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Romeo Dallaire is campaigning to end sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and international employees.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

In Canada, United Nations peacekeepers are seen as heroic figures and a legacy of a former prime minister, Lester B. Pearson. But in some countries to which the blue-helmeted international force are sent to protect civilians, the peacekeepers aren't seen as heroes but as predators.

There is a serious crisis of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces and other UN staff working in trouble spots. The UN admits to 79 victims last year. Critics say there are many more, and that the blanket immunity from prosecution granted to UN personnel serving on peacekeeping missions should be partly lifted. We agree.

Roméo Dallaire, the retired Canadian general and former senator, said last week that he has been seeing reports of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers since 2001. He called it a "festering situation" that the UN, through its inaction, has allowed to get worse.

He's right. Last month, a whistleblower leaked an internal report about horrible sexual abuse by French soldiers in the Central African Republic. It detailed how soldiers were trading food for sexual favours with starving, homeless boys as young as nine. Some of the boys were sodomized. The UN suspended the employee who leaked the report, and then prevented French investigators from interviewing a UN staffer who took statements from the abused children. The UN cited immunity in denying the investigators access to its staff, according to the French investigators.

The UN denies it interfered with the investigation but says its forces and staff need immunity to do their jobs. Officials say a blanket revocation of immunity could "paralyze" UN operations around the world. But no one is calling for a blanket revocation. Mr. Dallaire, as well as Stephen Lewis, the former Canadian ambassador to the UN, are part of a group called Code Blue that wants an exception in the immunity protection for personnel involved in sexual abuse cases or who have investigated a case internally.

It's a simple, quick first step to ending a crisis that is sickening to think about. The most vulnerable people in the world – children in war-torn countries – are being raped in exchange for a meal. It is unimaginable the UN would do anything less than a full revocation of immunity for any personnel suspected of or having knowledge of so inhuman a crime.