UN initiative supports accountability for crimes against peacekeepers

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Holding those who commit crimes against United Nations (UN) “blue helmets” to account is no easy task with the world body now looking to a new initiative to provide justice for soldiers deployed with UN peace missions worldwide.

UN peace operations chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix launched a new Group of Friends associated with the New York headquartered world body to improving the application of justice for those involved in crimes against peacekeepers. Speaking at the launch function he pointed out “serious challenges” in bringing criminals to justice lead to a low prosecution rate and “contribute to a cycle of impunity that continues to embolden offenders”.

The new Group of Friends will promote accountability and assist in building capacity and supplying technical assistance to State authorities in countries where there are UN peace building and peacekeeping missions.

Lacroix told those at the launch 1 056 UN personnel in peacekeeping operations died as a result of “malicious acts” since 1948 when the first UN peacekeeping mission was established. Mission one saw the then UN Security Council authorise deployment of “a small number of military observers to the Middle East to form the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) to monitor the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Since then well over a million men and women served under the UN flag in over 70 UN peacekeeping operations worldwide. More than 100 000 military, police and civilian personnel from 125 countries currently serve in 14 peacekeeping operations.

He said while “few perpetrators” were brought to justice there was “notable progress” since 2019.

In Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mali – the three countries where 84% of fatalities occurred across peacekeeping operations since the start of 2013 – there has been “an increase in the number of alleged perpetrators identified and detained and as well as an increase in the percentage of cases with confirmed national investigations”  Lacroix said.

“Importantly 66 individuals were convicted” in the three African countries and Lebanon for killing UN troops, he added.

On MINUSMA, the UN mission in Mali, Lacroix said four peacekeepers’ deaths by way of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) stressed the “continued importance” of tracking and down and bringing to justice those committing crimes against blue helmeted soldiers.

Twenty-nine peacekeepers died in similar circumstances since the beginning of 2022.

He emphasised It is critical for countries hosting operations to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice, in accordance with international obligations.

In this regard Lacroix said the Security Council (SC) 2020 resolution (2518) on safety of peacekeepers, which calls on member states hosting peacekeeping operations to” promptly investigate and effectively prosecute those responsible for attacks on UN personnel” was another pointer to what should be done more and more.

In 2021 the SC adopted resolution 2589 strengthening accountability for crimes against peacekeepers, calling for a renewed focus on bringing perpetrators to justice.

The primary responsibility for bringing criminals to account lies with host States the UN will pursue accountability, particularly in CAR, DRC and Mali.

A working group has been supporting host countries investigating and prosecuting these offences since 2019 there are further challenges.

These crimes are often committed in areas where the authority of the State may be limited and national law enforcement personnel may be absent creating roadblocks for witness security and evidence collection and preservation, Lacroix said.  Personnel rotation and repatriation are also obstacles to witness testimonies.

“These challenges are further compounded in some instances by the absence of political will to pursue these cases.”

Bringing perpetrators to justice, in accordance with international obligations, is outlined in “status-of-force or status-of-mission agreements” and other instruments”.

Field missions have important support roles as part of mandated responsibilities support from member states was essential.  This could take the form of deploying specialist personnel to assist national authorities investigating and prosecuting these cases.