Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Lacroix and Ms. Blakemore, for your briefings and for your commitment to UN peacekeeping reform.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2004, President George W. Bush pointed out something important that the founding ideas of the United Nations and the United States have in common. He said, “Recognize a moral law that stands above men and nations, which must be defended and enforced by men and nations.”
Of all the activities the UN engages in, peacekeeping embodies this founding ideal the most. We ask our peacekeepers to go into dangerous situations and put themselves in between warring parties. We ask them to be brave and impartial and, above all, to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We ask this all in the name of peace. But in the end, our peacekeepers are just men and women. They are human beings and although our ideals are perfect and eternal, human beings are imperfect and fallen.
Our peacekeepers do much that is good. UN Peacekeepers were instrumental in Côte d’Ivoire’s transition from civil war to peace. Now, Côte d’Ivoire is paying it forward as an important new peacekeeping force for others.
In Sierra Leone, our peacekeepers helped secure peace after a civil war of unspeakable violence.
In the Congo, MONUSCO peacekeepers are enabling a response to the Ebola outbreak and standing ready to provide logistical support to elections in December.
And in South Sudan, thousands of civilians are alive today because of protection of civilian sites created and maintained by UN peacekeepers. UNMISS peacekeepers recently partnered with humanitarian organizations to relocate 3500 internally displaced people, mostly women and children, from a protection of civilians site in Juba to a site in the community where they could reunite with their families.
But these success stories are sadly overshadowed by other instances in which peacekeepers fail to live up to the ideals of their mission. In some cases, they are even destructive to our ideals.
In instances when even a minority of peacekeepers abuse and exploit the citizens they are supposed to protect, that harm can overshadow the good. We hear far too many stories of civilians who are vulnerable, who put their trust in peacekeepers, and our peacekeepers fail to protect them.
Just last week we were reminded of the horrific events at the Terrain Housing Compound in Juba in 2016. A South Sudanese court just convicted soldiers loyal to President Kiir who raped aid workers and killed a journalist. An American was among the women raped. The attack lasted for hours, and during that time the victims reportedly called UN peacekeepers stationed just a mile away. They begged for help. But no help came. These convictions are a measure of accountability for the men who committed these crimes – if not for the officers who led them. But what about the peacekeepers who failed to intervene? Where is the accountability for them?
Peacekeeping is based on trust between the protected and the protectors. The United Nations puts peacekeepers into this position of trust. We, the Security Council, give them this power. We are responsible for what they do with it – not just for the sake of the victims, but for the sake of the mission, the United Nations, and peacekeeping itself. Once that critical trust is gone, no matter how many resources a mission has, or how strong its leadership, the mission will fail.
Even worse than failures to protect are instances in which civilians have been attacked, abused, and exploited by the peacekeepers who are supposed to protect them. We’ve all heard the stories, some of which Sarah has just described in haunting detail.
You have just heard about the voices of young girls and boys grabbed off the streets. Young girls forced to have sex with soldiers for as little as an egg to eat. Sexual assaults so common that they’re not reported. Young girls and women left alone to care for their so-called “peacekeeping babies” after the rapists who fathered them leave the country.
A farmer and mother of seven in the Central African Republic said it better than I can when she told a reporter, “We were told that the peacekeepers came to protect us. Instead, we see that it is the peacekeepers who cause the rapes. It makes me sick.”
It’s been two years since the Security Council was briefed on horrific allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The Security Council recognized the need to take action in response to these violations and adopted Resolution 2272 – the first resolution to address the need to hold peacekeepers accountable for sexual exploitation and abuse.
But two years later, we’re still waiting for justice for the victims in Dekoa. We supported the Secretary-General in repatriating troops and police who display a pattern of abusive behavior. Some critical steps have been taken, and we applaud them. But we have an obligation to ensure that more is done.
The UN’s own public reporting shows that there are several peacekeeping units which have faced repeated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. But these same allegations have remained pending for years. The perpetrators have gone unpunished.
And, unbelievably, some accused troops remain in UN missions, able to continue the abuse and the power that they have – the power that we’ve given them. What message does that give to other peacekeepers?
The United States acknowledges and appreciates the steps the Secretary-General has taken to address this crisis. And Member States have responded to the Secretary-General’s leadership by supporting UN initiatives to prevent and report sexual exploitation and abuse.
The United States shares the Secretary-General’s commitment to peacekeeping performance across-the-board. The ongoing struggle to make progress against the problem has shown the need for clear, objective standards of performance and accountability. We need to create a culture of performance in UN peacekeeping.
The people like the mother of seven I quoted before deserve to know that when the blue helmets arrive, they are not a threat, but there to perform their duties towards peace and security.
The United States has introduced a new resolution to empower the UN Secretariat and accelerate progress on improving peacekeeping performance. Our resolution advances three simple but critical peacekeeper performance priorities.
First, it mandates a timely, transparent reporting process of performance failures to the Security Council and to concerned Member States. We can’t fix what we don’t know. Better information will help the Council, the Secretariat, troop- and police-contributing countries, and donors work together to recruit, field, and retain the most qualified and capable peacekeepers.
Second, we create accountability measures for failures of performance and concrete incentives for stronger performance. Accountability is not a dirty word. We must ensure that our peacekeepers are capable, professional, and willing to carry out the critical mandates with which they have been tasked.
At the same time, we need to do a better job of recognizing, rewarding, and replicating good performance. This resolution puts the force of the Security Council behind that too.
And third, our resolution recognizes the role of data in improving troop performance by matching the right troops and police with the right roles. Training and operational readiness should be our criteria for deploying troop and police units, not politics.
In the days ahead, I urge my colleagues to work with us on this resolution. Bring your best ideas of how we can incentivize better performance and hold all peacekeepers – particularly those in the positions of leadership – to the highest possible standards.
We owe this to the victims of abuse and neglect, of course. But we owe it to the peacekeepers themselves as well. Their safety and security is directly linked to their performance. The men and women we send into harm’s way need to know that they are always serving alongside other peacekeepers who can be counted on to do their duty and not abuse their power.
The people of the United States support the UN when it lives up to the ideals of its founding because we share those ideals. Please help us show that this support is not misplaced. Join us in the effort to ensure that the men and women who represent the United Nations to the world have training, professionalism, and character to match their high mission.
So many vulnerable people in the world are depending on us. They’re giving us their trust. We owe them our protection.