PROTECTION OF civilians is now at the centre of the United Nations' peace and security agenda. The 18 peacekeeping missions around the world, in which almost 90,000 soldiers, military observers, civilian police, and international civilian staff serve, form its most visible global footprint. The number of missions and the rising demand for U.N. peacekeepers is proof positive that their accomplishments are genuine and substantial. They do a lot of good, often under very challenging conditions.

Even so, the real U.N. scandal over the last decade was not the oil-for-food programme in Iraq but the continuing abuse of civilians by U.N. peacekeepers. Preying on the people peacekeepers are meant to protect violates the core integrity of the missions and the U.N. From January 1, 2004, to November 21, 2006, the U.N. investigated 319 personnel alleged to have committed abuses across all missions from East Timor to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Two-thirds of the allegations involved sexual exploitation and abuse. Following the investigations, 18 civilian personnel were summarily dismissed and 17 police and 144 military personnel were repatriated.

With the typical tour of peacekeeping duty being six months, almost 200,000 personnel from more than 100 countries are rotated through the U.N. operations every year. One-third of civilians are new to the missions at any given time. In such an environment, there is a constant need for vigilance and training on standards of conduct. After the damaging allegations of U.N. peacekeepers having turned from protectors into predators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, usually in exchange for food or change money, Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid Hussein wrote a damning report that led to a new and stringent code of conduct. The problem is yet to fade.

Charges of sexual exploitation and abuse have been among the most publicised misdeeds by U.N. peacekeepers. But by no means are they the only side effect of the large number of missions and very large number of personnel living and working in isolation, far away from home, in conditions of loneliness, and without the discipline of the behaviour regulating norms and codes of conduct of their home countries.

U.N. peace operations are designed to achieve a myriad of goals. They seek to advance the international interest: promotion of peace, stability, democracy, markets, civil society, and good governance in countries in conflict. Countries contributing personnel to the missions may also have additional motives more closely tied to their national interests, like helping to stabilise an ally or prevent terrorists groups from exploiting the chaos and fragility of failed states like Al-Qaeda did in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or establishing order so as to stem the flow of refugees as in the Balkans in the 1990s.

The achievement of intended goals constitutes success for the operations. Non-achievement of the goals represents mission failures but does not constitute unintended consequences. Conversely, not all unintended consequences are bad; some can be pleasantly positive in their net outcome. A major unintended consequence of the Indian Ocean tsunami was peace in Aceh. Soldiers from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan working together in U.N. missions around the world is another unintended but positive side effect. Soldiers from some South American countries with a history of military rule are socialised into the precept and practice of civilian supremacy.

Or consider another pioneering development. In Liberia, earlier this year the U.N. deployed its first-ever all-woman peacekeeping unit — a contingent of 103 Indian police officers. They perform guard duty, street patrols, crowd control, and respond to calls for armed back-up from the national police who, unlike the Indian unit, do not carry arms. Commander Seema Dhundia hopes that the very visible presence of her officers will help to raise awareness of and respect for women in Liberia and in peacekeeping, and citizens will respond positively to role models of women in strong positions.

Most studies of peace operations have focussed on the stated mandates and implicit goals of the U.N. and the troop-contributing countries, and the success or failure in implementing the mandates with skill and efficiency. This probably reflects the liberal bias informing the missions, that they are good-intentioned on the part of the U.N. and those contributing the personnel.

Yet peace operations can and do produce negative consequences that were never intended, such as an increase in corruption and inflation, an explosion of sex trafficking, and an upsurge in underworld criminal activity, caused by the flood of international money. In East Timor, for example, given the size of the fledgling nation's economy, the presence of a sizable number of international personnel seriously distorted the economy, including the housing and hotel rental market. Often the presence of large numbers of people on international salaries creates a shadow economy that drains skills, experience, and talent away from the national bureaucracy.

A significant unintended consequence of the Indochina peacekeeping missions after the 1954 Geneva Agreements was damage to the bilateral relations between Canada and India owing to a failure to grasp each other's foreign policy imperatives.

Another unintended consequence of peace operations has been the spread of HIV/AIDS. This is due to factors both in countries contributing troops and host nations. It is a lethal mix with no easy solution. In some of the war-affected countries of deployment in sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV prevalence rate is as high as 40-60 per cent.

Soldiers tend to be mainly men of a sexually active age, with money in their pockets well in excess of prevailing per capita income levels, deployed away from home for months at a time, and, by temperament and training, prone to risk-taking behaviour. Often they come into contact with young boys and girls who are poor, unemployed, and with a higher than normal rate of having been sexually exploited as casualties of armed conflict. The Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS referred to a study that showed some 45 per cent of Dutch military personnel serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cambodia in the early 1990s had had sexual contact with prostitutes or other local women during a five-month tour of duty.

According to an International Crisis Group study, troops from countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates account for one-third of U.N. peacekeepers. Some African military forces have infection rates as much as five times that of the civilian population. Some countries, for example Ghana, conduct compulsory testing before selecting soldiers for mission deployment. Others resist for reasons of social and cultural sensitivity; some simply lack testing facilities.

The number and seriousness of side effects of U.N. missions increased along with the growing numbers and complexity of the peace operations after the Cold War. Some, for example children being raped by soldiers, cause serious harm to individuals and communities that the peacekeepers are meant to protect, weaken the ability of the mission to fulfil its mandate, erode the U.N.'s legitimacy as the organisation deploying and managing the peace operations, and soften support for it in host and troop-contributing countries.

To improve the effectiveness and enhance the legitimacy of peace operations, we must understand how unintended consequences are generated and how they can be anticipated and mitigated.

It is not always easy to identify proper legal remedies. Many of the allegations are difficult to prove in a court of law. Worse, the U.N. has no power to try the offending soldiers, who are subject to the disciplinary authority of their own military. Usually, the alleged perpetrator has returned home while the victims and witnesses are from countries hosting the peace mission, often with weak criminal justice systems.

Yet somehow peacekeepers must be held internationally accountable for criminal acts. In addition to training in human rights standards and international humanitarian law, they must be brought within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and be made subject to prosecution. Prince Zeid also recommended that the salaries of the guilty personnel should be withheld and the countries from whence they came should prosecute them in appropriate forums. Model actors are better than model codes; both require partnership and cooperation between the U.N. Security Council, Secretariat, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the ICC prosecutor. Countries that demur on more stringent standards, codes of conduct, and international investigations and prosecution should be excused from contributing personnel to U.N. operations.

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