Austria’ peacekeepers knowingly allowed Syrian police to enter a deadly trap in the Golan Heights in 2012. Austrian media was told by an ex-peacekeeper that troops in general had orders to not interfere.
Rich countries have largely chosen not to send their soldiers to the missions; instead, they fund operations and set their mandates. Filling the gap are soldiers from poor countries, largely in Asia and Africa. Their diplomats fume privately that their soldiers are treated like cannon fodder. Donor countries fume privately that the peacekeepers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to: save lives.
Protecting civilians is an especially sensitive issue. The report covering 2010-2013 incidents found that peacekeepers used force mainly when they were attacked, and responded in barely one out of five cases in which civilians came under fire. The peacekeepers complained that they felt overstretched and underfunded, and thought the risks to be “higher than troop-contributing countries are willing to accept.” The report also said they sometimes consulted their capitals half a world away, rather than carry out commanders’ orders on the ground.
The United Nations’ top peacekeeping official, Hervé Ladsous, took issue with the report, saying the troops did more than use force to protect civilians, such as helping prevent confrontations and promoting political dialogue.
Not long after the report was released, news came of a rebel attack on a remote village in eastern Congo, in which 30 civilians were killed. Human Rights Watch reported that United Nations troops, stationed about five miles away, were “aware of the attack but did not intervene,” arriving two days later.
The following footage is said to show Syrian smugglers setting up an ambush behind rocks. One hour later, officers from what is described by the outlet as Syrian “secret police” arrive and the UN peacekeepers have a chat with them.
A little while later, the Syrians are let through without being warned about the trap. One Austrian peacekeeper can even be heard telling the other: “You should really tell them.”
“Just wave while you still can,” one says. The incident then turns fatal, with nine policemen being shot and killed by the smugglers with no chance to escape on the open terrain.
Responding to that, one says he believes an officer is still alive. “Yes, but that one will not survive,” another says.
The Austrian Defense Ministry has launched an investigation into the matter, starting on Saturday. “As a first step all reports, orders, laws, and regulations that could be relevant for the inquiry are being collected, examined, and evaluated,” ministry spokesman Michael Bauer tweeted, adding that the UN is invited to work alongside Vienna.
A UN spokesperson called the video “disturbing,” saying that the organization will be following up on the incident and cooperating with Austrian authorities, the Austrian Press Agency reported. He also said the incident was reported to the UN Security Council and included in a UN report.
Meanwhile, an Austrian soldier who served as a UN peacekeeper in the Golan Heights told the Salzburger Nachrichten that the behavior seen in the video was “100 percent correct according to our mandate.”
“The order is: don’t get involved,” said the soldier, identified by the newspaper as Markus H.
The incident occurred at a time of increased instability along the armistice line in the Golan Heights, an area seized by Israel from Syria in 1967. It was largely quiet for decades until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Austria withdrew its peacekeepers from the area in 2013, citing worsening security.
There are currently 15 peacekeeping operations around the world, in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The missions are intended to protect civilians, strengthen the rule of law, empower women and promote human rights. However, it’s claimed the peacekeepers often fall short.
Sexual abuse is perhaps the most common crime reported against peacekeeping forces. UN peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse and exploitation, particularly in the Central African Republic and Haiti.
According to a report by the Associated Press, between 2004 and 2016, the UN received almost 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against its peacekeepers and personnel. More than 300 of these cases involved children.
In Haiti, it’s alleged Sri Lankan peacekeepers were engaging in sex with children as young as 12. A UN report obtained by the AP revealed that 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a “sex ring” between 2004-2007.
In April, a peacekeeper from Romania working in the Democratic Republic of Congo was suspended for reportedly fathering a child with an underage girl.
In 2015, a leaked UN report revealed French peacekeeping troops sexually abused boys as young as nine from the Central African Republic. The aid worker who disclosed the report to French authorities, after the UN failed to take action, was suspended for doing so, the Guardian reported at the time. The abuse took place in Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014.
In Somalia, peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) lured women with promises of humanitarian aid in order to rape them, Human Rights Watch reported in 2014.
Mass grave in Central African Republic
In June 2016, the remains of 12 people were discovered in a grave in the Central African Republic near a peacekeeping site. The bodies, which included a pregnant woman, are believed to be a group of people who were arrested by the Congolese peacekeepers in 2014. The peacekeepers had previously claimed the people had escaped detention, Human Rights Watch reported.
“AU peacekeepers, UN peacekeepers, and national authorities made no effort to protect the site, or to conduct a forensic exhumation to preserve evidence for future judicial proceedings,” Human Rights Watch said.