Regarding Rights

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Tainted UN Peacekeepers: Reportage from the Ground

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Image from www.un.org

Image from www.un.org

By Mandira Sharma and Ingrid Massage, Advocacy Forum-Nepal, and Suhas Chakma, Ben Schonveld, and Kathryn Johnson, Asian Centre for Human Rights

Can the UN allow its staff to violate human rights?

The United Nations (UN) employs one of the largest armies in the world. Currently, it has more than 97,000 uniformed personnel (military and police) coming from over 110 countries and the number has been steadily growing.

The debate between troop-contributing countries and top funders of the UN’s peacekeeping operations (UNPKOs) on a range of issues relating to peacekeeping continues. A new topic has emerged after the UN introduced its December 2012 policy on the screening of UN personnel, putting responsibility on the states that select peacekeepers to attest that they have not been involved in human rights violations. The UN can indeed ill-afford to allow people who have been involved in human rights violations to act as peacekeepers. There have been consistent reports of serious rights violations—in particular sexual exploitation and abuses—by peacekeepers. Have people responsible of such violations in their home countries nevertheless been selected for UN operations? Are countries exporting human rights violators to countries in need of peacekeepers?

Reportage from the ground in troop contributing countries: Violators selected as peacekeepers

Research on the deployment of peacekeepers from four major troop-contributing countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Nigeria) by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) of India, the Advocacy Forum (AF) of Nepal, and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) of Nigeria makes startling findings.

Bangladesh and Nigeria have no public procedures for the selection of peacekeepers and selection processes in these countries have been marred by corruption and nepotism. India has a policy for the selection of its UN peacekeepers but it gives “preference to those who have proven themselves while serving in counter-insurgency operations”[1] or who “have served for at least two years in the hard/extreme hard areas like Jammu and Kashmir, North East region or the Naxal Affected states”[2]. The involvement of the security forces of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Nigeria in human rights violations, especially in conflict situations, is well known. It is clear that human rights violators have often been given preference for deployment as UN peacekeepers.

Even the UN Civilian Police, selected through the UN-administered Selection Assistance and Assessment Team (SAAT) Test, has not been free of human rights violators. In the SAAT Test held in 2013 by India those selected included Sanjeev Kumar, Assistant Sub-Inspector of Punjab Police accused of torture,[3] Superintendent of Police Altaf Ahmad Khan of Jammu and Kashmir Police accused of rape and custodial death,[4] Head Constable Shiv Charan of Chandigarh Police, already arrested by police on the charge of kidnapping and extortion,[5] and Inspector Atul Soni of the Punjab Police, arrested under Section 25 of the Arms Act for carrying 52 live cartridges of different calibers at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi while boarding a Philippines Airlines flight to Manila.[6]

From Nepal, where the procedures for selection stress that those “convicted” of human rights violations cannot be selected for peacekeeping, at least three peacekeepers had to be repatriated after it became known that they were involved in torture, death in custody, and disappearance.

Reportage from troop recipient countries: Violators continue abuses

UN peacekeepers from these four countries were also responsible for serious human rights violations, in particular sexual exploitation and abuses, in recipient countries.

Indian peacekeepers were accused of sexual abuse and exploitation in the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) confirmed sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and made eight recommendations including to the MONUC Force Commander and the Contingent commanders.[7] Despite this, sexual exploitation and abuse by Indian troops continued unabated. A subsequent investigation by the OIOS found corroborative evidence in six cases of sexual abuse between July and November 2007. Further, DNA testing by the OIOS in May 2008 concluded that children born in the area had “distinctive Indian features,” confirming the allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation.[8]

Nigeria’s peacekeepers were accused of corruption,[9] involvement in illegal diamond trading, making false passports, drug smuggling, and other illegal activities, in addition to sexual exploitation and abuse.[10] In 2005, 11 Nigerian policemen serving with MONUC had to be withdrawn and subsequently suspended from duty after a special investigation panel found corroborating evidence of sexual exploitation and abuse, including against the Nigerian commander.[11] During the peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, Major General Vijay Kumar Jetley complained about the corruption of the Nigerian peacekeeping forces[12] and that the Nigerian Army “has obstructed peace moves in Sierra Leone because its officers and men are getting rich through illegally trading diamonds.”[13] Though the Nigerian Army contested General Jetley’s allegations,[14] its earlier requests to command the UN mission in Sierra Leone were turned down due to its “patchy record in previous attempts to restore peace.”[15]

Bangladeshi security forces have also been involved in sexual exploitation during peacekeeping missions. In 2007 four Bangladeshi peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in Sudan had to be repatriated following investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of children.[16] The UN announced its intention to follow up with the Government of Bangladesh for prosecution,[17] but the Government of Bangladesh has failed to indicate publicly whether any action has been taken against the accused.

The challenge before the UN and the international community

The UN’s Peacekeeping missions stand blemished.

