sexual abuse is identified and perpetrators held accountable.  While the vast majority of UN peacekeepers serve with honor, sexual exploitation and abuse by any peacekeeper violates the solemn responsibility to protect innocent civilians.  As the largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, the United States has an obligation and responsibility to insist upon immediate and significant reforms. 

We appreciated Ambassador Power’s testimony at the December 9, 2015 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that you are “working to ensure a higher standard of performance and conduct once peacekeeping contingents are deployed, specifically in two critical areas: the complete fulfillment of their mandates, and the combatting of sexual exploitation and abuse.”  We also agree sexual exploitation and abuse “is especially abhorrent when committed by those who take advantage of the trust that communities are placing in the United Nations, and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Unfortunately, since that testimony, an independent report on December 15 revealed that at least thirteen soldiers from France, two from Equatorial Guinea, and three from Chad participated in alleged abuse of children between December 2013 and June 2014.  In January and February there have been multiple new allegations regarding UN peacekeepers from MINUSCA at the M’poko displaced persons camp and near the Banbari airport.  There are also fresh allegations against peacekeepers associated with missions that predate MINUSCA.  Just as the United States has a leadership role supporting peacekeeping, we must take a leadership role holding abusers accountable and excising this disturbing phenomenon, which Secretary General Ban has called a “cancer,” from the UN system. 

We respectfully request that you provide the following information so that we may work with you to implement a more rigorous process to stop the abuse:

  • What is the United States doing to raise this issue at the UN and to ensure that this purported policy of zero tolerance is implemented? 
  • What will you do to ensure transparency in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes? 
  • What will the UN and the Administration do to ensure that the respective governments prosecute these individuals fully and completely once they are sent home and ensure that they and their colleagues do not benefit from assistance or other U.S. government engagement after returning home?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,