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Full Access Attribution of Responsibility: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, and Effective Control of Blue Helmets

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Attribution of Responsibility: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, and Effective Control of Blue Helmets

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image of Journal of International Peacekeeping

Since the 1990s there have been numerous reports of complicity by some UN military contingents in human rights and IHL violations, most notably sexual exploitation and abuse [SEA]. When wrongful acts are perpetrated by UN military peacekeepers it is not exclusively a matter of individual criminal responsibility. The international organization [IO] and/or troop-contributing country [TCC] may also have a level or responsibility under international law. This paper examines the general international law rules on attribution of responsibility as they relate to this context. It will consider the tests that have been developed by the various courts and the ILC to determine questions of attribution of responsibility to States or IOs, and the possible implications of these approaches for attribution of conduct of UN military contingents to TCCs or the UN, focusing on SEA. This paper will posit that in this context the most apposite test is one of ‘effective control’. An important element of attribution of responsibility for the conduct or omissions of UN military contingents will be to ascertain whether ‘effective’ command and control rests with the UN or TCC. This paper will therefore delineate military understandings of what constitutes ‘command’ and ‘control’ and explain the general command and control structures of UN peacekeeping operations. Central to the issue explored, namely SEA by UN military personnel, is the retention by TCCs of exclusive criminal and disciplinary jurisdiction over their troops. Finally it will be argued that the possibility of dual or multiple attribution of responsibility, for acts or omissions, to both the UN and TCC cannot be excluded.

Affiliations: 1: Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Australia, Email:


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