Accountability of the UN and Peacekeepers: A Focus Study on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Author:Hanna Gunnarsson
Accountability of the UN and Peacekeepers: A Focus Study
on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
Hanna Gunnarsson*
By the time I had reached the end of this eye-openi ng collection of smart
articles, I had concluded that it requires a truly exceptional combination
of skills and attributes to hold all the actors in peacekeeping operations
accountable for implementing all parts of resolution 1325 that is, in
order to hold these officials accountable for turning a deaf ear to the
voices of girls and women and for their accompanying refusal to
challenge (others’ and their own) masculinized cultures and practices.1
The purpose of peacekeepers in post-conflict societies is not solely for the
carrying out of combatant disarmament, but also ‘… the rebuilding of
communities and longer-term conflict prevention’2 for a more sustainable
peace. The sexual exploitation and abuse (hereafter SEA) by peacekeepers
represent the failures in protecting the very people that the UN, NGOs and
international organisations are meant to protect. Whilst the international
community has attempted to impose strategies, which address this catastrophe,
the purpose of this Article is to find ways to improve the accountability of
peacekeepers who commit such crimes. This will be done by analysing the
feasibility of different approaches, such as incorporating women's experiences
of war in existing strategies or even developing new strategies that specifically
target accountability. The aim and desired outcome of these strategies are to
significantly reduce, and in the long-term eliminate, peacekeepers’ perpetration
of these serious crimes in the mission’s host and neighbouring countries.
* Hanna Gunnarsson undertook the LLM Human Rights, Conflict and Justice course at SOAS
2013-2014. She has just finished her internship at Womankind Worldwide and about to embark
on new j ob oppo rtun ities. She ded icate s this p ublication to everyo ne who helped in the proces s
of writ ing, with a speci al thank you to Gaiwin, Aman da, Mia, Ben and her fam ily.
1 Cynthia Enloe, ‘Afterword’ (2010) 17(2) International Peacekeeping 307 (emphasis added).
2 Ruth Jacobson, ‘Women “After Wars’ in Carol Cohn (ed), Women and Wars: Contested H istories,
Uncertain Futures (Polit y Press 2013) 220.
208 Accountability of the UN and Peacekeepers: A Focus Study
on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
This analysis will be based on the idea that women's experiences of war exist in
a continuum.3 Since ‘war is seen as a creation and creator of the social realit y in
which it thrives …’,4 the violence brought by war becomes part of this
continuum of violence that women are subjected to. Thus, war in that
perspective does not start by the first bullet and end by the last. In that regard,
the pre-existing intersectional factors affecting structures of power before war
need to be altered in order for the power imbalances during- and post-war to
do so as well. This is fundamental when thinking about what constitutes or
should constitute a serious crime, and what strategies are most effective in
combating SEA in post-conflict societies to enable a long-lasting, all-
encompassing and sustainable approach.
To address the ways in which accountability can be improved and imposed on
peacekeepers when involved in acts of SEA, this Article will firstly identify
what these serio us crimes act ually are. This will be followed by an in-depth
analysis on the fundamental issues regarding the construction of the UN. The
predominantly patriarchal, heteronormative and racially hierarchical structure
can be reasoned to ultimately have an impact on the actions of peacekeepers
and their attitude through the focus on gender analysis. To end with, this
Article will seek to identify the existing strategies, and assess their effectiveness,
or lack thereof, in achieving accountability.
For the purpose of this Article, ‘serious crimes’ which are perpetrated by
peacekeepers will be limited to SEA. There will also be a brief discussion on
‘sexual violence’ to illustrate how these crimes affect the justification for
peacekeeping missions. As an initial step towards fully understanding what
needs to be done in order to increase accountability and reduce the perpetration
of the aforementioned crimes, it is essential to provide some background
information on what constitutes these crimes.
2.1 Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (‘SEA’)
According to the UN definition, sexual exploitation is defined as:
[A]ny actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability,
differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not
3 For the purpose of this Article, the term ‘continuum’ will specifically allude to the continuous
sequence of sexual and gender based violence women endure pre-, during- and post-conflict.
4 Carol Cohn, ‘Women and Wars: Toward a Conceptu al Framework’ in Carol Cohn (ed ) (n 2).

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