- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - A high-level panel urged a major overhaul of U.N. peacekeeping operations Tuesday that would make political solutions the paramount goal, speed up deployment of peacekeepers, and require the naming and shaming of countries whose troops commit acts of sexual abuse.

The panel delivered its report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon amid a growing controversy over allegations of child sexual abuse by French soldiers in Central African Republic. Confidential documents show the U.N.’s top human rights officials did not follow up for more than six months after their staff discovered the alleged exploitation.

While the panel made recommendations on issues ranging from the use of force by peacekeepers to funding operations and restructuring the U.N. Secretariat, the spotlight at a news conference launching their report was on its proposals to address sexual exploitation and abuse.

The panel’s chairman Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and East Timor’s former president, called the news of sexual misconduct “the saddest for the U.N.,” saying it “undermines the most important power the U.N. possesses - its unquestionable integrity.”

“It will take firm leadership and enormous effort to overcome this dark chapter,” he said.

For U.N. peacekeepers who can only face justice in their home countries, the panel stressed that “immunity must not mean impunity.”

It supported Ban’s recommendations for a six-month deadline for investigations of alleged sexual abuse by troops, and recommended that countries be required to disclose disciplinary action taken against soldiers, as well as any government failures to report.

The panel also called for the secretary-general’s reports to identify the home countries of peacekeepers committing sexual abuse, not just the number of cases. And it said countries listed in the annual U.N. report for using or sexually abusing children in conflict should be barred from contributing troops to U.N. missions.

In contrast to U.N. peacekeepers, civilians in U.N. missions facing credible allegations of sexual abuse don’t have immunity, and Ramos-Horta said their missions must immediately cooperate with the host country in an investigation.

“This is what has to be very clear: you commit a barbarity, you have no protection whatsoever,” he said. “You are subject to the laws of the country where you are operating. You cannot hide under the United Nations roof.”

Ramos-Horta said the panel also proposed that the 193 U.N. member states support and fund a program to assist victims of sexual exploitation, and any children born to them.

In other key recommendations, the 16-member panel appointed by the secretary-general urged “extreme caution” in requesting a U.N. peacekeeping mission to undertake offensive operations. It also said the U.N. should not engage in military counter-terrorism operations which are beyond its capabilities.

To reinforce the importance of political settlements to conflicts, the panel called for much greater cooperation between the U.N. peacekeeping and political departments and the appointment of a new deputy secretary-general responsible for peace and security. It called for a greater focus on conflict prevention.

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