May 13, 2015 / 5:04 PM / 2 years ago

Experts demand end to immunity for UN peacekeepers over sex abuse

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sex abuse by U.N. peacekeeping personnel has been a problem for decades, and it is still happening despite the world body's official policy of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation, a group of former diplomats and U.N. officials said.

The group, including Graça Machel, author of the landmark study "The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children", is joining with AIDS-Free World in a campaign called Code Blue to demand that the United Nations remove the immunity that protects sexual abusers within peacekeeping missions.

U.N. immunity from legal process is at the core of the ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children in conflict zones around the world by peacekeepers who are identified by the blue berets they wear.

Over the past 20 years, a succession of media accounts and U.N. reports have exposed the sexual exploitation and abuse by both civilian and military U.N. peacekeepers in places from Bosnia to West Africa, Haiti to Democratic Republic of Congo.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported 79 recorded allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in 2014.

The Code Blue group argues that the problem of abuse by peacekeepers cannot be solved until a long overdue first step is taken: U.N. immunity can no longer apply to those accused of sexual offenses. 

"It’s a perverse irony that the U.N. should be the only place on earth where even the most depraved and violent sex offenders can expect immunity from legal processes,” said Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World.

"It’s time to call ‘Code Blue’: no more immunity, ever, for people working under the U.N. banner who are accused of sexual exploitation or abuse,” she said.

Reporting By Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Tim Pearce

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