Nearly 50 military and civilian legal professionals and troop commanders from 24 African countries participated in the US Africa Command’s fifth Accountability Colloquium in Dakar, Senegal, between 22 and 24 August.
“Peacekeeping is centered on building the trust of those we are here to protect. You cannot abuse and protect the population at the same time. Any allegation undermines the morale of those soldiers who do not commit abuses, undermining our will to perform our duties. This is why as Commander I take this issue extremely seriously; SEA undermines the trust in us from the population and reduces our ability to fight”, said South African Lt. Gen. Derrick Mgwebi, Force Commander, UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).
The SEA referred to by Gen. Mgwebi during his keynote address stands for sexual exploitation and abuse and was the focus of the fifth Accountability Colloquium (ACV). An annual event, this is the first time the Accountability Colloquium has been conducted in Africa. Nearly 50 military and civilian legal professionals and troop commanders from 24 African countries participated in the event, which was coordinated by U.S. AFRICOM in cooperation with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, based in San Remo, Italy. Senegal volunteered to host this year’s colloquium and participants were welcomed by Contre-amiral Momar Diagne, head of the Senegalese Navy.
“The Fourth Accountability Colloquium (AC IV), conducted at IIHL last year, addressed the theme, ‘Responding to Gender-Based Violence in Peace Operations,’ and did much to advance our understanding of gender based violence and the importance of the command-legal relationship in addressing this issue,” said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Trent Warner, Chief of AFRICOM’s Legal Engagements Division, Office of Legal Counsel. “This year, AC V continued the effort to address the challenge of establishing the rule of law by expanding the discussion from AC IV to include identifying responsibilities and best practices of commanders and legal advisors in preventing and responding to SEA in peace operations.”
Attending AC V were representatives from MONUSCO, the African Union, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Search for Common Ground – a U.S. based NGO with operations in Brussels, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.
In his opening remarks, U.S. Amb. Alexander Laskaris, AFRICOM Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement, recounted his own experiences as a diplomat in Liberia who was protected along with the civilian population of that country by the Senegal military early in his career.
“Warlord Charles Taylor attacked Monrovia in October of 1992, and I will never forget the courage and skill of the Senegalese Battalion in defending me and two million other civilians in the city,” said Laskaris. “I remember from my own experience that Liberians knew that if they could make it to a Senegalese military camp, they would be safe from harm and they would be treated with dignity and respect.”
The Ambassador also noted the professionalism of other militaries he had interacted with.
“I’ve been to Malawi and Zambia in the last year; both times I noted the superb record of their peacekeepers in the RDC and the RCA. They assured me that they train their soldiers and hold them to a high standard.
“They also assured me that their soldiers all know that if they are guilty of abusing the civilians they are sent to protect, they will face swift justice,” said Laskaris.
In his keynote address, Mgwebi discussed the challenges to combating SEA, such as weak accountability in the Troop Contributing Country’s (TCC) judicial system, the agreements between them and the UN, ineffective public safety and legal systems, not adhering to UN standards, leadership that fails to reinforce conduct and discipline and a sense of impunity among those who perpetrate SEA acts.
This was complemented by “Best Practices and Implementing Institutional Changes” presented by Ms. Adama Coumbe Diouly Ndao, Chief Conduct and Discipline Team and SEA Coordinator, MONUSCO.
Justice Lydia Mugambe, Judge of the High Court of Uganda discussed legal consequences of committing SEA and specific cases in her presentation, “Prosecution and Adjudication of Sexual Crimes.” She also explained the UN definition of sexual gender based violence (SGBV), which is, “Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering for women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” – UN General Assembly 1993.
As host nation, Senegal presenters provided substantial content to AC V. “Responsibilities of commanders in combating SEA” was the topic presented by General de las division Meissa Niang, Commandant de la Gendamerie Nationale et Directeur de la Justice Militaire, Republic of Senegal.
A panel discussion, one in French and one in English, capitalized on the consensus view that prevention was the best remedy. Discussed were various potential preventive measures, many already adopted by MONUSCO:
Internal SEA awareness raising through pre-deployment / in-mission trainings
Robust assessment/Advisory visits to camp and bases to ascertain risk factors and formulation of mitigation measures
Strict Non-fraternization policy with the local population
Observance of Curfew Hours and robust MP patrols
Command and Control
Reinforcement of the random roll call
Limitations on free movement/Off limits/Out of bound areas
Annual and recreational leave
“We do not think the next colloquium will be focused on SEA and GBV in peace operations,” said Warner. “However, each colloquium builds on the previous event, depending on the issues that materialize through AFRICOM’s assessment of the results of the event, which are captured in a report made available to participants.
“The direction of the next AC is informed by the input we receive directly from the participants during discussions at the event and, or through the end of event evaluations.
“It is too early to say what the next colloquium will focus on, however, it will continue to seek out issues of the rule of law germane to African military operations, seek to build the commander-legal advisor relationship, and do what it can to improve gender integration in the colloquium’s efforts,” said Warner.
Speaking of the challenge of quantifying the success of this year’s colloquium, Col. (retired) Karl Goetzke, the senior legal counsel for AFRICOM at the event, said, “I believe the quality and growth of this event provides a very good measure of the success of our collective efforts. This is not scientific and measurable, but it is a good indicator.
“We may not ever know what exchanges, both informal and formal, occurred between participants,” Goetzke said, “but the real value of this event may be manifest in some totally unforeseen way, years in the future.”