What Exactly Do UN Peacekeepers Do?

Since 1948, UN peacekeepers have been sent to war-torn regions as a neutral force. So what are peacekeepers and what are their duties?

New allegations of sexual assault committed by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic came to light last month. The reported incidents come on top of some 22 other cases of sexual exploitation by the hands of the UN forces. Although UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has come out strong against such allegations, saying there should be a strict zero-tolerance policy for such behavior. Still, it appears to be a major problem with the organization, with the Washington Post reporting similar allegations in South Sudan, Mali, Liberia, and Congo in recent years. The UN recently published findings conducted by an independent investigation, citing poor enforcement of existing policies and weak processes for people to report sexual assault.

The allegations have put these peacekeepers back in the spotlight, potentially diminishing the legitimacy of the UN. In Africa alone, there are over 100,000 peacekeepers. As discussed in this episode of TestTube News, many are drawn to apply to the peacekeeping forces for its relatively high salary. The force is comprised of troops from UN member states, with Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and India sending the highest number of troops. This arm of the UN has been around since 1948 and began as an impartial presence that could mitigate and prevent conflicts around the world. As proved by these allegations, though, there's a great deal of oversight that needs to be in place.

Learn More:
Ban Ki-moon says sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping is 'a cancer in our system' (theguardian.com)
"Taking aim at "a cancer in our system," the UN secretary general has announced he intends to start naming and shaming countries whose troops and police serving in UN peacekeeping missions face credible accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation."

United Nations Peacekeeping, We are a Global Partnership (un.org)
"Countries contributing to peacekeeping"

Sex charges haunt UN forces (csmonitor.com)
"It's nighttime in this trendy neighborhood, and the three-story villa sits serenely behind an iron gate and tall bushes."

Troop and police contributors (un.org)
"Our military and police personnel are first and foremost members of their own national services and are then seconded to work with the UN."