UN Peacekeeping Missions and Trafficking in Women
last updated September 1, 2005
As covered in the Explore the Issue section of this website, military and post-combat operations in transitioning states can create ideal environments for trafficking to flourish, a phenomenon which has been documented through reports in numerous countries. In recent years, UN- and NATO-led international peacekeeping missions stationed in post-conflict zones have been targeted by the media and human rights watch groups for their failure to adequately confront the issue of trafficking in their assigned countries. The current criticisms leveled at UN peacekeeping operations are twofold. First, in response to evidence that individual peacekeepers have patronized establishments linked to trafficking networks, human rights groups have charged that UN peacekeepers do not face rigorous standards of legal accountability for their actions. Second, rights advocates argue that UN missions have not done enough to actively combat trafficking networks. Below is a summary of current UN standards of accountability and jurisdiction for peacekeeping missions, and accounts of the UN Missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
UN Mechanisms Addressing Peacekeeper Accountability
The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN (1946) grants immunity to Representatives of Member States, Officials, and Experts on Missions. Members of the International Police Task Force (some of whom were implicated in trafficking activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, per below) were accorded status as UN Experts on Missions.
In contrast, UN peacekeepers function under the exclusive criminal jurisdiction of their nation of origin. If the UN Board of Inquiry makes a charge of serious misconduct, the offending peacekeeper is repatriated for prosecution in his home country. In 1993, the UN General Assembly approved a Code of Conduct for all UN peacekeeping missions, which stipulates that peacekeepers “should not indulge in immoral acts of sexual, physical or psychological abuse or exploitation of the local population or United Nations Staff, especially women and children.” However, contests Madeleine Rees, the former top UN human rights official in Bosnia, there is no mechanism to call peacekeepers to account to this code. In an article on UN peacekeeper criminal conduct, she is quoted as criticizing that “without an enforceable code of conduct, immunity often means impunity.”
In addition to the General Assembly’s Code of Conduct, each UN mission sets specific terms for the conduct, privileges, immunities and jurisdictions of its military and civilian employees. Generally speaking, these terms are often known as Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA). For example, in Kosovo, UNMIK Regulation 2000/47 on the Status of KFOR and UNMIK Personnel establishes their immunity from local jurisdiction and the exclusive jurisdiction of their respective nations. In Bosnia, the Annex 1-A and Appendix B of the Dayton Agreement establishes the exclusive jurisdiction of peacekeeper’s nation of origin (in other words, only the United States has the right to prosecute members of the U.S. military stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina).
There has been increasing discussion in the UN Security Council to develop disciplinary procedures for troops and staff workers who violate the Code of Conduct after widely publicized cases of abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In June of 2005, the Security Council for the first time held its 5191st meeting to address instances of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers as they received a report from the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse as well as a report from the Special Committee on Peacekeeping. While recognizing that the conduct and discipline of troops was primarily the responsibility of troop-contributing countries, the Security Council stressed the shared responsibility of the Secretary-General and all Member States to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by all categories of peacekeeping personnel and to enforce U.N. standards of conduct in that regard. In her statement, the president of the Security Council, Ellen Margrethe Løj (Denmark) announced that “The Security Council condemns, in the strongest terms, all acts of sexual abuse and exploitation committed by UN peacekeeping personnel.” The two reports submitted contained recommendations that ranged from increasing the role of women in peacekeeping missions to creating uniform standards for all categories of peacekeeping personnel.
Additionally, a United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) policy paper of March 2004 entitled “Human Trafficking and United Nations Peacekeeping” established the goal to address human trafficking in relation to UN peacekeeping operations by establishing a system of monitoring and accountability as well as provide support - where mandated - to national anti-trafficking programs and campaigns. Then at the June NATO Summit in Istanbul, NATO Heads of State and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership council endorsed the NATO Policy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings which sets forth a zero-tolerance policy regarding trafficking in human beings by NATO forces and staff and mandates educational and training programs to combat and prevent such activities.
UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina faced intense media scrutiny in 2000 when an International Police Task Force (IPTF) human rights gender officer reported that IPTF officers and SFOR peacekeepers had patronized nightclubs known to hold trafficked and/or underage women, and in some cases had even purchased women from their traffickers in order to “release” them. An article appearing in the Washington Post in December 2001 supported the gender officer’s claims and cited a recent allegation that “some members of the IPTF directly participated in trafficking in women for forced prostitution.” The most serious charge concerned two Romanian policemen who allegedly “recruited Romanian women, purchased false documents for them and then sold the women to Bosnian brothel owners.” While there were some preliminary investigations into the behavior of the officers in question, the UN ultimately decided to take no further action or investigation of the charges.
A 2002 Human Rights Watch reported, entitled Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution, addressed the measures taken to punish peacekeeping officers implicated in trafficking activities. The report found that while SFOR and UNMIBH workers could be subject to prosecution by their home countries, they essentially received immunity: “Jurisdictional gaps, lack of political will, and indifference toward the crime of trafficking ensure that the small number of SFOR military contractors and IPTF monitors who participate in trafficking-related offenses do so with nearly complete impunity.” The report argued that “[t]he U.N. has failed to deal in a transparent fashion with allegations of involvement in trafficking-related activities by IPTF monitors and in some cases has failed to investigate those allegations thoroughly.”
In 2001, UNMIBH, with the help of local police, created STOP (Special Trafficking Operations Programme) in order to take a more active role in combating trafficking. STOP has coordinated raids and trained/restructured local police forces to better target trafficking rings.
UN Mission in Kosovo
On May 6, 2004, Amnesty International released the results of its research on trafficking in women and girls in Kosovo. “So does that mean I have rights?” Protecting the Human Rights of Women and Girls Trafficked for Forced Prostitution in Kosovo details the human rights abuses suffered by victims of trafficking in Kosovo. The report finds that the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the NATO-led international military force in Kosovo (KFOR), and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Kosovo (PISG) had not done enough to protect the human rights of women and girls trafficked to, from and within Kosovo. Amnesty International urged these authorities to create measures to halt trafficking operations, to implement adequate protection and reparations to victims, and to ensure that international military and civilian peacekeeping forces suspected of offenses linked to trafficking are brought to justice. Amnesty International estimated that members of the international community comprise 20% of the patronage of trafficked women and girls in Kosovo.
UNMIK quickly denied the allegations of Amnesty International’s report, finding it “highly unbalanced,” according to an official statement published May 7, 2004. The statement criticized the “many generalizations” of the AI report, noting that the report did not acknowledge the substantial actions taken by UNMIK and KFOR in the last 2 years, and instead focused heavily on conditions during the “incipient stage” of UNMIK from 1999 to 2001. In addition, it denied substantial misconduct of its peacekeepers, stating that “UNMIK is resolved to ensure that its staff abide by appropriate standards of conduct as outlined in the UN Charter. Disciplinary action against any UNMIK staff found in premises declared ‘off limits’ is strictly enforced irrespective of whether the concerned individual was actually indulging in sexual activities or not. As a result of these measures, during the 2,047 TPIU [Trafficking and Prostitution Investigation Unit] raids and bar checks in 2003, only one international police and 3 international civilian staff were found in ‘off limits’ establishments.”
UNMIK Regulation No. 2000/47 on the Status, Privileges and Immunities of KFOR and UNMIK and Their Personnel in Kosovo (18 August, 2000), which grants peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo immunity from local jurisdiction and exclusive jurisdiction by peacekeepers’ respective nations, has been criticized by the Ombudsperson Institution in Kosovo as being too lax. In the Ombudsperson’s Special Report No. 1, he found that “UNMIK Regulation 2000/47 is incompatible with recognized international standards with respect to the scope of the grant of immunity to KFOR and UNMIK in their institutional capacities. He also found that the Regulation is not 'in accordance with law' in the sense of the European Convention on Human Rights, in part due to its inaccessibility to the public, its unclear provisions and its failure to protect individuals in Kosovo against arbitrary conduct by KFOR or UNMIK or their respective personnel.” The Ombudsman recommended an amendment to limit the immunity of KFOR and UNMIK in their institutional capacity, but to date there has been no amendment issued.
Like UNMIBH, UNMIK has established anti-trafficking measures in recent years. The Trafficking and Prostitution Investigation Unit (TPIU) began operations in October 2000, functioning as a special unit of the UN Police Force in Kosovo. TPIU pledged to not treat trafficking victims as suspects, to prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law, and to arrest and prosecute customers who knowingly use prostitutes who are victims of trafficking.