unmuting women's voices

independent un personnel survey



unmuting women's voices

1) Engaging Peacekeeping Communities

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A critical dimension that has been absent in discussions of the problems associated with peacekeeping, especially sexual exploitation and abuse, are the lived experience, impressions, concerns, and advice of those directly affected by peacekeeping and UN peacekeeping personnel. The Code Blue Campaign believes that community members who live or have lived among peacekeepers have unique, firsthand expertise regarding the impact of peacekeeping missions on their lives. This experience should be a valuable resource for the UN, which too often looks exclusively to international experts for analysis and solutions, rather than to the affected populations. To correct this, Code Blue is engaging directly with community members in current and former peacekeeping countries, including victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel and the advocates who support them. 

Code Blue’s Community Consultations aim to generate meaningful dialogue so that the valuable, first-hand accounts and life experiences of the people, primarily women, whose expertise and insights have been overlooked by the UN can inform lasting solutions to the sexual exploitation and abuse problems associated with peacekeeping.

Presently, Code Blue is consulting communities in Sierra Leone, a former peacekeeping country, through its local partner, Timap for Justice. Timap for Justice is a national NGO that provides essential justice services to indigent Sierra Leoneans through a network of community-based paralegals. With the help of Timap for Justice paralegals, Code Blue is holding structured large-group discussions in a number of diverse former peacekeeping communities. The recommendations, insights, opinions, and impressions will, for the first time, recognize the unique role of affected individuals and communities not just as victims, but as people who became involuntary experts on the experience of living among and, to an extent, dependent upon foreign peacekeeping forces.

These consultations will be replicated in select other former and current peacekeeping countries such as Liberia, Haiti, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. The insights and advice gathered from these communities will be conveyed to the United Nations, demonstrating the incomparable value of seeing women and communities in peacekeeping countries not just as living evidence of a problem that international policymakers need to solve, but as people with unique analyses of and solutions to those problems.

Outcomes and Impact

  • Active participation in finding a solution: The consultations provide survivors with the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns, which could inform future responses to problems associated with peacekeeping, particularly sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • Advocacy: The interaction of Code Blue and these peacekeeping communities will inform Code Blue’s advocacy efforts to end impunity for sexual exploitation and abuse; specifically, its lobbying for a criminal accountability mechanism to punish perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions. 
  • Support and best practices: The experiences and coping mechanisms shared by individuals and communities that were affected by UN peacekeeping could serve as best practices to those who are currently facing similar situations.

community consultation: sierra Leone

In May 2018, Code Blue held its first “Community Consultation” in Sierra Leone, hearing from over 100 residents of Mile 91, a town in the country’s Northern Province. Read more about the consultation and what it revealed →


2) Code Blue Hearings

The Code Blue Campaign will be convening Hearings for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel in select current and former peacekeeping countries. The Hearings will correct the conspicuous absence of victims’ perspectives in discussions of the solution to sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping missions, through a series of testimonials from the victims. Those whose lives have been most profoundly affected by sexual exploitation and abuse will have an opportunity to present their stories to a panel of eminent persons, who are separate and distinct from the UN, thereby honoring victims’ rights to be heard and have their experiences recognized as central to any further response or reform.

The Hearings aim to highlight the voices of victims and gather advice directly from these central actors, expose the lasting impact of the harm inflicted by crimes committed by UN peacekeeping personnel, and enable a measure of satisfaction in being heard, for the victims and communities who have been harmed and have seen their attackers go free.

The Hearings would not amount to formal or conventional justice forums, and the role of the panel is not to hear criminal evidence, assess claims or render judgment. The Hearings will nonetheless provide a high-level platform where victims break the silence that has de-personalized and minimized their ordeals. Through their spoken words, participants will also break the UN habit of discussing profound human crises in the absence of those directly affected and without the benefit of their firsthand perspectives. Women indicative of the many who historically have been aggregated into one anonymous, faceless class of ‘victims’ will finally be introduced into the discussion from the outermost margins, and recognized as three-dimensional, individual human beings.

