Repatriation of Commanders, Units among Steps to Tackle Sexual Exploitation, Abuse by Peacekeepers, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SC/12274
10 March 2016
7642nd Meeting (AM)

Repatriation of Commanders, Units among Steps to Tackle Sexual Exploitation, Abuse by Peacekeepers, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

‘All-Systems Failure’ Blamed as Some Delegations Stress Investigative Role of Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations

Briefing the Security Council today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon laid out a number of steps to address “the shameful issue” of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, amid disagreement over a draft resolution aimed at addressing the matter.

Drawing on his report to the General Assembly last week (document A/70/729), which identified the nationalities of alleged perpetrators for the first time, he said a trust fund was being established to provide medical, psychosocial and legal help to victims — many of them children.  He urged Member States contributing troops and police personnel to peacekeeping operations to investigate allegations swiftly and thoroughly, on-site courts martial to try offenders and to improve the training of personnel prior to deployment.

He went on to say that commanders or whole contingents would be repatriated where appropriate, as had been the case in February with the unit from the Democratic Republic of the Congo assigned to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  “I am determined that the United Nations must lead by example,” he said, emphasizing how sexual exploitation and abuse threatened to undermine the credibility and integrity of United Nations peacekeeping mandates.  “Sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel demands nothing less than decisive, bold action.”

The representative of the United States, sponsor of the draft resolution on the issue, condemned the “all-systems failure” in addressing sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.  Everyone was to blame, from Member States that did not press other countries to hold perpetrators accountable, to United Nations bodies that failed to report clearly on the magnitude of the problem, she said.  Her colleague from the United Kingdom said that the “sickening actions” of a handful of peacekeepers threatened the reputation of the entire United Nations.  Malaysia’s representative, voicing support for the draft resolution, said it was important to address the lack of coordination among peacekeeping actors.

Other speakers, while condemning sexual exploitation and abuse by troops, as well as civilian members of peacekeeping missions, stressed that the General Assembly — not the Security Council — was the proper forum for tackling the topic.  The Russian Federation’s representative said the issue was already under discussion in the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.  His counterpart from Egypt said that any investigation must take all the different missions mandated by the Council into account on an equitable basis, stressing that cases of sexual exploitation and abuse should not be used to attack troop-contributing countries or undermine their reputations.  Noting that there had been just a handful of cases, in contrast to the hundreds of thousands of troops deployed, he voiced strong opposition to “collective punishment”, saying it should be up to Member States to investigate allegations and keep the Secretary-General informed.

Taking the floor a second time the Secretary-General apologized “for not taking thorough care on this matter”.  The integrity and honour of tens of thousands of peacekeepers and police officers should not be tarnished by a small number of people, he said, adding that everyone — including Member States, the Secretariat and those in the field — must work together to overcome sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

Also speaking were representatives of China, Senegal, Japan, France, Venezuela, Ukraine, Spain, New Zealand, Uruguay and Angola.

Representatives of Pakistan, India and Rwanda also addressed the Council.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:45 p.m.

Briefing

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that a number of recommendations from the High Level External Independent Review Panel on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic were being implemented.  Others with far-reaching implications, or which required action by legislative bodies, Member States and partners, were under consideration.  Summarizing his latest annual report to the General Assembly on the issue, he said there had been an increase in the number of new allegations in 2015, with 99 lodged within the United Nations system.  Sixty-nine allegations had been lodged against United Nations personnel in peacekeeping operations, he said, noting that his report proposed strong new initiatives towards ending impunity, helping and supporting victims and strengthening accountability, including through action by Member States.

For the first time, the report named the countries of the alleged perpetrators, he said, adding that country-specific information would also be publicly available on the website of the Conduct and Discipline Unit of the Department of Field Support.  A trust fund was being established to provide victims, many of them children, with medical, psychosocial and legal services.  Member States had been asked to approve the transfer to the trust fund of payments that would be held in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, he said, encouraging them to make voluntary contributions.  He also urged troop- and police-contributing countries to designate paternity focal points, and Member States to consider how they would respond to claims by victims pursuing legal action.  Urging Member States to conclude investigations of most allegations in six months, he said investigations into the most serious allegations should be completed in three months.

