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UN peacekeeping: Rot at the top

— AIDS-Free World responds to the resignation of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Central African Republic, Ban's convening of special session to discuss sexual exploitation and abuse —

Download the statement as a PDF

August 12, 2015 — What the Secretary-General of the UN did today in firing the SRSG in the Central African Republic was both necessary and commendable. But he went only part way. In every instance of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeepers, military or non-military, both the SRSG and the Force Commander should be fired.

That is the message the Secretary-General must deliver tomorrow when he meets with the SRSGs and the Force Commanders.

Only then will peacekeeping missions begin to learn that "zero tolerance” means what it says. Only then will the raping and abuse come to an end.

But what was missing from the Secretary-General’s remarks was any similar action internally at the highest levels of the UN bureaucracy. For years, the senior officials who run the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Department of Field Support, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Office of Legal Affairs have all been given a pass as sexual exploitation and abuse rears its ugly head with regularity in peacekeeping missions from Haiti to Liberia to the DRC to the Central African Republic. And now, as a result of the Central African Republic, we must add the Ethics Office, the office of the SG itself, and the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What the SG has failed to understand, or is afraid to confront, is the monumental failure of leadership and appalling mismanagement at headquarters in New York and in Geneva. It’s appropriate that the SRSG should pay the price of resignation; it’s scandalous that those who have officiated over years of scandal should be exempt from punishment.

The dignified letter of resignation submitted by the SRSG speaks volumes when he says “ … you may wish to consider that there could be a systemic problem warranting consideration at the highest level of the organization …”

Let us translate: there is rot at the top, and no one is dealing with it.

And there was one particularly discordant note struck by the Secretary-General in today’s statement. He said that the victims should come forward … there was no shame in reporting abuse. But six young boys and one twelve-year-old girl came forward on their own, and thus far the UN has done virtually nothing in response. It’s utterly reprehensible to blame the victims for not coming forward when the UN itself is awash in blame.

There is a sickness running through the upper reaches of the UN in dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse. The SG has dealt with only one part of the illness.