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When Protection Means Exploitation

In the early 2000s, United Nations peacekeeping operations experienced a series of scandals stemming from acts of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) committed by peacekeepers against the local population. The UN responded by promulgating strategies to combat SEA by military and civilian peacekeeping personnel.

This project aimed to generate knowledge on the implementation, effectiveness, gaps, and possible unintended consequences of existing UN policy in two case studies – Liberia and Haiti – and formulate recommendations for addressing the seeming inconsistency persisting between policy and practice with regard to SEA. Findings from the project were presented to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, and in a Fafo report, Protecting Whom?.

The Fafo report critically examines the preliminary impact and implications of the zero-tolerance policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse in two UN peacekeeping missions – the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and the UN Mission in Liberia – using the organizing principle of protection.

It argues that the missions have taken different approaches to implementing the zero-tolerance policy according to different primary referents of protection.


  • In Haiti, the UN image was the primary referent, resulting in a minimalist approach to implementation of the zero-tolerance policy.
  • In Liberia, the local population was the primary referent, resulting in a more maximalist approach.

The report particularly focuses on the ways in which the zero-tolerance policy is interpreted and perceived by personnel serving in UN missions.

It also identifies the paradox that the zero-tolerance policy – which attempts to reinforce protections against exploitative and abusive behavior – seems to have unfortunately encouraged the persistence among many UN informants of racial and gender-based stereotypes about the local population, and occasionally of their fellow UN colleagues.

Finally, the report lays out findings of particular relevance for policymakers and practitioners.


The field research in Liberia and Haiti undertaken for this project also informs a peer-reviewed article and a working paper for the MICROCON project (see below under publications).

This project was made possible through the generous support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



  • Oppstart:
    januar 2007
  • Avsluttes:
    januar 2009


  • Utenriksdepartementet