Sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeepers

The UK’s “leading” work to tackle the widespread problem of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by international peacekeepers is relevant and important, but could be strengthened with more focus on survivors and a stronger approach to learning.

Read online
PDF download
30 Sep 2020
Lead commissioner
Tamsyn Barton
Cross-government, Fragile states, Humanitarian, Women and girls
Related documents
Government response
Literature review
Approach paper

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in peacekeeping is a serious and persistent problem, with devastating impact on survivors. Allegations of SEA have surfaced in many international peacekeeping missions around the world, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kosovo, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan and Timor-Leste.

In recent years, the UN has launched a number of reforms designed to prevent SEA in international peacekeeping, hold perpetrators accountable and protect survivors. However, UN internal reports have found serious shortcomings in the conduct of investigations, while continuing legal obstacles to prosecution contribute to a culture of impunity within international peacekeeping contingents.

This short report is a companion to ICAI’s January 2020 review of The UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). It explores the UK’s efforts to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse in international peacekeeping settings, including by soldiers, police and civilian personnel. During the review period (2014 to 2019), this consisted of small-scale aid projects managed by the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), mainly in the form of funding for UN reform initiatives and staff positions, and training programmes for international peacekeepers run by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

The review is not scored, due to the relatively low level of expenditure and the difficulty of attributing specific results to activities of this kind, but it makes two recommendations for the government to take forward.


Relevance: Does the UK have a well-considered approach to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeepers?

  • The UK is a leading voice on SEA at the UN and is encouraging other donors to follow.
  • The FCO supported its advocacy work with targeted investments to improve conduct and discipline in peacekeeping operations.
  • The UN has recognised the need to support survivors, but this has not featured strongly in the UK’s support to the UN.

Effectiveness: How well have programmes aimed at tackling sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeepers delivered on their objectives?

  • The UK has promoted some high-profile reforms to UN peacekeeping and helped to lay down the standards expected of peacekeepers.
  • While efforts to train peacekeepers on SEA show promise, the results from these training activities are yet to be demonstrated.
  • UK aid funds few local-level projects aimed at empowering and supporting survivors of SEA in international peacekeeping in their communities.

Learning: How have responsible departments sought to learn from, and apply learning to, programming on sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeepers?

  • So far, there has been little production and sharing of learning on SEA.


  1. The UK government should aim for closer integration and sharing of learning between its efforts to tackle SEA in international peacekeeping and its wider work on conflict-related sexual violence.
  2. The UK government should ensure that efforts to improve discipline among peacekeeping personnel are balanced with measures to promote the interests and welfare of survivors.

Government response

The government’s response to our sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeepers review is available to read online.

International Development Committee

Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC), or its ICAI sub-committee, hold hearings on all ICAI reviews. The IDC hearing for this review is available to watch online.