The UN has a longstanding crisis caused, first, by UN personnel who commit sexual offenses against members of the populations they’re intended to serve and against other UN personnel and, second, by the institution’s response—the policies, procedures, and practices that create and sustain an institutional culture of impunity.
We have identified three root causes of the UN's culture of impunity:
The institution has taken the liberty to manage its crisis internally.
UN senior managers responsible for responding to and deliberating on individual cases are all rendered non-neutral by the conflicts of interest inherent in their positions: each is simultaneously called upon to represent and defend the best interests of the UN, the rights of the Organization’s accused employees and witnesses, and the rights of claimants.
UN immunity makes the Organization’s “words and deeds” uniquely impervious to oversight or audit, shielding its functions and functionaries from external scrutiny and effectively negating the freedom of information that is a cornerstone of due process and a necessary precondition to equal justice for all.
The Code Blue Campaign is concerned with overhauling several UN practices now in place that allow the UN Organization to dismiss and violate claimants’ fundamental rights to due process and neutral justice before the law:
In addressing claims of “sexual exploitation and abuse” and “sexual harassment and assault” made against UN personnel, UN officials consistently misinterpret, misrepresent, and misapply UN immunity (an important legal protection intended to protect the multilateral work of the world body) to shield individual personnel from accountability and the Organization’s officials from reputational damage.
The license to manage its sexual abuse crisis internally has evolved in tandem with the linear, largely unplanned growth of the UN system into a sprawling bureaucracy with many dozens of semi-autonomous “entities” that operate in relative isolation with barely monitored and rarely questioned authority accorded the heads.
This combination of rapid de-centralization and unmonitored, quasi-independence and authority has in turn given rise within the various “entities” to dozens of inharmonious, non-coherent, and often conflicting policies, procedures, and practices for addressing sexual offense claims made against the personnel of those entities.
The result is a non-system in which claimants and accused UN personnel associated with one entity of the UN Organization are subject to policies and procedures that may bear no resemblance to those followed by other entities of the same UN Organization. The only unifying factors across the system are the root causes of the UN’s culture of impunity for sexual offenses: the internal handling of all cases including those in which crimes beyond the UN’s “jurisdiction” are alleged; the misinterpretation and misapplication of UN immunity; and the inherent conflicts of interest underlying every case.
The Code Blue Campaign has arrived at these conclusions through years of intense research. We have exposed several cases that illustrate the injustice, the incoherence, the innate and insurmountable conflicts of interest, and the long history of rights violations and abusive treatment by the UN Organization, primarily of victims but also of the accused. We argue that unjust UN policies and practices have, over decades, resulted in a culture of impunity for sexual “misconduct” ranging from breaches of UN rules to grave crimes. This represents a contravention of the UN Charter. Member States must intervene immediately. The General Assembly could end this crisis by divesting the UN Organization of any role in cases of “sexual misconduct,” and delegating the authority instead to an appropriate entity created, staffed by and reporting directly to the Member States, and entirely independent of the Organization.
Member States have not yet come to the realization that the day of reckoning is approaching. If they do not take the initiative to fully recognize, understand, and solve a problem that has become an attention-getting Achilles heel, the UN’s sexual abuse crisis is likely to reach a pinnacle soon that could hobble the United Nations’ ability and authority to perform any of its functions. The UN could follow in the unenviable footsteps of another enormously powerful, largely secretive global institution whose former heights of moral authority are now universally queried: the Catholic Church.