How Many Times Do We Have to Call for Independent Oversight?

October 9, 2019: Yet another United Nations entity—this time the World Food Programme (WFP)—is engulfed in a sexual abuse scandal.

A total of 28 respondents to an independent survey of WFP staff members said they “had experienced an act of ‘rape, attempted rape or other sexual assault or rape’ while working at the food agency,” according to an article published yesterday in Foreign Policy.

The survey, which has been cited by both Foreign Policy and The Italian Insider newspaper, found WFP to be a cesspool of harassment, discrimination against women and minorities, abuse of authority, and retaliation. More than 8,000 WFP staff members participated in the survey conducted by an independent management consultancy. 

A total of 641 respondents said they "experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, mostly sexually explicit comments or jokes, but in some cases rape and sexual assault," wrote Foreign Policy. Some 950 staff members said they “experienced or witnessed retaliation for speaking up about abuse practices.”

We are appalled and disgusted, but not at all surprised. The level of abuse revealed by the WFP survey is clearly endemic across all UN entities.

Yet UN Secretary-General António Guterres has steadfastly refused to face up to the grim reality of the crisis. Instead, he has mouthed empty bromides about “zero tolerance” and a “victim-centered” approach and initiated “reforms” that are little more than public relations exercises.

How many times do we have to call for the kind of independent oversight that is so urgently needed? 

We have drafted a proposal that can serve as a necessary first step to corrective action: a Temporary Independent Oversight Panel.

The Code Blue Campaign calls upon UN Member States to temporarily impanel impartial, independent experts—not employees—to oversee the UN’s response to allegations of sexual abuse and a culture of misconduct across all parts of the UN system. The panel would monitor every step taken in real-time, from receipt of each claim, through fact-finding and investigation, to the final outcome.

The scandals that have emerged over the past two years alone threaten to swamp the UN’s reputation. Radical, decisive action is needed. At some point—and it can’t come too soon—Secretary-General Guterres must understand that the world has changed since he took office, and patience for empty rhetoric has run out.


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