UN will put sex abuse victims first, urge action on abusers
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced new measures Thursday to tackle the increase in sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers and staff, calling for a new focus on victims and bans on alcohol and fraternization for troops.
The report released Thursday also calls on the General Assembly to back the U.N. chief’s call for financial penalties for the failure to investigate allegations and conclude the probe “in a timely manner” — and to put that money into the Trust Fund already established for victims. But it didn’t specify who would have to pay.
“I fully recognize that no magic wand exists to end the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse,” Guterres said. “Nevertheless, I believe that we can dramatically improve how the United Nations addresses this scourge.”
In the 82-page report, he proposed a four-part strategy: putting “the rights and dignity for victims at the forefront of U.N. efforts”; working “relentlessly” to end impunity for those guilty of sexual abuse and exploitation; building a network to support U.N. efforts including civil society, external experts and organizations; and raising worldwide awareness of the problem to address the stigma victims face.
The report said data collected in 2016 indicates that 80 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involved U.N. peacekeepers and 65 allegations involved U.N. civilian staff — an increase from 2015. The U.N. said the rise is partly explained by measures encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward.
The 145 allegations last year are associated with at least 311 known victims “although there may be more,” the report said.
Guterres asked U.N. envoys in the four peacekeeping operations where the highest numbers of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse are reported — Central African Republic, Congo, Haiti and South Sudan — to immediately appoint a victims’ rights advocate.
He also announced that he will appoint a human rights expert as an assistant secretary-general to serve as a U.N.-wide victims’ rights advocate.
Guterres said he plans to meet with victims to hear from them directly and “let these survivors know that their protection is our priority.” However, the possibility of apologizing or expressing regret to them raised in earlier drafts was dropped.
In tackling impunity, Guterres said he will work with member states to act more swiftly on credible allegations and promote greater transparency in judicial and administrative processes.
He asked the General Assembly to consider proposals to strengthen the “investigative capacity” of the U.N. and its agencies in sex abuse cases.
In U.N. missions where there are “heightened risks” of sexual abuse and exploitation, the secretary-general said he will propose a special protocol as part of Security Council mandates and U.N. budgets that would include measures such as non-fraternization for all uniformed personnel, prohibitions on the consumption of alcohol, and certification of pre-deployment training on U.N. policy.
Guterres also called for a voluntary compact with the 193 U.N. member states to define their commitments to combat sexual abuse and exploitation, to accelerate implementation of agreed measures and to coordinate the response to allegations.
He said he will call for a high-level meeting in September during the annual General Assembly ministerial session “to solemnize our commitments and collective pledge to increased accountability.”
Amnesty International adviser Joanne Mariner said the rights group welcomes Guterres’ effort to institute a broad range of reforms “to better address this scourge” but is concerned that there is still “insufficient pressure” on U.N. member nations to ensure that allegations of sexual abuse are fairly investigated and prosecuted.
At present over 95,000 civilians and 100,000 military and police work for the United Nations around the world.
“We will not allow the behavior of anyone who exploits the vulnerable and destroys lives to soil our reputations, diminish our contributions, sow disillusion among our champions or undermine our values,” Guterres said. “We must break down excuses and end impunity.”