New York, 26 January 2015 - Secretary-General's remarks at High-Level Internal Meeting of Principals on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse [as prepared for delivery]
Welcome to this High-Level Meeting of Principals on sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel. I am chairing, along with my Chef de Cabinet, to demonstrate our full commitment to addressing this problem – and to convey our expectation that you will do everything possible to meet our shared obligations.
I am continuously inspired by the integrity and commitment of the vast majority of our staff.
At the same time, I have taken a hard look at the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Ten years ago, my predecessor asked for a comprehensive report on this challenge.
It was written by His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan. Of course he is now our High Commissioner for Human Rights.
At the time, he was a former civilian peacekeeper from a major troop-contributing country who knew the terrain.
The Zeid report pointed out that sexual exploitation in a peacekeeping context “is profoundly disturbing to many because the United Nations has been mandated to enter into a broken society to help it, not to breach [its] trust.”
This is just as true today.
Sexual exploitation and abuse leave physical and psychological scars on the victims.
These crimes also undermine the noble work done by our personnel who serve with honour in some of the toughest places on earth.
We must all be resolved to create a United Nations that lives up to the public’s trust and that combats any form of sexual exploitation or abuse.
Leaders and staff across the system are appalled by these egregious crimes and want to stop them.
We are seeing results. The reports of cases are declining steadily. In 2012, I presented an enhanced programme of action to combat sexual exploitation and abuse to the General Assembly.
We started by assessing four peacekeeping missions where the problem was most severe. A team of experts reported to our Working Group. I thank all of you who contributed to this process.
The Working Group took an integrated approach to the challenges.
We are here to act on their recommendations and advance our zero-tolerance policy.
Our approach is based on three key elements: prevention, enforcement and remediation.
First is prevention.
Prevention means raising awareness and improving training so that more staff understand and practice zero tolerance. Learning should be mandatory.
Prevention also demands that we refuse to recruit personal with a record of dismissal for substantiated misconduct – especially for sexual exploitation or abuse.
To fully screen candidates, we need robust vetting.
Even after we have done everything possible to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, incidents may still occur.
That is why the second element of our strategy is enforcement.
We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We have to look around, speak up and act.
Our whistleblower protection policy supports this by protecting staff members who report misconduct.
The more we are open, transparent and efficient, the more we can hold ourselves to account. We need focal points in every mission. We need benchmarks on investigations. And we need strict timetables for seeing them through.
Accountability starts at the top – with commanders.
Member States must do their part.
I understand it can be difficult to pressure the same countries that we rely on for contributions. I myself constantly ask national leaders for additional troops, supplies and equipment. But I am also direct in calling on them to pursue cases of sexual exploitation and abuse until justice is served.
When a country’s national is implicated in incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse, their legal system must act.
That is why we have to work in partnership with Member States to make sure that they understand our expectations, take up our recommendations, and pursue criminal accountability.
Every single individual alleged to have committed sexual exploitation or abuse must be made to answer to those allegations.
Anything less will rightly be seen as impunity.
I welcome the recommendations of the Working Group to strengthen accountability. They cover leadership, command and individual accountability. And they deal with financial accountability where that is appropriate.
The third key element is remediation.
We must collaborate with Member States and community groups to remedy harm.
The Working Group looked at the Organization’s experience since the General Assembly adopted, in 2008, the Comprehensive Strategy on Assistance to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations Staff and Related Personnel.
The Group found obstacles to providing the level of support required by victims within existing resources.
I am pleased that the Working Group revisited the proposal of establishing a Trust Fund for Victims to back more services, including psychological support, medical care and access to legal assistance.
Everywhere the United Nations operates, we serve two functions at the same time.
The first is to carry out our substantive work to advance sustainable development, promote human rights, and establish peace.
Our second function is to model a spirit of respect, dignity, equality and other universal ideals that we hope to instil in society.
We always try to fulfil our mandates as quickly as possible so we can close our offices, withdraw our troops, and leave behind safe and prosperous communities.
And we try to extend our spirit of solidarity as far as possible, so that it will remain in the hearts of the people we serve long after the last peacekeeper leaves.
Today should mark a new phase in our vigorous efforts to tackle the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse.
I count on you to consider the Working Group report section by section and review recommendations for further action.
The outcome of this meeting can then be reported to the General Assembly for its endorsement.
Together, we can squarely confront this problem and live up to our ideals.
Statements on 26 January 2015