Are UN Officials and Experts on Mission Held Accountable If They Commit Crimes?

With its efforts to develop practical ways to address the need for accountability in UN, United States of America today emphasized that it is absolutely critical that UN officials and experts on mission should be held accountable if they commit crimes.

In his remarks to the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee (Legal) on Criminal Accountability of UN Officials and Experts on Mission in New York, Public Delegate-Designate Ted Dintersmith says the United States welcomes the Secretary-General’s report on Criminal Accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, which is especially useful in two ways.

Kenyan soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are pictured inside their armoured personnel carrier on the grounds of Kismayo University, southern Somalia. UN Photo

“First, it includes information provided by some governments on the extent to which they have domestic jurisdiction over crimes of a serious nature committed by their nationals while serving as UN officials or experts on mission.” -Mr. Dintersmith

Second, it includes information submitted by certain governments concerning their cooperation with the United Nations in the exchange of information and the facilitation of investigations and prosecutions of such individuals, he added.

The US acknowledges the UN’s efforts to refer credible allegations against UN officials to the State of the alleged offender’s nationality during the July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 reporting period.

According to Mr. Dintersmith, there were seventeen referrals during this period; an increase from the six reported last year.

He pointed out that this suggests that the UN’s efforts to take practical measures to strengthen existing training on United Nations standards of conduct, may be having an effect in increasing awareness of, and the need to report, violations.

However, he says it is the actions of Member States that are the key to curbing abuses by their nationals serving in a UN peacekeeping or other capacity.

All UN Member States stand to benefit from the culture of accountability to which the Secretariat’s reporting on efforts taken by States to investigate and prosecute referred cases contributes, Mr. Dintersmith said.

“We therefore urge Member States to take appropriate action with regard to those individuals and report to the United Nations on the disposition of the cases.” -Mr. Dintersmith

In addition, the US also urges States to redouble their efforts to develop practical ways to address the need for accountability.

Ultimately, the burden is on States to act, Mr. Dintersmith added.

“And this is a responsibility States must take seriously.” -Mr. Dintersmith

The US government would support efforts to provide Member States with assistance to close any gaps in their laws or legal systems relating to accountability as well.

In March this year, The United Nations police chief underlined that the world’s body has maintained a zero tolerance towards any kind of sexual exploitation committed by peacekeeping personnel.

The UN Police Adviser Ann-Marie Orler strongly advocates for a zero impunity approach by Member states as well.

Ms. Orler also called on Member States to ensure that peacekeeping personnel found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse are prosecuted and that everything possible is done to prevent such crimes from being committed in the first place.

The UN, with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in the lead role, has taken several measures to address such abuses by its personnel which includes police officers.

The measures include the introduction of conduct and discipline units in each peacekeeping operation, curfews, placing areas out-of-bounds, rigorous investigations of alleged perpetrators, and their repatriation and punishment by their own countries.

In September 2011, a high-level Uruguayan delegation have investigated the alleged rape of an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan members of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the impoverished Caribbean country. The four implicated peacekeepers are being held in isolation at the Uruguayan base in Port-Salut and the commander has been relieved of his post by his country’s military.

In addition, three Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Haiti were repatriated this March following a Pakistani military hearing on the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old Haitian male.

In addition, besides any disciplinary action which is taken by the police-contributing country, any UN police officers against whom allegations of serious misconduct are substantiated is immediately repatriated from the mission, Ms. Orler noted.

The investigation file is then submitted to the Member State for action and DPKO follows up any action taken by the Member State. Any officer repatriated on disciplinary grounds is barred from consideration from future service.

The UN, which has long had a policy of zero tolerance towards sexual abuse by its peacekeepers, does not have the authority to prosecute as this comes within the jurisdiction of the troop-contributing country, but it will follow up on the case to ensure that the accused are brought to trial and adequately punished should there be cause for prosecution.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.