Peacekeeping: February 18, 2005


The UN is having trouble keeping its peacekeepers out of trouble. With over 100,000 troops and police deployed world wide, drawn from dozens of nations, discipline has always been a problem. Every nation has different rules about what its troops can do when overseas. Actually, some nations have no rules at all, and leave it to unit commanders to take care of things as they see fit. What the peacekeepers do is usually pretty boring (guard duty and patrolling). When they are off duty, they are often left to their own devices when it comes to leisure time activities. A favorite leisure time activity is sex. The peacekeepers are usually in an area where the local civilians, and especially the women, have been reduced to poverty by various groups of armed men. Food is in short supply, and a peacekeeper offering women food for sex is an easy offer to accept. But sometimes there have been cases of rape, or peacekeepers setting up brothels on the side. 

This led to a major UN investigation of peacekeepers and sex, and other off-duty activities. This was an easy target, and the UN documented hundreds of cases of inappropriate sexual behavior by peacekeepers, plus several other felonies unrelated to sex. These predatory activities were not so widespread that the peacekeepers were unwelcome anywhere they operated. In general, the peacekeepers are appreciated. Compared to the gunmen working for warlords, bandit chiefs and sundry local thugs, these foreigners are a change for the better. But over the years, NGOs and UN officials got more and more complaints from locals about the sometimes rough treatment at the hands of some peacekeeping personnel. Last year, the UN investigated 72 allegations of abuse by UN peacekeepers (both uniformed and civilian). Twenty-six of accusations were substantiated. The guilty peacekeepers were from Pakistan, Nepal, Tunisia, South Africa and Uruguay. Past reports indicate that troops from many other nations were involved. Currently, a lot of complaints are coming out of Congo, where some 10,000 peacekeepers are trying to keep a far larger number of rapacious gunmen in line. 

That soldiers abuse local women is not news. This has been going on for thousands of years. For a long time, access to sex-on-demand was the army recruiters best tool for getting lusty young lads to sign up. This sort of thing was not much discussed in polite society. When it was brought up, the generals announced they would fix the problem. The fix usually amounted to whatever speeches, press releases and other actions were sufficient to make the critics believe that the issue had been taken care of. Some armies, at least the better disciplined ones, are able to insure that their troops at least pay for sex from willing women. Since the 1990s, American troops have been basically confined to their base camps when in combat zones, and forbidden to do much more than chat with local women. The U.S. Army is currently considering making it a court martial offense to patronize prostitutes. Rape has long been a crime for American troops, with offenders (at least the ones caught) sent to jail, or even executed (as recently as World War II). 

In the Congo, the UN has forbidden peacekeepers from having sex with local women. This rule only applies to peacekeepers in Congo, where troops are also being accused of looting. Enforcing these rules are another matter. The UN has lots of rules, but not much in the way of enforcement. The UN can demand that a nation withdraw a peacekeeping unit in which troops disobey the rules. But this can get tricky, as the nation in question can either proclaim the innocence of its troops, or threaten to stop providing peacekeepers. The UN is always having trouble getting nations to contribute peacekeepers. Getting many nations to discipline their troops up to Western standards as well, may be a hard sell.

The criminal activities of some peacekeepers is nothing new, but it has become more noticeable as more peacekeepers are called out, and more of them come from countries with troops not as disciplined, especially towards women, as soldiers from Western nations. This will probably result in a call for more training of peacekeepers, and more money spent on special inspection teams to make sure that the peacekeepers behave. This will drive up the cost of peacekeeping, resulting in fewer peacekeepers. But that will at least diminish the embarrassment of the UN having to explain all that bad behavior.




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