Zero Tolerance: Joint U.S.-UN Training Effort to Uphold Accountability for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Peacekeeping Missions

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Participants at the NIO Course work in groups to practice investigative planning (Photo courtesy of Mr. Barry Harrison, Defense Institute of International Legal Studies)
Participants at the NIO Course work in groups to practice investigative planning (Photo courtesy of Mr. Barry Harrison, Defense Institute of International Legal Studies)

Zero Tolerance: Joint U.S.-UN Training Effort to Uphold Accountability for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Peacekeeping Missions

Around the world, the United Nations deploys nearly 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers to help stabilize conflict-affected countries, maintain peace and security, and protect civilians. UN policies require all personnel, including peacekeepers, to uphold the highest standards of conduct, professionalism, and accountability. While the vast majority of men and women serving as peacekeepers do so with honor and integrity, acts of misconduct still occur, including incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse against the very people peacekeepers are deployed to protect.

The United States is committed to supporting the UN’s zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse. Recently, the United States and the UN jointly conducted the first-ever training course for National Investigation Officers (NIOs) at the UN Training of Trainers Center in Entebbe, Uganda. This interactive course, sponsored through the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), an effort managed by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, provided training for 26 officers from 11 African partner countries. With an emphasis on accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, the training familiarized participants with processes, procedures, and techniques to improve the effectiveness of conduct and discipline investigations in UN peacekeeping. In an effort to combat prohibited behavior and improve accountability, the UN requires troop contributing countries to assign National Investigation Officers to each deployed unit of 150 or more personnel. 

The UN’s ability to hold individuals accountable for committing acts of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, is often limited to withholding pay and indefinite removal from missions. Countries that contribute military peacekeeping personnel have the authority to conduct their own investigations but often lack the ability to do so effectively. Allegations of misconduct require timely and complete investigations in order to gather the necessary evidence for host countries to determine whether misconduct has occurred and take appropriate disciplinary or criminal actions against perpetrators. Thus, deploying National Investigation Officers has the potential to create tangible, positive change in behavior during peacekeeping missions. Because they investigate allegations made against their own country’s deployed troops, National Investigation Officers are able to apply their respective national standards of evidence collection, preservation, and chain of custody, enabling troop contributing countries to better hold offenders accountable to their national laws. Host nation punitive measures could include anything from dismissal from duty to a lengthy jail sentence.

In addition to being the world’s leading financial supporter of UN peacekeeping, the United States is also the largest capacity builder of military and police contingents deploying to peacekeeping operations around the world. In support of the UN’s effort to strengthen accountability and prevent incidents of misconduct in the peacekeeping environment, a U.S. interagency team worked closely with the UN to create the National Investigation Officers course. The first iteration of this regional training course was held January 15-24, 2018. 

 What truly made this course a success was the extensive cooperation and planning between the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense, and the UN. Subject matter experts from the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) and the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) developed the curriculum and served as instructors. U.S. Africa Command coordinated the eight-day course and ensured the appropriate students attended – personnel who have been selected or are projected to deploy as National Investigation Officers on peacekeeping missions. The UN Training of Trainers Center hosted the event and supported administrative arrangements.

Participants included officers from 11 African GPOI partner countries: Benin, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. The primary goal was to ensure trainees left with the ability to effectively and efficiently investigate sexual exploitation and abuse. The participants gained a better understanding of the UN’s standards of conduct and discipline, its structure and resources, as well as a basic overview of investigative skills and techniques. The course also reviewed the relationship between UN standards, national law, and legal norms. The training emphasized the responsibilities of National Investigation Officers and how they are an integral part of broader peacekeeping mission effectiveness. Multiple hands-on exercises allowed participants to practice evidence collection, preservation, and chain-of-custody procedures. Students also practiced witness interview techniques on camera, reviewing together to critique and improve this skill that is critical to successful investigations.

Officers practice crime scene evidence gathering techniques (Photo courtesy of Mr. Barry Harrison, Defense Institute of International Legal Studies)

GPOI is managed by the Department of State, in close partnership with the Department of Defense, and works with 53 active partner countries around the world to build peacekeeping capacity. Support from GPOI ranges from equipment and facilities to training opportunities like this new National Investigation Officer course. The United States and the UN are planning three additional iterations of the course this year: one in Latin America, one in the Asia Pacific region, and a second course in Africa. In doing so, GPOI is helping build a base of personnel who can serve effectively as National Investigations Officers to help uphold the UN’s standards of conduct and improve accountability.

About the Author: Ginae Lee, a student at the University of Oklahoma, is currently serving as an intern with the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) team in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on