30 April 2017

ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION BY SRI LANKAN PEACEKEEPERS

In April, an investigation conducted by the Associated Press spurred the attention of the international community on serious allegations against Sri Lankan peacekeepers stationed in Haiti till 2007. From 2004 to 2007, nine Haitian children were reportedly exploited by a child sex ring involving at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers. However, the very serious allegations that resurfaced in April against the Sri Lankan peacekeepers were hardly reported in the Sri Lankan media.
While this scandal certainly draws a negative image of Sri Lankan peacekeepers, it also points towards a much larger and deep-seated issue of impunity with respect to crimes committed by UN peacekeepers. As explained in a SACLS podcast, agreements entered into between the UN and the country in which the blue helmets are stationed (in this case Haiti) generally stipulate that only the troop contributing country (in this case Sri Lanka) can prosecute its own military members for crimes committed on mission. However, as the Sri Lanka example demonstrates, in practice impunity often prevails.
After the allegations of sexual exploitation in Haiti were made public, 114 members of the Sri Lankan contingent—including 3 officers—were repatriated to Sri Lanka on disciplinary grounds. A few years later, the Sri Lankan government reportedly claimed that 23 soldiers were convicted of sexual exploitation and abuse and subsequently ‘discharged, demoted, formally reprimanded or otherwise punished’. However, these disciplinary sanctions are grossly inadequate given the nature and seriousness of the alleged offenses. In addition, because Sri Lankan laws do not recognize command responsibility, officers who were likely aware of the crimes cannot be punished for failure to prevent or repress their commission.
Sri Lanka’s failure to adequately punish crimes committed by peacekeepers on mission may affect the country’s prospects of future contribution to UN peacekeeping contingents. In fact, in March 2016, the UN Security Council requested the Secretary General to assess member states’ response to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse when deciding whether their troops may participate in current and future UN peacekeeping operations.
The allegations levelled against Sri Lankan peacekeepers and the failure to bring about accountability for these crimes is a also chilling reminder of the widespread impunity for sexual and gender-based crimes allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the internal conflict. None of these allegations have been investigated, let alone brought before a tribunal, to hold those responsible accountable. Therefore, if Sri Lanka is serious about addressing the range of allegations brought into light by the UN, it must take steps to ensure that all allegations are thoroughly investigated and that justice is served. The effort ought to be comprehensive and to address crimes committed in both domestic and foreign jurisdictions.

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