UN report on peacekeeper sex abuse:
System-wide failures are Secretary-General's failures
December 17, 2015 (New York): Today, Justice Marie Deschamps delivered a body blow to the United Nations’ moral authority. Her panel’s long-awaited report on the UN’s response to allegations of peacekeeper sexual abuse in the Central African Republic and beyond was a stunning condemnation of the personal conduct of several high-ranking UN officials and the grave systemic failures of the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse. For AIDS-Free World, it was a vindication of all that we have said since we first brought the world’s attention to the shocking reports of sexual abuse of young boys by peacekeepers in the CAR.
Over the last six months, all eyes have been on the Central African Republic. And even with the spotlight on MINUSCA, the UN Spokesperson has come forward to announce new allegations with a sickening frequency. It begs the question: are we merely scratching the surface? If we, as a small NGO, could uncover and piece together the details of such a massive scandal by scouring documents, digging through reports, and applying our knowledge of the system, what other horrific scandals remain hidden?
The panel’s report clearly shows that there are deep, systemic failures at the heart of the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse. The report makes clear that the vetting of troops is hopelessly inadequate. That investigations are flawed, the system is wildly fragmented, and the data are entirely unreliable. Above all, it shows that the rights of victims — in this case, young, starving boys in an IDP camp — have been utterly neglected by the very agencies tasked with protecting them.
The report found three people, by position, guilty of “abuse of authority” as defined by the United Nations. It also has profoundly negative things to say about a number of other senior people who do not meet the so-called standard of abuse of authority. But the definition is artificial, self-serving, dense and unconvincing. In any reasonable understanding of the words, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Executive Director of UNICEF, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, the Head of Ethics and the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet would all be found culpable. The review panel has critical — sometimes scathing — things to say about all of them. They should be held accountable.
For us, it is clear that the Secretary-General’s utterances, assurances and presentations about the goal of ‘zero tolerance’ are not to be trusted. For nine years, while paying lip service to his commitment to the zero tolerance policy, he has managed a set of institutional arrangements that have failed on every front.
Since learning of the new allegations of abuse in April 2015, a group of committed Member States have been organizing to confront the issue. The political will is building, and the time has come for governments to step in and create an entirely new mechanism to address peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse — whether committed by non-military UN personnel, military peacekeepers, or those outside the UN system. But whatever the new architecture, it cannot be part of the Secretary-General’s office. Only a root and branch clean-up will restore credibility to the United Nations.
AIDS-Free World is an international advocacy organization devoted to exposing and addressing injustice, abuse, and inequality. We launched the Code Blue campaign to end impunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel. www.codebluecampaign.com