Since 1999, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been home to the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission (known as Monusco). Its role is to protect civilians, but personnel have been accused of sexual violence against women and girls, including impregnating girls as young as 10. Potentially thousands of ‘peace or peacekeeping babies’ have been fathered as a result. Research by the University of Birmingham and Queen’s University in Canada has given these ‘babies’ – many now young adults – a voice. They interviewed more than 2,800 people in the DRC in 2018 and carried out follow-up interviews with a sample of mothers and children. For the women, becoming pregnant condemned them to poverty and, in some cases, ‘survival sex’ to obtain essentials.
One of the academics from Birmingham, who had previously carried out research on peace-keeping babies in Haiti, said ‘sexual misconduct and child abandonment have long been something of an unintended legacy of peacekeeping’. Women and girls spoke of being courted by Monusco troops and then left with nothing when the men were repatriated or transferred. The researchers described sexual exploitation and abuse as an ‘endemic problem’. Since 2003, the UN has had a zero-tolerance approach towards this behaviour and adopted ‘special measures for the protection of victims’, but the research identified an ‘accountability gap’ for women and children to realise their rights. The UK contributes a small staff to Monusco, provides training on tackling sexual violence and abuse and commits money to the UN Victim Trust Fund. But campaigners from Code Blue – a campaign seeking to end impunity for UN personnel for abuse and exploitation – believe the UK should take more responsibility for sexual abuse perpetrated by UN troops. In a case referred by the UN to UK authorities a few years ago, a British UN official escaped prosecution for allegedly raping a teenage girl in the DRC despite an investigation finding credible evidence against him. Code Blue asks the newly appointed special co-ordinator on Improving UN Responses to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse to be fully committed to its eradication. For more information go to http://www.codebluecampaign.com/the-problem.