United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has highlighted specific actions aimed at ending sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel that require “urgent” support from countries that provide troops and police to peacekeeping operations.
“Your sons and daughters risk their lives in some of the most troubled parts of the world to protect the vulnerable while advancing the cause of peace,” Mr. Ban told delegates. “Yet, as we have regrettably seen, the integrity of their mission can be called into question – indeed undermined – by flagrant cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
The UN chief pointed to more than a dozen recent allegations of misconduct by peacekeepers that are under investigation in the Central African Republic, which he said is not a “new phenomenon.”
“As you know, I have taken difficult but necessary decisions to demonstrate our resolve. Much more needs to be done to stamp out sexual exploitation and abuse in our missions,” he continued.
“I cannot do it alone. This is also a core responsibility for Member States.”
For this reason, Mr. Ban said he is asking countries that contribute troop and police personnel to join him in doing more to end this “unacceptable conduct,” through seven specific actions.
“First, we must work to prevent misconduct even before personnel are on the ground,” he stated. “Pre-deployment education and human rights training must be enhanced. Troops and police must be made fully aware of what constitutes sexual exploitation and abuse, and the importance of upholding the zero-tolerance policy.”
Mr. Ban said personnel must be properly and fully vetted so no individual with a past record of sexual exploitation and abuse can ever be allowed to serve the UN in any capacity.
He also underlined the need for rapid and effective investigations, with the goal of concluding those that are UN-led within six months, and called on Member States to ensure the same.
“As we all know, DNA samples are critical to the effectiveness of investigations of sexual exploitation and abuse. As such, the Secretariat will explore with Member States the feasibility of collecting DNA samples of all uniformed personnel,” he added.
As a fourth action, the Secretary-General said he has committed to ensuring consistent measures for all categories of personnel, including the option to withhold payment.
“That is why I have begun suspending payments to alleged perpetrators and individual experts on mission if there is credible evidence of sexual exploitation and abuse,” he noted.
The need to boost assistance to victims was also highlighted, with Mr. Ban announcing that he will establish a trust fund to strengthen victim assistance programmes and support awareness-raising and community outreach. He will be asking Member States to agree that the funds withheld from individuals in connection with imposed sanctions be diverted to this trust fund.
In addition, the UN chief stressed the need for stronger reporting. “As you know, I will include country-specific information in my future reports to the General Assembly concerning the number of credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving military and police personnel,” he said.
“This will be in addition to the status updates on allegations, which I currently provide. My decision to name specific countries is not designed to create public embarrassment, but to demonstrate transparency and promote accountability. There is no shame for a Member State that takes decisive action against alleged perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
Mr. Ban added that with mobile phones, everyone can be a human rights monitor.
He called on troop-contributing countries to work together “without excuses” to protect the good name of peacekeeping and uphold the trust placed in the UN by the people who need the Organization the most.
Last week, the Secretary-General presented a report containing his agenda to strengthen UN peacekeeping, setting out three fundamental changes urgently required to adapt operations to new realities. These are to prioritise prevention and mediation to break the cycle of responding too late and too expensively; to change the way the UN plans and conducts peace operations to make them faster, more responsive and more accountable to countries and people in conflict; and to put in place a global-regional framework to manage today’s peace and security challenges.
The report also outlined over a dozen new measures he is taking to rid the UN of sexual exploitation and abuse.