Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
45. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the growing problem of sexual abuse committed by United Nations peacekeepers on vulnerable populations; if Irish peacekeepers have been implicated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14255/18]
I am asking this question because of the number of people who have contacted my office in disbelief at the almost total absence of media coverage or indeed parliamentary analysis of this problem. While I accept that the vast majority of the UN peacekeeping force are honourable and courageous people, we must accept that this is a problem that must be tackled. Last month, it was reported that over 600 women and children claimed that they are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of United Nations peacekeeping forces sent to protect them.
The UN relies on its global reputation as a positive force for good in the world in order to be effective. It is horrific to think that those in great need require protection in some cases from their protectors. According to my latest information, no Irish troops have been implicated in this issue. That does not surprise me, having visited many of our troops abroad, and knowing their discipline. However, Ireland fully supports UN efforts to address this and believes all UN member states must work closely with the UN system to ensure that efforts are taken to eradicate sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations in different parts of the world.
Ireland is strongly committed to its active role in UN peacekeeping operations and we are proud of our unbroken record of service over the last six decades. Today, over 540 Irish men and women are serving on UN peacekeeping duties. For these men and women, service with the UN is rightly regarded as noble and important. In order for the UN to continue with its good work, all troops and personnel deployed by the UN to peacekeeping missions must operate to the highest possible standards. During my attendance at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly last September, I participated in a high-level meeting on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres, where I supported the introduction of a voluntary compact on the elimination of cases of sexual exploitation and-or abuse by UN peacekeeping forces between the UN and peacekeeping contributory states. I welcome UN Secretary General Guterres' recent appointment of Jane Connors as the UN's first victims' rights advocate for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. Ireland fully supports the placing of the rights and dignity of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse at the forefront of the UN's prevention and response efforts in this area.
Any case of exploitation or abuse or any case where the trust placed in the UN by all of us is broken is a case too many. The UN can only meet its responsibilities as a force for good for our shared world if its staff and actions are beyond reproach. The UN must therefore have the systems and policies in place which provide transparency and accountability and Ireland will continue to support the Secretary General as he implements such policies.
I too want to state that I fully support and have great respect for the United Nations peacekeepers and indeed the veterans, many of whom I saw on parade on St. Patrick's Day. They are recognised all over the world. I thank the Minister for his reply. As I noted earlier, official UN statistics reveal that over the past five years, the UN has recognised the claims of 612 women and children who said they were victims of abuse, involving 353 separate claims against UN staff in peacekeeping operations alone. Some officials claim that the allegations represent only the tip of the iceberg and that the figure could be up to ten times that amount. It is truly horrifying. Some incidents involved multiple women or children claiming that they were abused by more than one perpetrator. It has been reported that, in 121 cases, the victims said they had been made pregnant by their attacker, with many mothers being children themselves when they were abused. Since the beginning of last year, a total of 21 of the abuse allegations relate to children, with seven claiming that their abuser left them pregnant. Dianne Penn has reported in Africa Renewal Online that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, says it has received details of allegations in the town of Bambari from a team of Human Rights Watch researchers.
I share the Deputy's concerns. There are thousands of UN peacekeepers in dozens of countries across the world where civilians, in particular women and children, rely on UN peacekeepers to protect them. If that protection becomes exploitation at times, that cannot be allowed to go unchecked and we need to address it comprehensively. I think the UN is attempting to address this comprehensively. There are undoubtedly cases, some of which the Deputy has referred to, that have happened as recently as the past number of years. There needs to be a new and absolute no tolerance approach towards sexual exploitation and abuse that involves UN peacekeepers. I am glad to say that there is no evidence to suggest that Irish troops have been involved in any of this. Having said that, we are part of the UN structures as a whole and we need to be part of the solution here.
The article states: "MINUSCA says there was 'sufficient initial evidence' that five of the victims were minors and had been sexually abused." The head of MINUSCA has already expressed his outrage and shame. He went on to say: "It's a sad day because I got to know and to see with my own eyes the depth of the problem and I have to say to start with, that there is not going to be a quick-fix on this matter, and that's the sad news." The article continues: "He told the troops that sexual abuse and exploitation was 'a double crime that affects the vulnerable women and children' they were sent to protect." As the Minister said, they are protecting very vulnerable people. We trust them and respect them highly in our country. It is a pity that their good names would be tarnished by these despicable actions of certain people from wherever or whatever country. They are sent to help very distressed and traumatised people, to mind them, nurture them and keep them safe. The very thought of them being exploited or abused is horrific.
This problem is recognised at the highest level within the UN. There are new approaches, new policies and a new focus on stamping this out. If the UN is to maintain the respect it has built up over many decades, this is an issue that cannot be allowed to fester or continue. Sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers is totally unacceptable and the focus on it within the UN structures at the moment to stamp it out will, I hope, be effective.
Ireland will play its part in contributing to that discussion in order to ensure it is effective.