The United Nations’ primary weapon is credibility — global recognition that it stands for peace, humanitarianism and the protection of innocents. That is why the world body must take steps to ensure that its blue-helmeted peacekeepers, sent into trouble spots around the globe, have clean records. The U.S., a key financier of U.N. peacekeeping operations, should push for an improved recruitment process that weeds out the bad apples before they’re deployed and have the opportunity to make a country’s bad situation worse.
The U.N. has struggled to keep pace with the need for peacekeepers — about 100,000 from various nations are deployed in 16 hotspots — and its screening process has lagged, too. That sometimes has led to the deployment of thugs, including three men with checkered histories who were recruited from Burundi for service in the Central African Republic.
About 13,000 peacekeepers and other U.N. personnel have been authorized for work in the CAR, beset for years with internal strife, because of the world body’s concern about “extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence against women and children, rape” and other offenses in recent years. The last thing the CAR needed was more people predisposed to human-rights abuses, but the U.N. sent in the three Burundians, part of a contingent of several hundred peacekeepers from that country, which has drawn U.N. scrutiny for its own human-rights record.
According to The Washington Post, one operated a Burundian military jail accused of human-rights abuses, a second was tied to a crackdown on government critics and a third had publicly defended the army’s reputed abuses. When the U.N. learned about the trio’s backgrounds, it sent them home.
In recent years, the U.N. has faced a growing clamor over sexual abuse and other crimes perpetrated by its officers. A better screening process could identify not only those with bad records but also those with a potential for going astray.
The U.N. claims it lacks the resources to screen every prospective peacekeeper or even access each one’s records. But if it expects impoverished, war-torn countries such as the CAR to get its act together, the U.N. must be capable of improvement itself. Its credibility is on the line.