FRONTLINE: UN Sex Abuse Scandal
Airs Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
—FRONTLINE Uncovers New Cases of Sex Abuse by United Nations Peacekeepers—
Over the past 15 years, the United Nations (UN) has recorded more than 1,700 allegations of sexual abuse by its peacekeepers in conflict zones around the world — from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Kosovo, and from East Timor to Haiti.
In “UN Sex Abuse Scandal,” FRONTLINE investigates how and why the problem of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers has persisted despite the UN’s efforts to stamp it out – and why the UN has a record of only 53 uniformed peacekeepers and one international civilian peacekeeper being sent to prison for sexual offenses.
“Though the UN’s new secretary general has vowed to make combatting sexual abuse and exploitation a top priority, we’ve found that not only is it still happening — but that many victims hadn’t been contacted by the UN, and that criminal accountability for the perpetrators remains elusive,” says correspondent Ramita Navai, an award-winning author and journalist whose most recent FRONTLINE documentary, "Iraq Uncovered," was honored with a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award earlier this year.
The film team tracks down survivors across the globe who were as young as 10 when they say they were raped or exploited by UN peacekeepers who were supposed to protect them.
“They grabbed me, took me inside the house. After they took me inside, they took my clothes off, threw me down, had sex with me, then took me outside and told me to go,” says Daniella, a young girl in the Central African Republic who was 10 when she says she was raped by peacekeepers sent by France under a UN security council mandate who had been deployed to help stop a potential genocide.
Her family says they sought medical help but didn’t know what more they could do. They didn’t report her rape so it went unrecorded by the UN — a story that is not unique, and suggests that numbers of those who allege abuse may be higher than imagined.
“The reality is, today, there is no guarantee of criminal accountability for someone who commits rape inside the UN peacekeeping mission, despite a lot of effort by a lot of people and a strong commitment by the top reaches of the UN,” says Tony Banbury, who resigned in 2016 after spending more than 20 years inside the UN overseeing relief and peacekeeping missions. “The systems in place now are full of holes.”
Directed by Sam Collyns, the film explores the failures and constraints of the UN — which has the authority to fire people, but not prosecute them — and the role of member states in dealing with the problem.
“The UN is not a sovereign body; the UN at the, at the most can dismiss someone from service, but could not conduct its own trials,” UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein tells FRONTLINE. “That is for the governments themselves to do. And if the member state does nothing or shields the individual, impunity exists.”
In response to horrific allegations surrounding the peacekeeping mission in the Congo in 2004 (“It was akin to a lifeguard jumping into a pool and instead of saving someone who was drowning to actually drown them, almost,” Hussein says), Hussein issued a comprehensive report recommending changes in how such cases are handled.
For military peacekeepers, he recommended holding local courts martial – making it easier to access witnesses and evidence. For civilian peacekeepers, he recommended an international agreement to ensure those accused of abuse would face criminal prosecution.
But as the film explores, there has been no widespread effort by UN member states to adopt the measures.
The film team also finds and interviews Didier Bourguet — the only civilian peacekeeper to have been jailed for sexual abuse while working abroad for the UN. He was jailed for two rapes — but he tells FRONTLINE on-camera that he had sex with 20 or 25 girls while in the Congo.
Despite the UN’s pledge back in 2005 to try to find Bourguet’s victims and make an effort to include them in a victim support program, FRONTLINE finds a woman who was abused by Bourguet as a girl, but wasn’t contacted by the UN until FRONTLINE brought her case to their attention.
“My heart is not content,” the woman, Valerie, tells FRONTLINE. “This person has ruined my life.”
In the meantime, the problem continues. In the first six months of 2018, the UN has so far recorded 32 new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.
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A Ronachan Films production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Channel 4 in associate with Arte. The producer and director is Sam Collyns. The correspondent is Ramita Navai. The senior producer is Dan Edge. The executive producer is Raney Aronson-Rath.