The Hearings will necessarily occur in the absence of the perpetrators, who remain at large, but those testifying will know that their stories, their feelings, and their recommendations, conveyed to eminent persons who represent moral authority and champion our highest ideals, have finally been told and heard. For many, the validation of a Hearing is itself restorative; when justice is placed beyond reach, the simple act of unburdening can take on enormous significance for victims whose torment has been suppressed and unrecognized and whose voices have been muted. 

The proposed Hearings are inspired by several women-led initiatives that have provided a platform to expose crimes of sexual violence, in the absence of recognition through existing justice systems. Prominent among the precedents is the Global Tribunal on Violations of Women's Human Rights, which provided a global forum for female survivors of violence and their advocates to testify to the failure of existing human rights mechanisms. The Hearings are also inspired by Women’s Hearings organized in Cambodia in response to the lack of attention paid to rape and other sexual and gender-based violence crimes in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the hybrid court set up to deal with crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime.



Independent UN personnel Survey

Proposal for a Worldwide, Independent Women-led Survey of UN personnel

AIDS-Free World is proposing a comprehensive, independent survey of all UN staff on sexual offenses by UN personnel. The survey would be conducted by an internationally recognized organization, entirely separate from the UN. The survey would ask respondents a series of questions that specifically address their experiences and perspectives on sexual violence while working at the UN. It would address all types of sexual violence, including sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse.

The UN cannot adequately respond to sexual violence unless it has a clear understanding of the problem as it exists. A survey of all UN personnel is needed to understand the true size and scope of this issue. Representative and detailed data that reveals the unique perspectives, knowledge, and critiques of all UN staff is essential if the UN is to reform in ways that effectively address sexual offenses committed by its personnel, as the current Secretary-General and his predecessors have consistently promised to do.

The UN does not deny that it has a sexual violence problem. Secretary-General Guterres himself admits that some women are not reporting because they are “probably afraid of doing so” and others “do not trust that the system will be able to effectively punish those involved in it.”[1]

There are several reasons why the UN’s own staff surveys are not sufficient. First, the surveys conducted by the UN are not for the exclusive purpose of obtaining perspectives and information about sexual offenses, so they cannot represent the full extent of the problem. Second, the UN’s surveys to-date have not been organization-wide. Our proposal would create an accurate baseline that does not currently exist. Lastly, the UN is not an independent entity in its surveys. Many UN personnel fear that their responses to UN-run surveys, even if “anonymous” and conducted by staff associations, can be traced back to them by management.

AIDS-Free World has researched and interviewed several leading survey firms about the design, methodology and the resources required to carry out this proposal. After assessing the capabilities of the various firms, it is clear to us that RAND Corporation would be the best partner. The behavioural scientists at RAND are experts with significant experience conducting large sexual violence surveys and are enthusiastic to partner with civil society on this idea. We feel confident that UN management and personnel will see RAND for what it is, a credible, trustworthy, and objective organization with an excellent global reputation.

Our proposal puts women experts from civil society and academia at the heart of the design and management of this survey, assisted by and answerable to a group of concerned Member States. The management committee would create the survey with RAND and oversee its development and implementation. Non-governmental committee members would be recruited based on their experience and expertise in: 1) UN systems and procedures; and 2) gender and discrimination against women; and 3) workplace sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse committed against people the UN is mandated to assist and serve.

This proposal will require a significant budget, but it is too important and too urgent to be left languishing for Member States to reject because of funding concerns. For that reason, AIDS-Free World will commit to raising the necessary funding. We feel confident that independently raising the necessary funds will be possible, and we are calling on civil society to support this proposal. We urge Member States to endorse the survey proposal and encourage the Secretary-General to cooperate willingly. The UN system no longer afford to ignore the drumbeat of change.


[1] Taken from Secretary-General’s March 13th press interaction on sexual exploitation and abuse