FEBRUARY 2019 —
Mr. Guterres has consistently pointed to the Victims' Rights Advocate concept as a central element of his strategy. In his first annual report to Member States on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse” in the first quarter of his first year, he outlined his four-pronged New Approach, saying that he would appoint "a distinguished senior human rights expert to serve in my office, at the Assistant Secretary-General level, as a system-wide victims' rights advocate reporting directly to me."
The system-wide Victims’ Rights Advocate "will work to ensure that reliable, gender-sensitive pathways” are available for “for every victim or witness to file complaints.” This global advocate, he wrote, "will also work with local authorities and civil society organizations” to see that every victim’s rights “are protected through access to appropriate and timely judicial processes."
In addition to the system-wide position, four victims' rights advocates were appointed in each of the four highest-incident peacekeeping missions: South Sudan (UNMISS), the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Haiti (MINUSTAH, now MINUJUSTH), and the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Each of the mission-level advocates is "double-hatted," meaning that they continue to work full-time jobs in addition to their new victims’ rights duties.
Jane Connors of Australia was appointed as the system-wide Victims’ Rights Advocate* on August 23, 2017. During her first 17 months in the position, Ms. Connors, who is based in New York, has spent approximately one week each in three of the four highest-incident countries—Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Haiti—where she reportedly has met with a small but undisclosed number of victims of UN personnel.
"These conversations have not been happy conversations, as you can imagine," Ms. Connors said during an event in September 2018, following a year in her post. "Victims have voiced their disappointment in the UN, their frustration and distrust. Some said they've lost hope, especially as they have had multiple interactions with people like myself. They've seen a passing parade of high-level individuals and they've hoped that their situations would change but nothing has changed."
Ms. Connors went on to describe the questions victims asked of her during the meetings.
"Why did they experience the harm?" the victims wanted to know. "Why were complaint pathways so complex? Could they be assured that immediate provision of assistance and support and investigative and other processes were confidential, factored in their wishes, and ensured their protection? How could they access medium- and long-term quality health care, educational, livelihood, and legal assistance? Could they be confident they would not be lost in multiple bureaucratic systems? Was there tailored support for child victims, including for children born of sexual exploitation and abuse? Could they expect the UN to help them take forward paternity and child support claims? Why hadn't they been informed about the progress or results of their cases in a timely matter or at all? When could they expect their abuser to be held accountable? … I could go on but I won’t."
The Secretary-General’s top-ranking advocate for victims gave no indication about whether she had answered the questions or how the UN would address the issues raised by the victims.
To read Code Blue’s analysis of the Victims’ Rights Advocate roles and functions, CLICK HERE.