He went on to state that, where appropriate, commanders or whole contingents would be repatriated, and ending the deployment of uniformed personnel from specific Member States would be considered if there was prima facie evidence of widespread or systematic exploitation and abuse.  Stressing that Member States must bring to justice those who committed crimes while serving with the United Nations, he said he had asked them to establish on-site court martial proceedings and to ensure that their nationals serving in peace operations were subject to their respective domestic sex-crime laws.  With regard to prevention, he said that beginning this year, all uniformed personnel would be vetted for previous allegations of misconduct while in the service of the United Nations.  Support for pre-deployment training by Member States was being increased, and new rules aimed at curtailing the social activities of peacekeeping contingents, including the designation of certain areas as out of bounds, would be considered.  “I am determined that the United Nations must lead by example,” he said.  “Sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel demands nothing less than decisive, bold action.”

Statements

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), noting that sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers had persisted since the first ever Security Council meeting on the subject, in May 2005, said it was deeply alarming that, of 69 allegations made in 2015, only 17 had been fully investigated by the end of January 2016, and only one person had been punished — suspended for only nine days.  Those who argued that the Council had no business taking up the issue were mistaken.  Sexual exploitation and abuse eroded the discipline of units, undermined local confidence in peacekeepers and harmed the credibility of peacekeeping missions everywhere, as well as the legitimacy of the United Nations.  She said she could not understand those who thought the Council had no role to play, given that it sent peacekeepers into conflict areas and oversaw every aspect of their mission.

Emphasizing the critical importance of transparency, she said the United Nations and the Council must know when soldiers were abusing the privilege of the blue helmet.  All too often, it was not known whether an investigation had been opened or how it was being carried out.  When peacekeepers committed acts of sexual exploitation and abuse with impunity, the fault lay not only with the perpetrators, or commanders who looked the other way, or Member States that failed to conduct proper investigations; the blame rested on everyone, including those who failed to train peacekeepers adequately, Member States that did not press for perpetrators to be held accountable, and United Nations institutions that failed to report the scale of the problem or repatriate contingents when countries failed to investigate credible allegations.  “This is an all-systems failure,” she stressed.

LIU JIEYI (China) said that while peacekeepers had made significant contributions over the years, a handful of them had committed sexual exploitation or abuse, tarnishing the image of the United Nations.  Fighting such behaviour must be high priority for the Security Council, he said, emphasizing that effective cooperation among members was important for fixing the problem.  He went on to stress the need for a comprehensive analysis of the conditions that gave rise to such actions.  China called for improving management, building capacity and reforming deployments.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the “Blue Helmets” had contributed to the work of the United Nations since the Organization’s founding.  Paying tribute to more than 3,000 peacekeepers who had sacrificed their lives to preserve international peace and security, he noted that they had brought safety and hope to those most in need.  “The sickening actions of only a small number of peacekeepers have threatened the entire reputation of the United Nations,” he said, underlining the need to ensure that it would never happen again.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s initiative, he called for bold reforms, including the creation of a trusted complaint mechanism.  Concluding, he expressed hope that the Council would adopt a resolution on the matter in the coming days.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said the issue of discipline in peacekeeping missions had been discussed for many years in the General Assembly.  The Russian delegation had shown great understanding of the initiative by the United States delegation, but its draft resolution was far from ideal because it proposed a selective approach.  Noting that negotiations on the issue had been taking place in the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, he said it would be wrong to set the Security Council against the General Assembly.  Troop-contributing countries bore the main burden of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse, with the Secretariat similarly responsible for civilian personnel, he emphasized.  As for foreign peacekeeping contingents operating under Security Council mandates, allegations against them should be investigated by the relevant troop-contributing countries, and those found guilty brought to justice.  If those Members States failed to do so, the Security Council would have to consider withdrawing that authority from them, he said.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that the General Assembly, and the Fifth Committee or the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in particular, was the United Nations body responsible for conduct and discipline in peacekeeping missions.  Emphasizing that any investigation must take all the different missions mandated by the Security Council into account on an equitable basis, he said cases of sexual exploitation and abuse should not be used as a tool for attacking troop-contributing countries or undermining their reputations.  Noting that there had been just a handful of cases, in contrast to the hundreds of thousands of troops deployed, he voiced strong opposition to the collective punishment.  It should be up to Member States to investigate allegations and keep the Secretary-General informed, he said.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal), while commending the heroic efforts of peacekeepers, he expressed concern about the increased allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  That unfortunate situation called for strong measures to prevent and punish such actions.  Reiterating his country’s full support for the zero-tolerance policy, he emphasized the need to bring those responsible to justice.  The main objective was to enable men and women peacekeepers to better understand and respect their obligations, he said.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), describing the United Nations as a vehicle of hope for those in need, expressed concern that allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers had damaged the Organization’s image.  To address the problem, it was important to address the lack of coordination among actors, he said, emphasizing that action could not be taken in isolation.   He went on to welcome the appointment of Jane Holl Lute as Special Coordinator on the issue, and expressed support for the draft resolution initiated by the United States.

