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New campaign to end immunity for sex abuse in UN missions

May 13, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — Nelson Mandela’s widow and prominent activists launched a campaign Wednesday to end immunity for sexual exploitation by civilians and police in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Graca Machel, a campaigner for women’s and children’s rights, challenged world leaders at a news conference Wednesday to take the lead and demand an end to immunity and to sexual abuse in U.N. missions which has tarnished the U.N.’s reputation.

The campaign — called Code Blue — also called for an independent commission of inquiry with subpoena power to investigate how the U.N. handles allegations of sexual exploitation.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Anthony Banbury stressed that civilians and police in peacekeeping missions have immunity only for their work — not for sexual abuse, rapes and other crimes.

“We have no interest in protecting them,” he stressed. “We want them behind bars.”

Paula Donovan, co-director of the advocacy group AIDS-Free World and author of the campaign, countered that “there is a presumption of immunity” when allegations of sexual impropriety are made and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has to determine whether immunity is lifted for a civilian or police officer.

That gap of time allows evidence to be degraded, the accused to threaten witnesses and victims to suddenly disappear, she said.

“It allows tremendous obstruction of justice,” Donovan said, and the secretary-general should not be asked to judge every case where an alleged rape has occurred.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric stressed the secretary-general’s “zero tolerance” policy for sexual abuse and responded that the issue of whether to waive immunity is usually determined “in a matter of days.”

“There should not be any impunity for criminal acts, especially when we are talking about sexual abuse,” he said. “All need to be held accountable to a court of law.”

Banbury said “things are getting a lot better” though there are still problems.

He pointed to the 2014 figures showing 51 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in U.N. peacekeeping missions, down from 66 allegations in 2013. Of the 51 allegations, 24 were against the military, 14 against civilians and 13 against the police.

Machel, a member of The Elders group of world leaders along with her late husband that offers advice and guidance on global issues, stressed the impact on victims saying “it’s not an issue of numbers, it’s an issue of human dignity which has been shattered forever.”

U.N. peacekeepers are subject to the jurisdiction of their national governments.

But Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who headed the U.N. peacekeeping force during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, called for greater power for U.N. force commanders to enforce discipline and investigate directly into contingents which are “normally very closed-lip and don’t want any embarrassment.” He also called for additional training to change the attitudes of troops to sexual abuse, and a requirement that troop contributing countries report to the U.N. on actions taken against those accused of such abuses.

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