Uniformed Personnel to Face Vetting for Previous Allegations of Misconduct While Serving United Nations, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

10 March 2016
SG/SM/17586-SC/12275-HR/5293

Uniformed Personnel to Face Vetting for Previous Allegations of Misconduct While Serving United Nations, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Security Council on sexual exploitation and abuse, in New York today:

Thank you for this opportunity to brief you on important steps being taken and measures being put in place to end the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people by United Nations personnel sent to protect them.

For many people caught up in poverty and conflict around the world, the United Nations represents their final hope for a better future.  When sexual exploitation and abuse are perpetrated on these individuals by the United Nations personnel authorized to protect them, it further victimizes and violates them and inflicts untold harm on already fragile communities.  It undermines the trust between the United Nations and its beneficiaries, betrays the values and principles that the United Nations purports to advance, and tarnishes the credibility of United Nations peacekeeping operations and the United Nations as a whole.

The impact is not limited to the location of the abuse, but reflects on the efforts of tens of thousands of peacekeepers and civilian staff working tirelessly to save lives and protect people around the world in difficult and often dangerous conditions.

In June 2015, I, like you, was deeply dismayed by allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of children by foreign military forces in the Central African Republic, and the United Nations response to these allegations.  In this context, I appointed a High-Level External Independent Review Panel on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic.  The Panel was led by distinguished Justice Marie Deschamps, with two other eminent persons.  In mid-December 2015, the Panel submitted its report, which depicted a United Nations that uncovered the abuses, but failed to respond meaningfully and with the speed, care or sensitivity required.

A number of the Panel’s recommendations are already being implemented, while those that have far-reaching implications or require action by legislative bodies, Member States and partners are being considered.  Given the importance of addressing the systemic weaknesses that the Panel’s report exposed, I have appointed a Special Coordinator, Jane Holl Lute.  Ms. Lute will support me in reviewing and advancing implementation of the Panel’s recommendations and in strengthening our response to such abuse.

Let me turn to my latest annual report to the General Assembly on Special Measures on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.  The report shows an increase in the number of new allegations in 2015, with a total of 99 for the United Nations system.  Sixty-nine of these allegations were lodged against United Nations personnel serving in peace operations.  This reflects an increase in allegations within United Nations peacekeeping operations, with multiple allegations from MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic], MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], ONUCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] and MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali].  Further allegations have continued to come to light this year.

In the face of this disturbing trend across a number of our peacekeeping operations, it is imperative that our collective response is more effective.  My report proposes strong new initiatives in three key areas: first — ending impunity; second — helping and supporting victims; and third — strengthening accountability, including through action by Member States.

First and foremost, to end impunity, greater transparency is critical.  This year, for the first time, my report names the countries of alleged perpetrators.  Country-specific information is publicly available on the website of the Conduct and Discipline Unit of the Department of Field Support.  I intend to expand this information to cover all outstanding allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, including the status of referrals for criminal accountability.  This will enable and hold accountable the United Nations and Member States to address every allegation of sexual exploitation or abuse in a thorough and timely manner, through proper investigation and just punishment.

Second, the victims, many of whom are children, need our protection and support.  We are finalizing the establishment of a trust fund that will provide them with the medical, psychosocial and legal services they need.  I have asked Member States to approve the transfer to the trust fund of payments that will be withheld in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.  I encourage Member States to make voluntary contributions to the fund.

I have also urged all troop- and police-contributing countries to designate paternity focal points.  We will follow up vigorously to ensure that children born as a result of these terrible abuses receive the support they need.  Member States must also consider how they will respond to claims from victims who pursue legal action to seek redress.

Third, accountability demands the conduct of solid investigations that can withstand judicial scrutiny in disciplinary and criminal proceedings.  This will require developing uniformly high standards of investigation.  It entails building the capacities of immediate response teams to gather and preserve evidence.  All investigations should be concluded within six months at most, with the most urgent cases concluded within three months.  I urge Member States to adopt this standard.  I also urge Member States to cooperate with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in the conduct of investigations.

I am strongly committed to monitoring accountability for violations.  Where appropriate, this will include taking action up to and including the repatriation of commanders, or of whole contingents.  We have already put this into practice in repatriating troops serving in the Central African Republic, due to alleged sexual exploitation and abuse.  When I requested the resignation of my Special Representative for MINUSCA last August, I further signalled that this Organization would hold itself accountable for such violations.  I will also consider ending the deployment of uniformed personnel from specific Member States if there is prima facie evidence of widespread or systemic exploitation and abuse.

Accountability demands that Member States live up to their responsibility to bring to justice those who have committed crimes while serving with the United Nations.  We expect them to impose sanctions commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.  I have asked Member States to establish on-site court martial proceedings, and to ensure that domestic legislation applies to sex crimes committed by their nationals while they are serving [in] United Nations peace operations.  I have also called for the collection of DNA samples of alleged offenders.

We also continue to emphasize prevention.  Significantly, this year, for the first time, we will be able to vet all uniformed personnel for previous allegations of misconduct while in the service of the United Nations.  We are increasing our support for pre-deployment training by Member States.  We will also consider imposing new rules to curtail the social activities of peacekeeping contingents, including designating certain geographical areas as out of bounds.

These efforts mark a significant step towards ending these crimes and the terrible suffering they inflict on victims.  We can only achieve accountability, including criminal accountability, when troop- and police-contributing countries investigate such allegations promptly and thoroughly, and perpetrators are punished accordingly.

The United Nations is strongly committed to working with Member States to ensure that domestic judicial action facilitates accountability and combats impunity.  This is a global issue.  It is not confined to any one region, mission or nation.  I am determined that the United Nations must lead by example.  Sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel demands nothing less than decisive and bold action.

I am committed to working with Member States to confront this criminal conduct, and to justify the trust of the people we serve, to ensure that this Organization remains a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.