What's In Blue

Posted Mon 20 Nov 2023

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow (21 November), following the consultations on the implementation of resolution 1701, Security Council members will discuss the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under “Any Other Business”. The US requested the meeting to discuss reported allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by contingents deployed with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance Catherine Pollard, and Special Coordinator on Improving the UN Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Christian Saunders are the expected briefers.

In an 11 October press release, MONUSCO said that it had taken action in response to reports of serious misconduct by peacekeepers. A 13 October note to correspondents by the UN Spokesperson’s Office provided more details about the issue which implicated members of MONUSCO’s South African contingent. The note said that “nine members of the South African contingent serving in the east of the country were seen fraternizing after curfew hours at out-of-bounds bars known as locations where transactional sex occurs, which is strictly prohibited under the UN standards of conduct”. It noted that “[t]he contingent members allegedly assaulted MONUSCO staff members and military police personnel, who were attempting to detain them during the patrol”, adding that a “senior South African military officer also reportedly attempted to hinder the investigation and threatened Mission personnel, while two other senior South African military officers reportedly failed to properly exercise their responsibilities in the command of their personnel”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Lacroix is likely to explain the UN’s decision to repatriate immediately the nine contingent members and one senior military officer and to replace the two other senior military officers. He may also mention that the South African authorities were notified of this decision and indicated their willingness to cooperate in investigating the allegations. Lacroix may stress the UN’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and other serious forms of misconduct. He might also describe the UN’s efforts to promote accountability of peacekeepers within the framework of the Action for Peacekeeping Plus (A4P+) initiative, a set of priorities being implemented in 2021-2023 to accelerate peacekeeping reform.

Pollard may elaborate on the UN’s efforts to promote the performance and accountability of peacekeepers through such tools as the Integrated Peacekeeping Performance and Accountability Framework (IPPAF)—which was developed in 2020 by bringing together all UN policies, guidance, and tools on performance and accountability—and the Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System (CPAS)—a tool that has been used in the past five years to review progress towards implementation of peacekeeping mandates. She might focus on the work that is being done to respond to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by conducting timely investigations and taking strong action against criminal conduct.

Saunders is likely to explain the role of his office in enhancing the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse and refer to the UN’s strategy for tackling this issue. This strategy prioritises “upholding the rights and dignity of victims; ending impunity through reporting and investigations; engaging with Member States, civil society and other partners to build a multi-stakeholder approach; and improving strategic communications for education and transparency”, according to the latest Secretary-General’s report on the matter to the General Assembly, dated 16 February. Saunders might mention the legal framework that each troop-and-police-contributing country is requested to sign when deploying its contingent to a UN mission to hold them accountable for misconduct.

In June, the UN decided to repatriate 60 Tanzanian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) following a preliminary investigation that reportedly found credible evidence that 11 members of a Tanzanian unit deployed in a temporary operating base in the western part of the Central African Republic (CAR) had allegedly engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse. In September 2021, the UN repatriated a Gabonese MINUSCA contingent over similar allegations, in compliance with its zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse. Regarding the allegations against the South African contingent deployed with MONUSCO, the South African Department of Defence issued a statement on 15 October saying that it was not informed about the allegations against its contingent and only learned about the issue from the media. Nevertheless, it recognised the gravity of the allegations and indicated the decision by the South African National Defence Forces to recall the implicated soldiers and dispatch national investigating officers to the DRC to conduct a formal investigation.

In March 2016, the US facilitated the adoption of resolution 2272, which addressed sexual exploitation and abuse in peace operations. The resolution endorsed “the decision of the Secretary-General to repatriate a particular military unit or formed police unit of a contingent when there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse by that unit”. In Council discussions on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in mission-specific contexts, the US tends to refer to this resolution and call for its full implementation to respond to such allegations and to advance accountability.

Although Council members condemn sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, in past discussions on this issue some members expressed the view that the Council is not the right forum to consider conduct and discipline issues. These members maintain that such issues are better addressed in the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34). Nevertheless, the performance, conduct, and discipline of peacekeepers continue to be raised in mission-specific contexts, such as MONUSCO and other peacekeeping operations. While some members voice serious concerns over allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in missions and stress the need to ensure accountability, others tend to prioritise the safety and security of peacekeepers. Members which are major troop-contributing countries tend to favour not focusing solely on military personnel, but assessing the performance and accountability of all components of a UN peacekeeping mission.

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