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Summit focuses on UN peacekeepers' sexual abuse in Africa

The United Nations' Atul Khare Source: AAP

The United Nations has acknowledged it cannot afford any more lapses as nations call for "zero tolerance" against sexual abuse at the hands of UN peacekeepers.Omar Dabbagh has the story.

Diplomats and defence ministers from 80 countries have met for a UN peacekeeping summit in London.

It comes as widespread alleged misconduct by hundreds of UN troops has sparked global outrage.

The future and validity of United Nations peacekeeping operations has been under heavy scrutiny in recent years, due in part to their tarnished reputation.

That reputation stems from hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by UN troops in nearly 70 countries.

The complaints have largely arisen in vulnerable African countries such as the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Aid agencies claim vulnerable women and girls are being assaulted, often as they search for water.

World leaders believe it has undermined the work of the United Nations and have now met to try to help improve operations at a summit in London.

During the opening session, British defence secretary Michael Fallon told his counterparts the abuse must be quickly stamped out.

"Because poor performance, the absence of leadership, the absence of moral courage will not only demoralise our people, but it will lose the hearts and minds of the people that we send them to protect. And we have to be honest about this. There have been some shocking examples of poor performance that we would all deplore. I hope we can agree today that there must be a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse."

The United Nations does not have its own army and relies on member states to provide soldiers and police during operations.

As a result, contributing countries are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged perpetrators within their contingents.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, says the United Nations is working on more effective measures for counteracting that situation.

"The great work, the ultimate sacrifices of our colleagues, are lost in one day by the misconduct of one. Since January 2015, about 450 troops and police personnel from 68 countries have allegedly engaged in misconduct. Based on known allegations, another 150 uniformed personnel may have sexually exploited or abused, though they were tasked to protect. We are strengthening our investments in misconduct prevention and enforcement and remediation, and we ask for more support from you, on a bilateral basis, with each and every troop and police contributor. We simply cannot afford any lapses."

The outgoing UN Police Commissioner for the Mission in the Central African Republic says a zero-tolerance policy has already been instituted.

But Luis Carrilho has told UN Radio further policing of the matter is required to bolster the traditional peacekeeper role.

"The role, or the expectations of the population, is for us, in terms of the wide problem of sexual gender-based violence, to protect the population. I would advocate, in terms of police reform, or within the framework of peacekeeping, I would advocate for 'police-keeping.' Police are the most visible face of the state. The role of the police is key, and the United Nations police need, of course, to have the resources to provide that type of support."

South Sudan, which currently has 12,000 UN troops on the ground, is set to receive a further 4,000 due to another escalation of violence.

Britain says it will be sending 400 peacekeepers to help protect the region and build a hospital unit.

But Michael Fallon has acknowledged there was a selfish component to Britain's motivation.

"And let's be clear why we are doing this. If you don't help keep these fragile states together, you end up with instability, with violence, with terrorism, and then you end up with mass migration. And you get people on the move, and they go on the move to Europe and set off on that very dangerous journey to Europe. So you need to deal with these issues further bac*Y

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