UN peacekeeping missions have a history blemished by accusations of serious criminal offenses committed by UN peacekeepers. Claims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and the solicitation of prostitutes have tarnished the UN’s global reputation, and threaten the support of future UN involvement in many states. Numerous critics argue that there needs to be a set of guidelines in place to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions during UN operations.
One of the main impediments to criminal accountability is the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (‘The Convention’). The Convention grants UN officials and staff legal immunity when it comes to “words spoken or written and all acts performed by [UN officials] in their official capacity”, and functional immunity is granted to all members of UN peacekeeping operations, whether they are UN volunteers or staff recruited by local government. The purpose of this immunity is to prevent states from using specious prosecution of UN officials as a political tool.
The Secretary General has the power to waive immunity if he/she sees it as an impediment to justice. However, this power is seldom used if the UN is not confident that the host state can guarantee due process and a fair trial for alleged perpetrators. States that contribute nationals to peacekeeping missions are understandably reluctant to enter into any agreements that could relinquish jurisdiction of their nationals to host states.
How can the UN resolve the conflict between legal immunity and allegations of criminal activity? Who has jurisdiction over a state’s nationals who are participating in UN missions/operations? If immunity is revoked, how can the UN guarantee due process for its peacekeepers in unstable states? How might new regulations impact existing extradition treaties between states? How should the UN deal with actions that may be illegal in some countries but not others?