The UN had to repatriate Captain Niranjan Basnet of the Nepal Army (NA), accused in the murder of Maina Sunuwar,[18] from a peacekeeping mission in Chad, as well as Deputy Superintendent of Police Basanta Kunwar, accused of torture,[19] from a mission in Liberia.[20] In January 2013, British Police arrested Colonel Kumar Lama, accused of torture in Nepal in 2005, who was on leave in the UK while serving as an expert with the UN mission in South Sudan.[21]

India failed to live up to its commitment to the “implementation of a policy of zero tolerance with regard to conduct and discipline of troops including sexual exploitation and abuse”.[22] With respect to sexual exploitation committed by the Indian troops during their deployment with MUNOC (see above), in November 2012 the Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh (the Deputy Force Commander under the MUNOC at the time of commission of the crimes) told the media that the Court of Inquiry had found one person responsible for sexual abuse and three others for command and control failure.[23] However, in a letter dated 1 April 2013, Major General Anil Mehta of the Army Headquarters stated that the “investigation on the subject incident is still not completed”.[24]

The UN has also failed to take into consideration the impact of peacekeeping operations on the national political system of countries supplying troops. The UN peacekeeping deployment has been so lucrative for both individual peacekeepers and military institutions [25] that the Bangladesh Army has sought to monopolise the deployment of its troops in the UN peacekeeping missions. A refusal to deploy the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) as UN peacekeepers was one of the reasons for the revolt at the BDR Headquarters at Pilkhana, Dhaka, on 25 February 2009, when 74 persons, including 57 Army Officers deputed to the BDR from the Bangladesh army, were massacred. The Bangladesh Army and the government continue to maintain that the “United Nations has objected to the proposal of BDR members being taken to foreign missions. Bangladesh Government has no jurisdiction in this matter”.[26] This is a blatant lie considering that neighbouring India has been sending the Border Security Force, its equivalent of the BDR in Bangladesh, on UN missions.[27] Further, participation in UNPKOs has become the official raison d’etre for increasing the military expenditure of the country by over 11% during Financial Year 2011-12.[28]

The UN introduced the “Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel” policy in December 2012, but so far it only seeks to verify the antecedents of UN Peacekeepers at the level of Force Commanders and Deputy Force Commanders. While it is a good beginning, it may not be sufficient to address the menace.

In January 2013, the Government of Nepal announced new Army Service Regulations[29] to comply with the August 2012 judgement of the Supreme Court of Nepal to establish vetting laws to regulate the internal recruitment, promotion, and transfer of government officials, including those from the security services. However, the actual selection policy remains inaccessible to the public. As long as impunity remains pervasive in the country, maintaining that those “convicted” of human rights violations are precluded from service (rather than those “involved,” as required by the UN policy) is meaningless.

The UN ought to encourage initiatives to bring national standards for the deployment of UN peacekeepers fully in line with UN policy. Further, there is a need to establish transparent and exemplary accountability for those peacekeepers found guilty of human rights violations, including sexual abuse and exploitation, while on mission.

For more information, please read recently released reports on UN Peacekeeping at http://www.achrweb.org/UNPeaceKeeping.html


[1] See Delhi High Court judgement, Naib Subedar K.C. Jena vs Union of India & Ors,1 February 2010 [W.P.(C) No.7994/2009 & C.M. No.4481/2009], at: http://delhicourts.nic.in/Feb10/Naib Subedar K.C. Jena Vs. UOI.pdf.

[2] See criteria for selection of officers for deployment with UN/Foreign Missions at: http://bsf.nic.in/doc/recruitment/r46.pdf.

[3] “ASI booked for making inmates dance in nude” The Tribune 7 February 2005, at: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050207/punjab1.htm#32.

[4] “Lesson in irony: Gallantry award goes to rape accused” Tehelka 17 August 2012, at: http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main53.asp?filename=Ws170812JK.asp.

[5] “Head Constable held for kidnapping, extortion” The Tribune 27 February 2006.

[6] “Held with live ammo, Punjab cop gets bail” The Tribune, 14 June 2012, at: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120614/punjab.htm#12.

[7] Investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN General Assembly Document No. A/59/661, 5 January 2005.

[8] See Varinder Bhatia, “Indian Army probes reports of its UN peacekeepers fathering kids in Congo” The Indian Express 7 June 2011, at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/indian-army-probes-reports-of-its-un-peacekeepers-fathering-kids-in-congo/800244/.

[9] See Ewen MacAskill, “UN gets warning shot peacekeeping, huge corruption in Sierra Leone shows the need for rapid reform” The Guardian at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/sep/09/sierraleone2. See also “Report on the Crisis in Sierra Leone” The Sierra Leone Web at: http://www.sierra-leone.org/Other-Conflict/jetley-0500.html.

[10] ibid.

