Kristen Cordell reflects on the countrywide effort in Liberia to stop sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers.
Last month the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1888, reaffirming the UNs commitment to ending rape as a tool of war. The UN Mission in Liberia is leading efforts in six countries in Africa to check its own staff on a highly visible and challenging part of the problem: sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers.
Security Council resolution 1325 called on missions to take measures to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). However, since its passage in 2003 the UN has been consistently plagued by highly visible acts of sexual violence within peacekeeping missions, most notably in the DRC and Liberia. Five years later, Security Council Resolution 1820 not only recognized rape as a tool of war and not a byproduct, but specifically addressed the widespread trends in exploitation and abuse in UN Missions and requested the UN Secretary General to implement a zero tolerance policy. Last June, on the first anniversary of resolution 1820, there were high-level hearings at UN Headquarters on the progress of a comprehensive mission-wide report on the prevalence of sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations. This resulted in a resolution, which called on "troop and police contributing countries to take appropriate preventative action, including pre-deployment and in-theater awareness training, and other action to ensure full accountability in cases of such conduct involving their personnel."
In 2006 a UNMIL report on SEA across six Liberian counties, found that the main perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse in communities are both prominent community members and humanitarian aid workers. It also found SEA concentrated in schools and community centers where there is an increased vulnerability for women and girls as a result of a "circle of sexual violence that is perpetuated especially because many women are bread winners for their families and are forced to enter relationships with men of power, influence and money to support the household." After this comprehensive exercise (and under new pressure from the passage of UNSCR1820) a countrywide campaign against this sexual violence and abuse has been organized in Liberia. The campaign is uses the slogan: ‘No help for Sex,' making the point that the assistance provided by UN peacekeepers (and others) needs no payback and that sexual abuse and exploitation is a crime. In addition, there are community based training programs that target women and youth groups, traditional leaders, teachers, community-based organizations and local NGOs within close proximity to UN installations and border areas.
UN peacekeepers in Liberia have all completed the compulsory induction training on SEA and proudly wear brightly colored bracelets, which state, "stop sexual abuse and exploitation and abuse" and posters depict appropriate interactions and resources to seek help in the case of abuse. Two years later- the community has seen results. Since the program's inception, reports of rape and sexual against UN staff have dropped drastically throughout the mission. Reports, when issued, are dealt with by rapid response teams that collect information and evidence from the victim and make a decision on the validity of the case, including recommendations to prosecute. In parallel with this response mechanism there is an emerging culture of protection and prevention between the community and the peacekeepers and a feeling of mutual respect that tempers interpersonal interactions.
The campaign could go a long way in other countries where the UN is operating. From personal experience I have found that the interaction between peacekeepers and the community are as important as the interactions between peacekeepers themselves. A culture of respect and boundaries does much to promote strong work, respect of mission and camaraderie. The examples of success presented in the context of Liberia deserve further attention and replication in other locales.