To be fair, the UN has engaged in its own brand of loquacious effort to end this abuse. There are multiple UN web sites dedicated to the subject. There are periodic assertions of a “zero tolerance” policy, and statements deploring the distinctly non-zero persistence of the problem. There are programs and strategies, three-pronged, four-pillared, and so forth. Yet the cases roll in. The UN now provides “statistics” on the peacekeeper sexual-abuse front, though these do not feature prominently on the peacekeeping web site. You have to hunt around a bit to find such items as the graph for “Status of Investigations: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.” Or the appalling subset of those statistics: “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Allegations Per Mission Involving Minors.”
The reason this abuse persists is not just some ghastly quirk of fate, or a need for the UN to add a few more pillars to its multi-pillared conduct and discipline program. The problem is built into UN peacekeeping itself, because there is no reliable system of justice at work here. The UN is highly secretive about the identities of the alleged offenders. When they get caught, they are simply dispatched back to the member states that sent them. And the UN keeps employing peacekeeping troops from countries that make no serious effort to prosecute the offenders. The UN web site shows that as of last November, the UN was employing 1,108 peacekeeping troops from Sri Lanka — despite Sri Lanka’s apparent indifference to whether its peacekeepers had been sexually exploiting Haitian underage girls they’d been sent to protect. The same chart shows the UN employing 2,323 troops from Uruguay — which has apparently failed to organize a case against its five peacekeepers videoed in mid-abuse, at least one of them with his pants down, assaulting a Haitian teenager.
Advocates of UN peacekeeping like to argue that it delivers good value for the price. The real story here is that the UN, with its tolerance for peacekeeping troops from countries that don’t mind a bout of rape here or there, is doing a hideous disservice to the people it claims to be protecting. That ought to be of interest to the U.S. administration which forks over 27.1% of the UN’s more than $7 billion annual peacekeeping budget, and to Congress, which appropriates the almost $2 billion in taxpayer dollars that thus pours annually into the UN peacekeeping till. That money does not go directly to individual peacekeepers. It gets paid out to the governments of member states that provide troops, and those governments decide what quality of solder they will send. If the UN is serious about its endlessly recited “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual exploitation and abuse — and the evidence so far suggests it is not — the obvious step is to stop employing troops from member states that let their soldiers get away with rape. Is that too much to ask?