Un-Learning Patriachy: The Case of United Nations Peacekeeper Rape

By Published On: 13th November 2016

The scourge of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers raping innocent civilians, including girls and women, in the countries where they are supposed to “keep the peace” is one of the most egregious violations one can imagine. A protective force that is sent to serve as guardians then turning around and violating the most vulnerable members of society is a betrayal of all of the principles of the UN. UN peacekeepers are international civil servants with a mandate to uphold the human rights principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Consequently, this phenomenon is an anathema and a paradox to the whole notion of peacekeeping, and in direct contravention of the principles that animate the Charter of the United Nations.

The newly appointed UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese politician, pledged to place the issue of ‘human dignity’ at the centre of this term. UN staff who have acted as whistleblower’s and exposed the crimes of, for example, French peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR), have been targeted and marginalised, rather than being commended for their truth-telling.

Given the incidence of gender-based violence perpetrated by UN peacekeepers, it is evident that certain attitudes persist and embedded in the mindset of these supposedly international civil servants. It is a scourge that needs to be addressed urgently. While it is true that the UN peacekeepers are drawn from human societies around the world, this is not an excuse for them to accept the noble calling as peacekeepers only to turn around and unleash untold suffering and brutality upon the communities that they are sworn to act as guardians.

It is evident that confronting the phenomenon of UN peacekeeping rape head-on is an urgent matter, which has been swept under the carpet by the organisation for the last decade.

It is vital to also begin designing and implementing interventions to determine the pathways to redress for victims and the accountability of the perpetrators for their crimes. Given the fact that UN peacekeepers are international civil servants and part of an extra-territorial force, which means their crimes are of a transnational nature. Consequently, perpetrators from within the UN can be referred to international criminal tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as to national jurisdictions that have domesticated the provisions of international crimes articulated in the Rome Statute.

However, there is a deeper problem. The fact that the UN peacekeeping rape phenomenon has been happening for the last ten years, reveals an organisation that is in deep denial about how patriarchy and paternalistic behavior persists within its internal system. In order to confront the scourge of these attitudes, it is necessary to interrogate how strategies and methodologies for ‘un-learning’ patriarchy can be deployed in peacekeeping contexts.

The principles of ‘un-learning’ should include an acknowledgement of the equality of all humans; the importance of self-sovereignty; self-responsibility; ownership; mutuality; reciprocity; cooperation and boundaries.

The un-Learning process should proceed on the basis of: i) an acknowledgement of the violations committed by the perpetrator; ii) an acceptance of the harm done by the perpetrator; iii) a disruption of the thinking, within the mind of the perpetrator, that led to these violations; iv) a re-orientation of the mindset and attitude; v) a re-structuring of the consciousness of the perpetrator; vi) the daily affirmation of this new way of thinking as a process; vii) the  promotion of these new attitudes to other; viii) the active promotion of societal advocacy within the wider community in order to become an agent of change.

The un-learning process is based on self-work and it cannot be delegated to anyone else. It is a process that needs to become mainstreamed in the pre-mission training programmes of UN peacekeepers. The un-learning patriarchy approach further needs reinforcement through in-mission training and also post-mission re-integration into society.

The former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in his final speech pronounced that he was proud to call himself a feminist. The new UNSG Guterres will have to demonstrate whether he too, is proud to call himself a feminist, or whether he is in fact a man’s man who will sweep the UN’s wrong doings under the proverbial carpet, and continue to watch the patriarchal and paternalistic attitudes destroy the system. Failure for Guterres to address this issue, means that peacekeeping rape will remain a metaphor for how the wider UN system has failed humanity by failing to protect the most vulnerable people in conflict zones.


Tim Murithi, is Head of the Justice and Reconciliation in Africa Programme at IJR

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