UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Peacekeeper Accountability

At the Institute of Politics, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, called for more accountability for UN peacekeepers, a number of whom face accusations of sexual exploitation and assault, and emphasized the enormous threat that such behavior poses to the organization’s reputation.

The John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum event, co-sponsored Friday by the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, comes a month after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution expressing “deep concern” about allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.

The Security Council also endorsed Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s decision to repatriate particular foreign peacekeeping units when “credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse by that unit” exists. Earlier this month, the UN announced it would send an official to the Central African Republic after reports that peacekeeping forces raped more than a hundred civilians.

Al-Hussein lamented that legislation reforming the disciplinary process for peacekeepers has been stalled for the last decade. One proposed measure he supported was mandatory DNA testing of all peacekeepers to both deter illicit conduct and investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.

He also emphasized that only individual governments—not the United Nations—could subject peacekeepers to criminal investigation and punishment.


“The UN can dismiss them from service, in violation of some administrative regulation, but if you can engage in sexual abuse of the worst kind—and we’ve seen this over many years—it’s simply not good enough that the UN can send you back home,” Al-Hussein said. “It’s so frustrating, of course, for us to continuously receive the most appalling accusations.”

Al-Hussein also decried the extremist and nationalist rhetoric of the political right in Europe and United States at Friday’s event, pointing especially to the “incendiary” speech in the ongoing U.S. presidential race.

“We believe—at least in the human right world—that it’s not without consequences that you can say these things, and it’s not the politicians that will be made to pay for the comments they’ve made,” Al-Hussein said. “It will be at the end of the day some vulnerable group or community that will fear the effect. We have seen this time and again throughout the course of human history.”

He also called on Americans to resist “disgraceful” rhetoric that places blame on immigrant communities, and asked Europeans to adopt a more “humane” attitude when discussing the refugee crisis.

“Humanity has a way of self-adjusting and you don’t have to fear that you’re going to all be swamped by people from other countries and lose your identity, it doesn’t really work like that,” Al-Hussein said.

—Staff writer Nathaniel J. Hiatt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nathaniel_hiatt.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.


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