UN needs a turnaround in its treatment of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA)


An art exhibition in Juba, supported by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), aims to educate people about gender and sexual violence. Credit: UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis
  • Opinion by Anwarul K. Chowdhury (New York)
  • Inter Press Service

WHO, as we all know, is part of the UN system of entities. She went on to emphasize that “this was not the first time in the global health sphere that this has happened (for MANY of us).”

dr. James continued to elaborate to our scornful embarrassment: “I want to make something clear. This is not just a matter of the WHO or the UN. For example, I and many others have dealt with sexual abuse in medicine and field NGOs. Workplaces should be a safe and supportive environment for everyone. And it will take each of us to make that happen.”

It is a disgrace to the international community that she warned: “We must do better #Zero Tolerance; # Me too; #Gender equality.”

In 2021, an independent commission reported on cases of WHO personnel responding to the tenth Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That was not enough as a warning signal to WHO staff and its leadership. Now this.

To make matters worse, CNN reported another shocking news about a UN worker who was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a US court for multiple sexual assaults, committing “monstrous acts against multiple women for nearly two decades.”

For several years of that period. the staff worked for UNICEF, known for its longstanding, impeccable track record and dedication to the children of the world.

These and many other such instances, particularly UN peacekeepers and other UN peacekeeping personnel, encouraged the US government to announce on October 26 that it has established its engagement principles for use by all federal agencies associated with the United Nations and other international organizations to cooperate in the prevention of and response to incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.

These principles reflect the “commitment of the US government to increase US involvement in a clear and consistent manner” and to “promote accountability and transparency” in response to such issues.

This is the first time that a member state has publicly proclaimed a set of ‘principles of commitment’ to work with the UN in an area of ​​paramount importance that jeopardizes the UN’s credibility.

Indeed, as announced by the largest contributor to the UN budget and a veto-holding member of the UN.

Substantively, there are many positive aspects of these principles to keep the UN on its toes. But at the same time, if different member states start announcing and insisting on pursuing such ‘principles of engagement’ in different areas and issues in the context of the work of the UN, a chaotic situation will inevitably arise.

The UN has yet to make its stance on the US announcement, which is in fact a manifestation of the latter’s frustration with the UN’s handling of sexual abuse cases over the years rather laxly.

The much-praised policy of zero tolerance and no impunity has not improved the situation to the satisfaction of many UN benefactors.

The zero-tolerance policy is applied by the entities of the UN system as if they were using a crosswalk on a street with no traffic lights.

The non-governmental entity the Code Blue Campaign is the most outspoken and persistent actor regarding the issues and incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the UN system as a whole.

The campaign, led by Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan as co-founders, certainly deserves the sincere appreciation and highest praise from the global community for its commendable work.

It has rightly emphasized that “…unjust UN policies and practices in recent decades have led to a culture of impunity for sexual “misconduct” ranging from violations of UN rules to serious crimes. This is a violation of UN Charter.”

The UN’s labyrinthine rules, regulations, procedures, communication channels ridicule the mockery of due process and timely justice. This has been abused time and again by the perpetrators.

Since most SEA incidents take place at the field level, nationalities and personal comparisons play a huge role in delaying or denying justice.

The UN’s victim-centred approach to handling SEA cases has been manipulated by the perpetrators and their organizational colleagues to divert attention from their seriousness.

Not only the victims should be given the greatest attention, but also the abusers, because upholding justice is also the responsibility of the UN.

Also, UN viewers become curious when the media publish such SEA-related reports, the UN authorities invariably mention that the personnel involved are on leave or administrative leave. When these cases are in the public domain, the abusers gleefully enjoy the full-paid leave.

It is also known that the abusers tried to settle the matter with the victims or their families during the leave with lucrative temptations. The leave has also been used to wipe away evidence of the crime. This has been done in a number of cases with the full knowledge of the regulators.

What a mockery of the victim-centered approach!

The head of the UN peacekeeping operations where the SEA affairs are taking place should be asked by the Secretary-General to explain the incident as part of his or her direct responsibility. Unless such drastic measures are taken, the SEA will remain in the UN system.

Another unexpected dimension of the victim-centred approach is that the perpetrators and peacekeepers are sent back home for justice under the Troop Contributing Countries (TCC)-UN Agreement. Sending them home is one of the biggest reasons for continuing SEA in peacekeeping operations.

The victim is not in such a varied national military legal situation and no evidence is available other than UN-approved reports to demonstrate or suppress the extent of the abuse.

Again, a caricature of justice backed by the global rule of law enforcer!

The UN Secretary-General would do well to propose to the Security Council an amendment to the clause of the UN agreement with the TCCs, which provides for the repatriation of violent peacekeepers to their home countries. If a TCC refuses to do so, the agreement will not be signed. Period of time.

A functioning global tribunal for rapid justice must be established with the mandate to try peacekeepers as decided by the UN. If the International Criminal Court (ICC) can try heads of state or government for crimes against humanity, why can’t UN peacekeepers be tried before SEA?

That would be a real victim-centered approach!

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is a former Deputy Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations; former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and President of the Security Council

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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