Progress made against sexual exploitation but more to do: UN peacekeeping head

USG Guéhenno

23 February 2006 – “Significant progress” has been made in dealing with incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by United Nations peacekeepers, but much more needs to be done, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping said today, calling for more support from Member States.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno told the Security Council that the “severity of the problem,” which came to the fore in 2004 with allegations against peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), had been recognized and the General Assembly had adopted a strategy to tackle it, focused on prevention, enforcement and ultimately on “remediation” for the victims.

“The measures I have described to you are the beginning of a program of systemic and sustained change. We have made significant progress. However there is a great deal yet to be done and for this, as we will make clear in our discussions in the General Assembly, we need greater support from Member States,” said Mr Guéhenno.

In particular, he highlighted the need for Member States to send “an uncompromising message” against prostitution in peacekeeping missions and said this was key in the fight against abuse.

“Indeed, today, the single measure that would do the most to reduce the level of allegations and strengthen the policy of zero tolerance against sexual exploitation and abuse – is if all troop contingents had an active and effective policy against all prostitution in mission areas,” he said.

Mr Guéhenno told the 15-member Council that last year, investigations had been completed into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 296 peacekeeping personnel, but he also emphasized the crucial role of peacekeeping worldwide, saying this showed that dealing with abuse was all the more important.

“We have tens of thousands of extremely competent, honest and courageous personnel in the field…We cannot allow acts of serious misconduct by some to betray their good work and tarnish the reputation of the United Nations peacekeeping. It is an indispensable instrument, it is effective, and it is helping to maintain peace for tens of millions of people around the world.”

The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse surfaced in November 2004 with the revelation that a “shockingly large number of UN peacekeepers” had engaged in such practices in the DRC. At the time the UN Office for Internal Oversight Services cited payments ranging from two eggs to $5 per encounter. Some victims were abandoned orphans who were often illiterate. Secretary-General Kofi immediately instituted a policy of zero tolerance.

Following Mr Guéhenno’s briefing, the Secretary-General’s Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Peacekeeping Operations, also spoke to the Council and while again emphasizing the good work done in peacekeeping operations, he stated that the “number of [abuse] allegations, being registered in some locations, still cause us considerable harm.”

“Ultimately, we must continue to view sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations, not as some ephemeral issue of passing importance, but as the serious issue it is,” said Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein.

He said that the Secretary-General was about to release a United Nations policy statement and comprehensive strategy on assistance and support to victims of abuse, adding that it would “likely contain some bold recommendations.”

“One can not, and must not, forget that there are peacekeepers representing all parts of the world who are dying every year in pursuit of the objectives being established by this Council…Because of this, it is all the more urgent to remove the blight of sexual exploitation and abuse on what is otherwise a distinguished and appreciated performance.”

After both officials had briefed the Security-Council, speakers from 20 countries also made statements during a prolonged debate in which all stressed their support for tackling the issue of sexual exploitation.

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