Barely a week after the United Nations (UN) honoured the UN peacekeepers that had lost their lives in service, a draft study by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has found that UN peacekeepers deployed in countries like South Sudan, Liberia and Central African Republic exchange food and other goods to receive sexual favours from desperate women, and sometimes even under-age children. While the ‘sex for food’ scandal has been in existence for a long time – with allegations being made as early as 2006 – the sheer breath of the practice is shocking; spanning several countries and peacekeepers from various nations. The exploitation of desperate and defenceless by their supposed guardians does not end there; there have been recent revelations that French troops sexually abused children in the Central African Republic in 2014, and while they are technically not UN peacekeepers, they do come under the UN’s purview.

Individual acts of misconduct are understandable, but this commonplace and widespread practice hints at an institutional failure, which allows such activities to continue without accountability. The prime culprit is UN itself, whose system offers blanket immunity to peacekeepers operating in a country from prosecution within that country – only the country where the peacekeepers originate from can try them. Designed to protect the soldiers from malicious prosecution, the policy is acting as a protective cloak, under the cover of which the soldiers can sexually abuse women and children without an ounce of fear. The UN’s culpability does not end there; it tried to bury a report titled “Sexual Abuse on Children by International Armed Forces” which was submitted to Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva – and forced the resignation of the UN official that leaked it to the media. This scandal is not only an incomparable atrocity, but it also damages the credibility and effectiveness of the UN. It is time to revoke the blanket immunity or at the least form an internal system which punishes offender. In the UN can’t be trusted to deliver justice, than who can?