Systematic patterns of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) have emerged around UN
peacekeeping missions over the course of many years.
Reports of abuse by peacekeepers in Cambodia and the Balkans in the 1990s were followed by news of
similar problems in West African missions in 2001 and 2002. The Secretary General
subsequently issued a 2003 Bulletin outlining a zero-tolerance policy, but the abuse
continued. In 2004, peacekeeper misconduct became widely known through mainstream
media reports that UN personnel in MONUC, the UN Mission in the Democratic
Republic of Congo, had been engaging in sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of local
women and children. The SEA included, most egregiously, peacekeepers’ exchange of
UN food supplies or money for sex with young girls and sometimes boys. SEA has been
a particular problem in mission areas where extreme poverty and conflict or post-conflict
trauma and social dislocation drive local people to sell their bodies, but it has occurred in
more developed contexts as well, such as Cyprus and Kosovo. The UN response to these
problems has been to establish, in 2005, a Conduct and Discipline Unit with offices in
New York and mission areas, charged with addressing the problem in a variety of ways.
SEA continues to occur since then, with serious incidents revealed in Sudan, Liberia,
Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, and again in the Congo.
With the cooperation of the Conduct and Discipline Units in New York and in the three
mission areas, a team of anthropologists conducted the research reported on here. The
team examined the cultural and political economic roots of the problem, focusing on the
relationship between ideas and attitudes about culture, gender, sexuality, and
peacekeeping as those influence the nature and extent of SEA. This research included
fieldwork at a global gathering of CDU mission operatives in Brindisi, Italy, as well as at
UN missions in Haiti, Lebanon, and Kosovo. The mission sites were chosen in order to
compare missions with a history of conduct problems and missions without, and to
compare settings where severe economic dislocation provides a context for the mission
and potential for SEA and where it does not. This report presents the findings of that
research. It offers a framework for understanding the problem, which is proposed to
replace frameworks currently in broad if often tacit use in the UN, and presents a set of
recommendations for the Conduct and Discipline Unit.