HIROSHI MINAMI (Japan) noted that peacekeepers had a responsibility to protect people, emphasizing that sexual exploitation and abuse on their part was absolutely unacceptable.  Voicing support for the Secretary-General’s decision to repatriate contingents with a demonstrated pattern of misconduct, he said that investigating such allegations was the primary responsibility of troop- and police-contributing countries, which must take the necessary actions to hold their personnel accountable.  By doing so, such countries could demonstrate their commitment to the zero-tolerance policy and preserve the honour of the vast majority of peacekeepers, he stressed.  Japan, for its part, had provided financial support for the online training of peacekeepers and expressed interest in supporting a remedial action programme for the victims.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said that his delegation supported the draft resolution, as well as efforts to strengthen the zero-tolerance policy, which must be applied at all levels.  Such measures as repatriating contingents, establishing focal points and improving support for victims would be helpful.  Unfortunately, however, cases of sexual violence had also been attributed to civilian personnel, he noted.  Every State had a responsibility to bring perpetrators to justice and France was doing just that, he said, adding that, before deployment, its security forces were being vetted and trained on human rights and sexual abuse.  France would also be contributing to the financing of the Office of the Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse.  Judicial proceedings had been opened when France had been informed of allegations against its troops in the Central African Republic, and they were continuing under the principle of judicial independence.  Regional organizations had not been spared the allegations, he noted, calling upon the African Union to strengthen cooperation with the United Nations on the issue.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict situations was not only a disciplinary issue, but one also involving possible violations of international human rights law.  Consistency and firmness were needed, as well as accountability measures, including the firing of personnel who committed such crimes, regardless of their country of origin or professional category.  The issue should not be politicized, and it was important to engage in dialogue with troop-contributing countries.  It was extremely important to implement Article 44 of the United Nations Charter and to ensure close coordination with the General Assembly and the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, he said, calling also for improved mechanisms for helping victims and for the provision of sufficient resources.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said it was disturbing that despite measures to enforce a zero-tolerance policy, 69 allegations of serious misconduct in peacekeeping missions had been reported in the last year alone.  Reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers had been surfacing for years, and the Security Council should send a strong message concerning the issue.  Ukraine welcomed the Secretary-General’s recent report and commended all planned activities for prevention, enforcement and remedial action, including support for victims.  It was of particular importance that United Nations policies focused on prioritizing the security and well-being of victims, including by maintaining confidentiality during investigations, minimizing trauma and facilitating access to immediate care, medical and psychological support, h/she stressed.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers had damaged the image and credibility of the United Nations, and it was the collective responsibility of Member States, as well as the Organization, to put an end the practice.  It was necessary to address the root causes, he said, emphasizing that troop- and police-contributing countries must provide the necessary training to peacekeepers in order to prevent such actions.  Turning to investigation, he stressed the need to establish an inquiry mechanism within nine months of allegations being made.  As for accountability, he underlined that those countries mentioned in the Secretary-General’s reports must cooperate with the Organization and bring those responsible to justice.

PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand) said the international community must be frank in acknowledging that the systems for preventing, monitoring and responding to instances of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel were failing.  That failure was inflicting a terrible cost on the people that peacekeepers were responsible for protecting, he said, adding that the reputation and effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping operations was being damaged.  Such allegations represented a systemic failure, and the Secretariat, troop-contributing countries and Security Council members had a responsibility to fix it, he emphasized.  The Organization must create a genuine culture of zero tolerance with clear accountability for abuse, as well as the means for preventing, reporting and prosecuting it.  He stressed the need to support the Secretary-General’s commitment to repatriating contingents that demonstrated a widespread pattern of sexual exploitation or abuse, and to ensuring that victims received the necessary support.

