UNITED NATIONS — Taking aim at "a cancer in our system," the U.N. secretary-general on Thursday announced that he intends to start naming and shaming countries whose troops and police serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions face credible accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation.
It was one of several measures Ban Ki-moon announced in a special U.N. Security Council meeting, a day after he took the unprecedented move of firing the head of the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic over the handling of dozens of misconduct allegations. The latest, brought Tuesday by Amnesty International against the mission's police officers, included the indiscriminate killing of a teen and his father and the rape of a 12-year-old girl.
Ban said the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers is not limited to one mission. He also met Thursday with the heads of all 16 peacekeeping missions, which have well over 100,000 troops, police and others in countries from Haiti to Congo, a record number.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, whose country pays a quarter of the U.N. peacekeeping budget, told reporters that the council meeting expressed a "great deal of horror, outrage and a sense of collective failure."
Considering the gaps in the system for reporting, investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse allegations, Power said, the number of actual allegations against peacekeepers "could be far worse."
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, whose country is the top U.N. troop contributor of the five permanent council members, told reporters that council members want "specific and forceful measures on the ground."
U.N. peacekeeping has faced a number of sexual abuse scandals over the years. The latest comes a month before President Barack Obama hosts a special meeting during the annual U.N. General Assembly of world leaders aimed at urging more countries, especially developed ones, to contribute more troops, money and skills. At present, the top troop contributors to U.N. peacekeeping are largely developing countries, led by Bangladesh.
The U.N. lacks the power for criminal investigation and prosecution, which lets member states take whatever punitive action they choose against the troops they contribute. "In the most frustrating cases," nothing is done at all, Ban told the council.
"A failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity," he said, saying countries must quickly investigate and hold its troops accountable.
Ban also announced several U.N. measures now being implemented. They include strict timelines for completing investigations, setting up immediate response teams inside peacekeeping missions to handle allegations, and suspending payments to countries whose troops face credible allegations of misconduct.
And he wants his next annual report to the General Assembly on sexual misconduct to include 'country-specific information" on credible allegations.
Until now, it has been impossible for the public to know which countries' troops have faced the highest number of misconduct allegations, sexual or otherwise.
Ban also wants the issue of sexual abuse to be placed on the agenda whenever the Security Council meets with troop-contributing countries, and he wants the council to review how countries have followed up on all reported cases.
Power called the idea of publicly naming countries "extremely important," and she said the United States is looking at how to use its own leverage, including financial, to help pressure other member states to cooperate.
Since its creation in April 2014, the peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic says it has received 57 cases of misconduct, including 11 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. The U.N.'s internal investigation unit is sending several people to the country in the coming days, secretary-general spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday.
The mission is also being investigated over how it handled several child sexual abuse allegations against French troops last year.