Under the terms of its establishment, United Nations peacekeepers (often referred to as blue berets) are sent into war-torn countries to help create conditions for peace, monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements they may have signed.
In practice, however, the responsibilities of a UN peacekeeping mission remain largely unclear and over the years, the role of UN peacekeeping forces has come under increasing scrutiny around the world, but especially in Africa.
The disgraceful actions or inaction of UN peace troops stationed Kigali in the build up to the Rwandan genocide have been the most notable cause for scrutiny until the recent past. Late in 2013, a quasi-religious civil war broke out in the Central African Republic (CAR) after a Muslim rebel group overthrew then President Francois Bozize, a Christian, effectively setting the stage for an ethno-religious conflict.
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Troops who participated in the UN’s peacekeeping mission to CAR have since been trailed by allegations of gross human rights violations, which include summary executions, rape, torture and physical assault.
On Tuesday, June 7, Human Rights Watch released a fresh report that clearly indicts the UN peacekeeping force – mostly made up of troops from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo – for human rights violations and war crimes in CAR. Troops from Equatorial Guinea, Chad and France have also been accused of sexually exploiting young boys in CAR.
The report provides new evidence to support long-standing allegations of abuse by UN and foreign peacekeepers in their various deployments around the world.
This only adds fuel to another Human Rights Watch report released in February of this year, which identified a mass grave discovered near a UN peacekeeping base in CAR.
The exhumed remains have since been identified as a group of 12 detainees rounded up at the house of a local leader in the Central African Republic. Before the detainees were taken away, there had been a confrontation between the UN peacekeepers and militia men loyal to the local leader. The confrontation later turned violent, resulting in the death of a peacekeeper.
It is apparent that all 12 of the detainees were taken away and summarily executed by UN peacekeepers.
Senior UN officials have been criticised for the slow response of the organisation and a near unwillingness to address the allegations of abuse. UN investigators looked into a list of crimes committed by UN peacekeepers back in March 2015. Their findings mostly confirmed the allegations of abuse by Human Rights Watch.
These violations of the people they were deployed to protect, which have only begun to be prosecuted this year, leave many to question the point of having an ineffective, expensive, military force that provides nothing but an illusion of security.