Fighting sexual exploitation and abuse

 

As the number of UN peacekeepers reached historic highs in 2006, steppedup efforts were taken to ensure compliance with the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.

 

UN rules prohibiting staff from sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18, orwith prostitutes, and discouraging sexual relations with “beneficiaries,” were communicated widely to personnel serving in field operations.

 

With nearly 100,000 UN personnel serving in 21 peace operations worldwide, the UN remained determined to prevent even a single peacekeeper from harming the very same people they are sent to protect, and to punish any wrongdoers.

 

In addition to the trauma inflicted on individual victims, sexual exploitation and abuse undermines the reputation of the vast majority of Blue Helmets who serve honourably with pride and purpose and it erodes the trust between the peacekeepers and the local population so essential for the operation to successfully fulfill its mandate.

 

While paying tribute to the vast majority of upstanding personnel who serve under difficult conditions, Secretary- General Kofi Annan said that it was “tragic and intolerable that those contributions are undermined by the small number of individuals among them who have engaged in acts of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

 

In 2006, three years after the Secretary- General instituted special measures spelling out prohibited sexual conduct applied to all UN staff and other related personnel, the UN has strengthened its capacity and commitment to enforce the rules and infuse personnel with a “duty of care.” Conduct and discipline teams and independent investigative offices cover most of the peacekeeping operations, and all peacekeeping personnel are now required to undergo training on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. Missions have established networks of key professionals to receive complaints, while declaring off-limits for all UN personnel premises where prostitution is known or suspected to occur. Other measures such as curfews, “non-fraternization” policies for military personnel and “hotlines” for anonymous complaints are also in place in many missions.

 

As part of its campaign to confront and tackle the problem, the UN organized a high-level conference in New York in December to take stock of current achievements and challenges faced in preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse by UN and NGO personnel. It was attended by nearly 150 different agency and country representatives, including diplomats and other officials.“Today, our personnel are better informed about what is expected of them,”Mr.Annan told participants.“ Allegations of exploitation and abuse are being handled in a more systematic and professional manner. Staff who commit such acts are fired. And uniformed peacekeeping personnel are being sent home and barred from future peacekeeping service, and also in the expectation that their own Governments will deal with them.”

 

At the same time, he acknowledged the need for more action. “My message of zero tolerance has still not got through to all those who need to hear it – from managers and commanders on the ground, to all our other personnel.”

 

Further steps that the UN will take include enhancing the missions’ efforts to provide information to victims and host communities on the outcome of completed investigations and, given the high incidence of prostitution-related offences, launching an anti-prostitution campaign in 2007.

 

Also in 2007, the General Assembly will discuss two reports prepared by a group of legal experts appointed by the Secretary- General that provides advice on a range of issues, including on how to strengthen the criminal accountability of UN staff and experts on mission serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations, and making military contingents accountable under their national law for crimes committed in peacekeeping operations. Efforts are also underway to draft memoranda of understanding to be signed by the UN and contributing countries outlining what each could expect of the other.

 

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Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

© United Nations 2007