Contributions to debate on sexual exploitation and abuse

As a member of the Coalition, I recently presented at a workshop on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) by peacekeepers. The workshop was in response to preliminary research findings from a pilot project funded by Transforming Human Societies at La Trobe University. Participants and panellists were provided a discussion paper, ‘mapping the impact of sexual exploitation and abuse by interveners in peace operations’ by lead investigator, Jasmine-Kim Westerndorf. The paper mapped the phenomenon of SEA in peacekeeping and provided valuable categorisation of different types of SEA. Those categories were:

  1. Opportunistic sexual abuse
  2. Planned, sadistic abuse
  3. Transactional sex
  4. Networked abuse and exploitation

My response focused on the categories of SEA that were defined as illegal, namely: opportunistic sexual abuse; planned, sadistic sexual abuse; and networked abuse and exploitation. This choice was largely due to the fact that Jacqui True was also to provide a response. Given her ground-breaking work on the International Political Economy of violence against women, she would have provided a most eloquent response to the research findings on transactional sex.

The discussion paper asked, given the vast range of acts of SEA, was it still helpful to consider each of the categories under the umbrella of SEA? “Rape is a world away from negotiated transactional sex, even in the context of unequal power dynamics.” However the research identified that children who had been interviewed by the UN even questioned whether transactional sex is in some cases, “rape disguised as prostitution whereby the perpetrator ‘pays’ his victim after raping them in order to suggest a legitimate consensual transaction.” In this context, it is apparent that while the categories defined in the research are useful, they still fall on a scale of violence that should continue to be defined as SEA.

SEA is an issue related to, and imbedded in the WPS agenda but the nature of this relationship was contested at the workshop. In March this year, the Security Council passed resolution 2272 specifically on SEA. SEA is connected to the WPS agenda in the preamble, but because WPS is not the driving factor in the operative clauses, it has not been included in the suite of WPS resolutions. UNSCR 2272 does, however, encourage “the appropriate United Nations mechanisms, including those related to Children and Armed Conflict, [and] Women, Peace and Security… to continue to include allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in their regular reporting to the Secretary-General”.

The most recent WPS resolutions explicitly discuss SEA. Resolution 2242 devotes a good deal of attention to the issue. Operative clause nine “expresses deep concern over continuing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers and non-United Nations forces, including military, civilian and police personnel”. It goes on to urge troop and police contributing countries “to provide robust pre-deployment training on sexual exploitation and abuse and vetting of their peacekeeping personnel, to conduct swift and thorough investigations of their uniformed personnel and, if appropriate, to prosecute, and to inform the United Nations in a timely manner of the status and outcome of investigations,” it also calls for appropriate and timely cooperation between UN agencies and national authorities responsible for investigations.

In operative clause ten of that resolution, the Security Council “welcomes the Secretary-General’s continued efforts at implementing his policy of zero tolerance of misconduct, in particular the wide-ranging proposals on prevention, enforcement and remedial action which promote greater accountability, including his commitment to bring to public light misconduct by United Nations personnel, as well as his proposal to keep the Security Council informed of developments regarding implementation of his zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse”.

Top 10 troop contributing countries and gender considerations
Top 10 contributors[1] Total troops & police Including female personnel Gender inequality index Women’s physical security scale[2]
Ethiopia 8326 (528) 129 3
India 7471 (39) 130 4
Pakistan 7161 (21) 121 4
Bangladesh 6772 (196) 111 4
Rwanda 6146 (240) 80 3
Nepal 5131 (172) 108 3
Senegal 3617 (85) 118 3
Burkina Faso 3036 (118) 144 4
Ghana 2972 (330) 127 4
Egypt 2889 (4) 131 4

The top ten troop and police contributing countries to UN peace operations all rank very low on the Gender Inequality Index. With the exception of Rwanda, they all rank lower than 100. They also have poor legal frameworks relating to violence against women. Four of the top ten have a score of three on the WomanStats physical security scale. This indicates that while they have laws against domestic violence and rape, but not necessarily marital rape, those laws are rarely enforced. There are also taboos or norms against reporting these crimes, or ignorance that these are reportable crimes, which affect the majority of women. The remaining six of the top ten contributors have a score of four, the worst possible score on this scale. This score indicates that there are no or weak laws against domestic violence, rape and marital rape and these laws are not generally enforced. Honour killings and/or femicides may occur and are either ignored or generally accepted.

While the discussion paper reminds us that peacekeepers are deployed to relatively unregulated situations in relatively unregulated environments, we must also remember that when it comes to sexual and gender based violence, peacekeepers also come from relatively unregulated environments. So we must ask ourselves, what is illegal in these contexts? Peacekeeping operations occur in countries where the rule of law is lacking and the police and judiciary are often in tatters, so the notion of these acts being illegal under local law is somewhat meaningless. Furthermore, troops are often deployed under Status of Forces Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding exempting them from local laws.

International Human Rights Law is certainly relevant, but similarly unenforceable unless a perpetrator comes from a country such as the United Kingdom or elsewhere in Europe where the European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction. There may also be scope for perpetrators from Latin American countries to be prosecuted, including through to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. More states have laws criminalising human trafficking, but these crimes are notoriously difficult to prove, even when they occur in relatively stable countries with reliable police and investigative authorities.

While increasing the regulation is undoubtedly important in addressing the scourge of SEA, this is also a point of divergence with the WPS agenda. The feminist movement from which the WPS agenda comes, has recently reminded us that WPS is not about making war safer for women, it is about preventing war from happening in the first place.[3] As such, while combatting SEA and advancing WPS will continue to remain connected, it seems relatively unhelpful to try to push UNSCR 2272 exclusively under the WPS banner, or to rely on WPS to combat SEA in peace operations.

[1] ‘Ranking of Military Police and Contributions to UN Operations’ August 2016 http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/contributors/2016/aug16_2.pdf (accessed 7 Dec 2016)

[2] Mary Caprioli, ‘Multivariate scale #1: Physical security of women’ in WomanStats database http://www.womanstats.org/new/codebook/ (accessed 7 Dec 2016)

[3] Cora Weiss, ‘We must not make war safe for women‘ in Open Democracy, 24 May 2011 https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/cora-weiss/we-must-not-make-war-safe-for-women (accessed 10 Dec 2016)

Susan Hutchinson is a member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Coalition. 

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