[11] See Agence France-Presse, “11 Nigerian police peacekeepers sanctioned over sex scandal in DR Congo” Reliefweb 26 September 2005, at: http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/11-nigerian-police-peacekeepers-sanctioned-over-sex-scandal-dr; “Nigeria acts on police sex abuse” BBC.co.uk 27 September 2005, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4285650.stm; “Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the recall of a Nigerian unit from MONUC”, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at: http://www.un.org/sg/statements/?nid=1677 and Wikileaks, Cable 05KINSHASA1501_a, 16 September 2005, at: http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/05KINSHASA1501_a.html and Cable 05KINSHASA1484_a, 14 September 2005, at: http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/05KINSHASA1484_a.html.

[12] See Ewen MacAskill, “UN gets warning shot peacekeeping, Huge corruption in Sierra Leone shows the need for rapid reform”, at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/sep/09/sierraleone2. See also “Report on the Crisis in Sierra Leone” The Sierra Leone Web at: http://www.sierra-leone.org/Other-Conflict/jetley-0500.html.

[13] ibid.

[14] “Nigeria: Sack UN force commander” BBC.co.uk, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/917962.stm.

[15] Major-General Jetley was replaced, although varying reasons were given for this, such as the expansion of the mission and the need for a three star general (he was only a two star general). “Nigeria: Sack UN force commander” BBC.co.uk, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/917962.stm. See also “UN announces Sierra Leone shake-up” BBC.co.uk, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/938281.stm.

[16] See Wikileaks, Cable No. 07KHAROUM31_a, 8 January 2007, at: http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07KHARTOUM31_a.html. See also “Four peacekeepers accused of sex abuse already repatriated – UN mission in Sudan” UN News Centre, at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=21160.

[17] See “Four peacekeepers accused of sex abuse already repatriated – UN mission in Sudan” UN News Centre, at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=21160.

[18] “Maina Sunuwar: Separating fact from fiction” Advocacy Forum February 2010, at: http://www.advocacyforum.org/downloads/pdf/publications/maina-english.pdf.

[19] “Arjun Gurung” Advocacy Forum at: http://www.advocacyforum.org/torture-compensation/2011/10/arjun-gurung.php.

[20] Investigations into serious violations of UN rules are conducted by members of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. The final decision to repatriate individuals is made by the New York Headquarters of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The cost of repatriations is born by the contributing nation. See Nina Rastogi, “Peacekeepers on Trial” Slate Magazine 28 May 2008, at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/05/peacekeepers_on_trial.html. Also see Column Lynch, “Is Nepal sending accused criminals to serve in UN peacekeeping missions?” Turtle Bay 11 November 2011, at: http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/11/11/is_nepal_sending_accused_criminals_to_serve_in_un_peacekeeping_missions.

[21] “Nepal’s Colonel Kumar Lama held after court appearance” BBC 5 January 2013, at: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-20919827.

[22] “India and UN: Peacekeeping & Peacebuilding” Permanent Mission of India to the UN at: http://www.un.int/india/india_and_the_un_pkeeping.html.

[23] See Gautam Datt, “Indian army’s shame: Indictment of 4 Indian peacekeepers for ‘sexual misconduct’ on a UN posting in Congo dents the army’s honour” India Today 25 November 2012, at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/indian-army-shamed-action-against-jawan-for-fathering-child-congo-india-today/1/234613.html.

[24] See RTI Reply to Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR, by Major General Anil Mehta Vide No.B/87008/AG/PM/RTI2356, 1 April 2013.

[25] At the UN standard rate, Bangladesh Army personnel deployed with UN Peace Keeping Operations earn upwards of US $2,200 a month for an officer and US $1,100 for a soldier, in addition to other allowances and perks. The average monthly pay is Taka 7,717 (about US $100) for a Bangladeshi soldier and Taka 15,000 (about US $200) for a Bangladeshi officer. See Nicolas Haque, “Bangladesh troops lead global peacekeeping” Aljazeera 29 May 2012, at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/05/201252982553900996.html; “Money” Join Bangladesh Army at: http://www.joinbangladesharmy.mil.bd/benefits/money.

[26] “Revolt at the BDR Headquarters situated at Peelkhana: Report of the Investigating Committee created for Investigation of the Heinous Massacre”, 21 May 2009, at: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/Investigation Report – Government Inquiry_0.pdf.

[27] See http://crpf.nic.in/un.HTM, which shows that India’s Central Reserve Police Force personnel have been deployed on UN Missions in Haiti, Kosovo and Liberia.

[28] “Army to get 44 tanks, 2 helicopters also on purchase list”, The Daily Star 27 June 2011, at: http://archive.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=191737.

[29] “New regulations change Nepal Army promotion criteria”, Kathmandu Post 14 February 2013, at: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2013/02/14/top-story/new-regulations-change-nepal-army-promotion-criteria/245301.html. The ASRs can be accessed at www.mod.gov.np.

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