February 25, 2019—Last week, Secretary-General António Guterres announced a new advisory board of civil society leaders who’ll recommend fresh solutions to the UN’s long-running crisis of sexual abuse by its own personnel. Mr. Guterres first committed to create such a board in his 2017 Special Measures report, and he reiterated that pledge in 2018.

After two years, an advisory board has been formed. That's the good news. The bad news is that the group Mr. Guterres has assembled is not the one he promised.

A “civil society” advisory board, especially on a matter as complex as sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, must be made up of bona fide representatives of civil society. The Secretary-General’s advisory board must comprise experts and organizations with deep knowledge of the unique UN policies, procedures, and practices that have created and sustain the institution’s culture of impunity. There is a vital need for external civil society representatives whose particular backgrounds and dedicated expertise can bridge the gap between the Secretary-General on one hand and advocates and victims on the other.

With the fresh perspectives that thoughtful newcomers bring to an issue, the advisory group members announced last week could well contribute valuable recommendations. But a board of six legal academics and a medical doctor, each with UN pedigrees, should be given a different name and assigned to work under a mandate that fits. 

We await a Civil Society Advisory Board that truly deserves its name—and fulfills Mr. Guterres' two years’ worth of promises. 


(UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)