NEW YORK - The United Nations police chief has said that justice was done in the case of two UN peacekeepers from Pakistan who were sentenced to a year in prison for abusing a 14-year-old Haitian boy after a Pakistani military trial in Haiti.

“It was a very, very serious case, and we took it very seriously,” the UN Police Adviser, Ann-Marie Orler, said while responding to questions at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York.

Asked whether the one-year prison sentence was an appropriate penalty, Ms Orler said the degree of sentencing varied among UN member states and that she would not comment on it.

But, when pressed further, she added that “in this case, we actually got justice,” and in “a very rapid manner”. The Organisation had taken the case “very, very seriously” and had immediately dispatched a team to urgently investigate it, she said.  Orler called on member states to ensure that peacekeeping personnel found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse are punished and that everything possible is done to prevent such crimes from being committed in the first place.

“I strongly advocate for a zero impunity approach by member states,” she added. “We need also to do our utmost to prevent sexual exploitation.”

The UN, with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in the lead role, has in recent years taken several measures to deal with such abuses by its personnel which includes police officers. These measures include the introduction of conduct and discipline units in each peacekeeping operation, curfews, placing areas out-of-bounds, rigorous investigations of alleged perpetrators, and their repatriation and punishment by their own countries.

Orler noted that although abuses have diminished, the fact that a small number have been reported over the last few months means that more must be done to tackle the problem.

“As law enforcement officers, we are expected to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she said. “We have a duty of care and protection of civilians as UN peacekeepers.”

Besides any disciplinary action which is taken by the police-contributing country, any UN police officer against whom allegations of serious misconduct are substantiated is immediately repatriated from the mission, Ms Orler noted. The investigation file is transmitted to the member state for action and DPKO follows up any action taken by the Member State, and any officer repatriated on disciplinary grounds is barred from consideration from future service. In addition to the steps the UN has taken to prevent such abuses, the Police Adviser encouraged UN police commissioners to undertake unannounced visits where police officers live and “make sure they know their officers,” adding that they are responsible for ensuring that officers are not involved in any kind of activity that would jeopardize the UN’s presence and the good work being done.

“The United Nations has zero tolerance towards any kind of sexual exploitation. Now is the time to move to zero occurrence,” stressed Ms. Orler.