The United States and several countries contributing UN troops clashed Thursday on the role of the UN Security Council in handling accusations of sexual abuse against UN peacekeepers, with the US pushing for strong action when claims are substantiated.
The council discussed the issue after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a report last week publicly disclosing for the first time the nationalities of UN military and police personnel involved in sexual abuse allegations.
According to the report, a total of 69 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation were made against civilian staff and military and police personnel from 21 countries deployed on UN peacekeeping missions in 2015.
The allegations came from 10 UN peacekeeping missions, with 22 cases reported in the Central African Republic alone.
Under UN guidelines, contributing countries are responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations made against uniformed personnel, which, in the absence of a requirement to report on the outcomes, often allowed such crimes to go unpunished.
In response to the report, the US drafted a Security Council resolution that would require the repatriation of whole contingents if a pattern of sexual abuse is found, UN diplomats said.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, urged countries on the 15-member council to consider sexual abuse by peacekeepers as a threat to international peace and security, which the council is tasked with upholding.
"Some have argued that this discussion does not have a place at the UN Security Council," Power said. "They are mistaken."
Power noted that when governments, armed groups and terrorists attack civilians, it is the council's responsibility to raise concerns.
"So why in the world when they are UN peacekeepers that attack people, it isn't our job?" Power said.
Russia said, however, that the issue should be taken up by the UN General Assembly, which includes all 193 member states of the UN, including troop-contributing countries.
"It would simply be wrong to set the council up against the General Assembly," said Peter Iliichev, Russian deputy ambassador to the UN.
"We continue to be convinced that issues of peacekeeping discipline are not related to the maintenance of international peace and security," Iliichev added.
Several troop-contributing countries, including Egypt and Pakistan, also spoke out against the draft resolution, saying that they should be consulted before measures are imposed.
Amr Aboulatta, Egyptian ambassador to the UN whose country currently has more than 2,800 troops deployed at UN missions, said the General Assembly had the mandate to review the issue of sexual abuse. He also opposed the proposal that entire contingents should be sent home because of a few individuals committing crimes.
"Accountability must be confined to those committing the crime and not the others," Aboulatta said.
Troop-contributing countries receive more than 1,300 dollars per month for every uniformed personnel sent to UN missions.
Secretary General Ban told the council that continued allegations of sexual abuse against UN peacekeepers destroy the trust between blue helmets and those they are intended to serve.
"When sexual exploitation and abuse are perpetrated on these individuals by the United Nations personnel authorised to protect them, it further victimizes and violates them and inflicts untold harm on already fragile communities," Ban said.