Thursday, 19 May 2016
Opinion: War, rape and racism on social media By Kelly-Jo Bluen
International headlines have sporadically been punctuated by discussion of peacekeeper sexual violence. Code Blue, a campaign focusing on peacekeeper sexual violence, in March released horrifying details of sexual violence committed by French and UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
In one province, 98 women and girls, some as young as seven or eight, reported sexual violence or rape by international peacekeepers.
Peacekeeper sexual violence is not a new phenomenon. Since the 1990s, there have been allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment in nearly all the conflicts in which peacekeepers have been stationed.
An independent review released at the end of last year on peacekeepers and sexual violence found there were serious accountability gaps and little concern for the welfare of survivors.
"Overall, the response by the UN was fragmented and bureaucratic."
While there have been some important efforts at institutional and policy levels including a recent UN Security Council resolution on the issue and the trial of peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, very little has been done to promote accountability for these violations, to provide recourse to justice for the victims and survivors, and, critically, to rethink the ideas and structures that permit such horrifying violations to proliferate.
Peacekeeping exists as a militarised function within global patriarchy. Militarism is a fundamentally patriarchal endeavour. Madeline Morris argues that socialisation into combat units increases the propensity for soldiers to rape.
In a peacekeeping context, there is the added dimension of both the erasure of consequence as peacekeepers parachute in and out of conflict, as well as a problematic and widespread narrative that erodes accountability for some on the basis of a purported greater cause. It is unsurprising that this proliferates when one examines the accountability mechanisms in place to deal with peacekeeper sexual violence.
The aforementioned independent report notes that, instead of being treated as a human rights violation, peacekeeper sexual violence is predominantly treated as a disciplinary issue.
This critique is important. In treating perpetrators as "bad apples", little is being done to attend to the structural features that enable such abuses, nor to provide sufficient recourse to justice for those who experience sexual abuse.
Additionally, in viewing peacekeeper sexual violence as separate from a broader conversation of sexual violence in war, the framing feeds into racist narratives that draw racist distinctions between "barbaric black" combatants and noble peacekeepers. When rape in war is discussed in the context of African conflicts, it is often framed in colonial language as a function of racist ideas about black men. When peacekeeper sexual violence is discussed, it is often framed as either a consequence of the troop-contributing nation’s culture, or as a rupture from the norm.
In discussing Mabel Jansen’s racist remarks about black men and rape, Sisonke Msimang notes that Jansen’s "views remind us that we live in a punitive culture in which black male misconduct is dramatised and sexualised by the very institutions that are supposed to mete out justice, just as black female victimhood is exaggerated and instrumentalised by people who don’t care about black people’s lives. Her views remind us that the Black Peril has not disappeared".
It is indeed a similar narrative conveyed globally that contributes to the lack of accountability. And its proliferation does nothing to dealt with the scourge, nor to hold accountable those entrusted with positions of power and duties of care for abusing the very people they were entrusted to protect.
Bluen is the project leader for international justice at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. She writes in her personal capacity