On Peacekeepers Day 2015, UN Peacekeepers Should Be Held to Highest Standards

05/29/2015 04:53 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2016

On the International Day of United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers, we at Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict ("Watchlist") are alarmed at the recent incidences of child rights violations by UN peacekeepers and other peacekeeping forces. The UN and Member States should ensure that children's rights are respected and protected by holding security sector actors serving in UN peacekeeping missions to highest standards.

Over the past decade, the UN has come to view child protection as a growing concern in peacekeeping operations. The UN Security Council mainstreams child protection in the mandates of peacekeeping operations and political missions. Security sector actors are often the first point of contact with child soldiers in the field, and therefore, the UN has invested in training troops to deal with this phenomenon.

Despite this growing recognition of the importance of child protection, concerning reports have garnered international attention. French peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been accused of sexually exploiting children. The UN's handling of this situation falls short of international standards for accountability for the sexual abuse of children.

Second, the UN employs troops known for their deplorable human rights record as peacekeepers. In August 2014, Watchlist first called for the UN to pull a battalion of Congolese armed forces (FARDC) from MINUSCA, the peacekeeping mission in CAR. The FARDC have been listed for 9 years in the Secretary-General's annual report for using child soldiers in the DRC. In 2006, they were added for committing rape and other sexual violence against children in the DRC. Today, 800 FARDC troops still remain active in CAR. Despite a public admission to "two to three incidences of misconduct", the UN Special Representative for CAR, Mr. Babacar Gaye, assured that the Congolese behavior in CAR was "nothing to worry about."

The fact that government security forces known to perpetrate children's rights violations in their home country, can contribute to peacekeeping operations, is distressing. The recent abuses by the peacekeeping troops further demonstrate the dire need to enhance system wide protections for children.

The UN should ban such forces from contributing troops until they have signed and implemented action plans to end and prevent grave violations against children. By doing so, the UN will demonstrate it prioritizes the protection of children, and is fully committed to the highest standards for its missions. Having a clear policy banning listed government forces will also provide a significant incentive for Member States to end violations against children at home and demonstrate their compliance with the international humanitarian and human rights law regarding children.

The current UN High Level Independent Review of Peace Operations presents an excellent opportunity for enhancing department-wide respect for child protection. If child protection is truly "at the heart of peacekeeping," peacekeepers must be held to account, and immediate action must be taken to prevent government forces blacklisted for children's rights violations from participating in peacekeeping operations.