Child rape: U.N. pot calls the kettle black in Ivory Coast

Contingent of Nepalese Peacekeepers in Juba, South Africa. (Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy)

The headline from a new U.N. report says that the rate of rape remains high and that the perpetrators are eluding justice. Ironically, it is not about U.N. peacekeepers and foreign forces, but about the west African country Ivory Coast.

According to the United Nations Operation inCôte d’Ivoire report, in the five years since the country returned to peace, rape remains a prevalent problem, with children representing more than half of the 1,129 cases recorded between 2012 and 2015.

“Côte d’Ivoire in recent years has recorded significant progress in terms of human rights, but the persistence of rape and impunity towards their perpetrators remain of serious concern and requires urgent action,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. high commissioner for human rights in a media statement marking the report’s release.

The statement has a familiar ring to it. The U.N. made similar statements in March after yet another round of revelations that peacekeepers sexually abused the people they were meant to protect in the Central African Republic. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked to the core” by the news.

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“Our focus must be on the victims and their families. We are talking about women and young children who have been traumatized in the worst imaginable way,” said Ban in a statement at the time. “These crimes only fester in silence. That is why the United Nations is shining a spotlight on these despicable, depraved and deeply disturbing allegations. I will continue to be unrelenting in confronting this scourge and raising it proactively at every opportunity.”

The common thread is a lack of accountability. According to this new report, authorities investigated more than 90 percent of the cases, but the conviction rate was lower than 20 percent. Cases that did go to trial and yielded convictions were for lesser offenses, reportedly to speed up justice, “[minimizing]the gravity of rape.”

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The U.N. body said its prime concern is protecting children, and recommended taking “all necessary measures to bring to justice and punish all perpetrators of rape, particularly against children.”

The strongly worded statements to the Ivory Coast included advice the U.N. itself should heed. France announced Thursday that it would end its three-year military operations in the Central African Republic. Its controversial tenure was marked by accusations of rape and sexual abuse by French soldiers, who are unlikely to face criminal charges any time soon and might not be punished at all.

If soldiers from a country with strong judicial institutions are unlikely to be held accountable for their crimes, what chance is there that peacekeepers from developing countries will be brought to justice? The very same problems that influence impunity in the Ivory Coast are at play with peacekeepers.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.