LUIS BERMUDEZ (Uruguay) expressed concern about the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, emphasizing that his country attached great importance to combatting such practices.  As a troop-contributing country, Uruguay focused on prevention, and provided training to personnel at all levels prior to deployment.  Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence followed all necessary procedures to resolve relevant cases, and had designed complaint mechanisms in addition to facilitating access to victims so that they could exercise their rights, he said.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, noting that today’s debate renewed the Security Council’s political support for the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy.  Emphasizing that pre-deployment training was essential to preventing misconduct and ensuring that troops respected the Organization’s principles, he said that deploying women peacekeepers could help.  Better calibrated troop rotations and scheduling, as well as regular payment of personnel could also help reduce the number of incidents.  A Council mission had just returned from Mali where its members had seen the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission there, MINUSMA, operating under the most challenging circumstances, he said, adding that unfortunately, their work and that of other peacekeepers had been tarnished by a few.  Angola had taken note of the draft resolution initiated by the United States delegation and would continue to work towards a good result, he said.

Mr. BAN, Secretary-General, said the Council’s open discussion on “this shameful issue” would raise the urgency for immediate action based on the principles of accountability and transparency.  Emphasizing that he felt sorry for the victims, particularly minors whose human rights and dignity had been totally abused, he said:  “I really apologize for this, for not taking thorough care on this matter.”  As the representative of the United States had emotionally and passionately stated, the issue had much to do with the reputation of the United Nations and how it had not been able to address it earlier.  The integrity and honour of tens of thousands of peacekeepers and police officers should not be tarnished by a small number of people, and while it may be helpful to appoint special representatives and responsible persons, everyone — including Member States, the Secretariat and those in the field — must work together.

Much more must be done to end violence and support victims, he continued, adding that financial and other forms of support for the trust fund were appreciated.  Discussing pending cases, he said that, out of 407 placed under investigation between 2010 and 2015, most had been concluded.  The big chunk of outstanding cases dated from 2015 and those investigations would be expedited.  Interim measures would be taken when allegations were reported, he said, adding that they included such steps as confining alleged perpetrators to barracks or withholding their salaries.  It was “really important” for troop-contributing countries to provide pre-deployment training on the importance of respecting human rights and gender concerns, he said, stressing that, without strong engagement on the part of Member States, it would be difficult for the Secretariat to act on its own.  The United Nations must make sure that its house was clean if it was to urge Member States to address the issue of sexual violence.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), taking the floor a second time, sought clarification from the representative of Egypt on the number of cases under consideration.  There was need for a better reporting system that would bring forth more allegations, she said, stressing also that there should be no national stigmatization.  Underlining the Council’s responsibility when international human rights law or international humanitarian law were violated, or when extremists launched terror attacks, she said that, as a matter of logic, therefore, the Council was responsible when peacekeepers raped women and children.

Mr. ABOULATTA (Egypt) also took the floor a second time, reiterating his country’s commitment to enhancing accountability and developing partnerships among all relevant departments.  While no single United Nations organ could impose upon troop-contributing countries the punishment for perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse, Egypt agreed that the majority of peacekeeping operations were undertaking heroic tasks and making sacrifices.

The Council then heard from two major contributors of peacekeeping personnel.

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan) said the views of troop-contributing countries would enrich the debate and lead to informed decisions, adding that his delegation fully supported the zero-tolerance policy.  Pakistan took its responsibility as a troop contributor very seriously and took strict action against perpetrators in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.  Noting that entire contingents should not be held responsible for the actions of an individual, he emphasized that the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations was the forum for discussing the discipline and conduct of peacekeeping troops.  The logic of that had been explained very well by Egypt’s representative, and any action on the Security Council’s part could lead to generic blaming of peacekeepers that would harm morale on the ground, he cautioned.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India), saying that he shared the Secretary-General’s distress, explained that, as a country that had taken part in 48 of the 68 United Nations peacekeeping operations, contributing the largest cumulative number of troops, India was deeply disturbed by the rising phenomenon.  Peacekeeping was a shining example of the international community’s commitment to collective security, and it was worrying that protectors were being seen as predators.  India had a policy of zero tolerance, he said, adding that the issue was not only about enforcing compliance, but also about setting norms.  It should be approached in a broad-based and inclusive way, not merely as a matter of peace and security or as a command issue, he stressed.

MABONEZA SANA (Rwanda), describing the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers as unacceptable, said there was no justification for such actions and called for the systematic reporting of complaints.  Reiterating his country’s commitment to the zero-tolerance policy, he noted that its peacekeepers were provided with the necessary training before deployment.  Turning to the lack of coordination between the Secretariat and troop-contributing States, he expressed concern over investigation of allegations, saying it was unfortunate that the Secretariat had not consulted with the States concerned.  He called upon all Council members to stay focused on ensuring accountability.

For information media. Not an official record.