The head of the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) told reporters today that his committee is upping the ante when it comes to prosecuting UN peacekeeping forces who are found guilty of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Herve Ladsous’ sharp condemnation of any inappropriate behavior exhibited by DPKO forces comes in the wake of rising complaints of local populations, who claim to have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of UN peacekeeping forces.
The largest catalyst to Ladsous’s reinvigorated efforts stems from the early January release of several Uruguayan former UN peacekeepers, jailed this past September in their native Uruguay following claims that they sexually abused an 18-year-old Haitian male. The five Uruguay members of the UN peacekeeping forces, still in their uniforms and blue berets, were caught on a cell phone video camera abusing the Haitian man, a native of the Port Salut village.
The video’s appearance on the internet sparked mass upheaval from the Haitian people, who began to lead protests and marches against continued DPKO presence in Haiti. Claiming that the UN forces were doing “more harm than good,” thousands of natives demanded for their swift removal from Haitian society.
Immediately following the allegations the five Uruguayans pictured in the video were returned to Uruguay and imprisoned, along with a naval commander who was swiftly dismissed from duty. However, those five individuals have since been freed and their trial has been put on hold. The trial’s freeze was attributed to Uruguayan officials’ inability to locate the male victim, though his name, address, and hometown are publicly known. Immense concern and disquietude has followed in the wake of the five peacekeepers’ release.
Though not referencing this specific incident, Ladsous voluntarily introduced the topic of rising reports of UN peacekeeping forces’ initiating sexual abuse, claiming that the DPKO plans to add a “100% attention” clause onto their long-established zero tolerance policy. He explained that the new policy goes “much further than the one applied so far, with the goal of really trying to do away with the actions of some individuals that spoil completely the image of UN peacekeeping, and are completely wrong.”
Ladsous added that, once in effect, the punitive measures applying to UN-employed sexual offenders would apply to both uniformed and civilian personnel equally.
Despite Ladsous’s self-proclaimed avowal for “effective action,” when asked what exactly those plans of action are, such as whether the DPKO plans to establish official protocol for people to file grievances against UN peacekeepers, Ladsous would say only that “the claims are being examined,” and would not delve into any details. The DPKO head was similarly vague in answering an al-Jazeera representative’s query regarding the UN’s role in bringing the offending Uruguayans to trial, saying only that “the UN is mediating so the case can be built,” while pointing out that the UN “cannot act in the stead of either of the two main actors (Haiti and Uruguay).”