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Security Council members vote to adopt a resolution endorsing special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 2022 (IPS) – The United States, which recently laid down a set of guidelines to monitor sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by US citizens in international organizations, including the United Nations and its agencies worldwide, has implicitly accused the UN of faltering on a high-profile case last month.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Karim Elkorany, an American citizen and a former UN employee, to 15 years in prison for the drugging and sexual assault of one victim and making false statements to cover up another sexual assault.
As part of the federal investigation, Elkorany admitted that he had drugged and/or sexually assaulted 17 additional victims between 2002 and 2016.
Ambassador Chris Lu, U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform at the US Mission to the United Nations, said that consistent with State Department policies, “we have referred this matter to the Office of Inspector General for review to ensure a culture of accountability”
“We also call on the United Nations to undertake a similar review that includes a comprehensive examination of the handling of any sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment (SEAH) allegations against Mr. Elkorany during his employment with the United Nations”.
The investigation, he said, should examine whether UN officials were aware of Elkorany’s misconduct and failed to take appropriate action, including ensuring the availability and accessibility of assistance to survivors.
In line with the “Principles on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) for U.S. Government Engagement with International Organizations”, the United States said it is committed to preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the UN system.
“We strongly support the United Nations’ zero tolerance policy and the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen its implementation”.
“Protection from SEAH is the responsibility of leadership and managers at every level who have a duty to take action in response to allegations of SEAH and ensure implementation of governance policies and delivery of services in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of all personnel and communities served by our institutions.”
The critical stand against the UN comes amid “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”, beginning November 25, and billed as an opportunity to call for prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has established a Chief Executive Board Task Force to review policies to prevent sexual harassment and develop improved and consistent approaches across the UN, including a review of how the UN defines sexual harassment.
Tsitsi Matekaire, the Global Lead on Equality Now’s End Sexual Exploitation Programme based in the UK, told IPS the publication of these principles by the US government is a welcome development.
They echo similar positive initiatives by countries such as Australia and the UK, which have introduced measures following highly publicized scandals in recent years within the international aid sector.
“It is good to see more organizations introducing and extending safeguarding policies, but words must be underpinned by effective action and we need more evidence about the impact of these commitments. It is no good having protection strategies and procedures in place if they are not being well implemented and abuse continues unchecked”, said Matekaire.
“We don’t know the true scale of the problem, but we do know from frequent revelations that sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse remain a widespread problem inside the United Nations system and within other international development organizations”.
In September 2022, she pointed out, a media investigation disclosed sexual abuse by humanitarian workers at an UN-run camp in South Sudan. It was reported that abuse occurred “on a daily basis” over a number of years and aid officials were aware as early as 2015.
Although the UN did take some action, it faced criticism for failing to introduce effective strategies to end the problem, and an external review cited a lack of victim support, she noted.
“The UN and all international development agencies must enforce a zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and harassment directed at, and perpetrated by, staff. This must apply to everyone, regardless of what level their position is”.
“All staff should receive training, with policies and procedures well communicated. Reports of abuse should be taken seriously, investigations carried out swiftly and effectively, and perpetrators held fully to account”.
She also said that aid workers and other whistle-blowers need to be well protected so they are able to disclose allegations of abuses without fear of negative repercussions, including retaliation or sidelining.
And safeguarding and reporting mechanisms need to ensure sexual predators are not able to evade punishment or move to different jobs where they are able to commit further offences.”
And here is the link to the article about the South Sudan story referenced above.
Meanwhile, a Reuters report of November 1 said the World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended a senior manager at its Geneva headquarters after a British doctor publicly alleged she was sexually assaulted at a health conference last month, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Rosie James, a 26-year-old junior doctor working for England’s National Health Service tweeted last month that the assault occurred at the World Health Summit in Berlin. The event, which took place from Oct. 16-18, was jointly organized by the WHO. James said at the time that she planned to report the incident.
“The alleged perpetrator is on leave and the investigation is on-going,” a WHO spokesperson said in an emailed response to Reuters about James’s statements, without naming him.
The set of “Government Engagement Principles on Protection from Sexual Exploitation Abuse and Sexual Harassment within International Organizations, laid down by the US includes six key components:
The United States will continue to promote the full implementation of policies of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment, including zero tolerance for inaction in response to allegations, across the United Nations and other International Organizations.
This includes support for policies that prioritize prevention and mitigation efforts, monitor the effectiveness of such efforts, ensure safe access to confidential SEAH reporting mechanisms and appropriate survivor support, and embed survivor-centered principles across all actions in response to reported allegations – including investigations.
The United States recognizes that an absence of reporting does not mean incidents are not being perpetrated, nor does it indicate that zero tolerance policies are being fully implemented.
A Survivor-centered Approach
The United States expects all allegations or incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment to be reviewed and addressed, while respecting principles of due process.
In its engagement with the United Nations and other International Organizations, the United States will continue to advocate for the use of survivor-centered principles and standards – an approach that recognizes and empowers survivors as individuals with agency and unique needs, safeguarding their dignity and wellbeing.
Prevention and Risk Mitigation
The United States will work with the United Nations and other International Organizations to institutionalize prevention and mitigation measures that go beyond basic awareness-raising, training, capacity-building or dissemination of codes of conduct, and include a commitment to promote adequate funding, dedicated technical staff, and meaningful risk analysis and mitigation.
The United States will hold the United Nations and other International Organizations to the highest standard, including from the onset of a crisis, conflict or emergency, to mitigate against such risk, especially with highly vulnerable populations.
Accountability and Transparency
The United States expects the leadership of the United Nations and other International Organizations to take meaningful action to support accountability and transparency through, among others, the following: the conduct of timely and survivor-centered investigations; response efforts driven by the needs, experiences, and resiliencies of those most at risk of SEAH; clear reporting and response systems, including to inform Member States of allegations or incidents; and accountability measures, including termination of employment or involvement of law enforcement, as needed.
Organizational Culture Change
The United States will work to advocate for the development by the United Nations and other International Organizations of evidence-based metrics and standards of practice in the implementation of zero tolerance policies, promote holistic approaches, empower women and girls, and reinforce leadership and organizational accountability.
Policies, statements, and training are essential, but alone are insufficient to produce lasting positive change. Systems-level change requires a shift in organizational culture, behavior, and the underlying processes and mechanisms to deliver assistance and promote internal accountability.
Empowerment of Local Communities
The United States will prioritize, in partnership with the leadership of the United Nations and other International Organizations, the critical importance of locally-led efforts, particularly those led by women and girls, who, when meaningfully supported and engaged, can inform the measures that may mitigate risks and promote safer foreign assistance programming.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, chair of COP27, reads the nine-page Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan, the document that concluded the climate summit on Sunday Nov. 20, to an exhausted audience after tough and lengthy negotiations that finally reached an agreement to create a fund for loss and damage, a demand of the global South. CREDIT: Kiara Worth/UN
SHARM EL SHEIKh , Nov 20 2022 (IPS) – They were on the brink of shipwreck and did not leave happy, but did feel satisfied that they got the best they could. The countries of the global South achieved something decisive at COP27: the creation of a special fund to address the damage and loss caused by climate change in the most vulnerable nations.
The fund, according to the Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan, the official document approved at dawn on Sunday Nov. 20 in this Egyptian city, should enable “rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction” following extreme weather events in these vulnerable countries.
Decisions on who will provide the money, which countries will benefit and how it will be disbursed were left pending for a special committee to define. But the fund was approved despite the fact that the issue was not even on the official agenda of the summit negotiations, although it was at the center of the public debate before the conference itself.
“We are satisfied that the developed countries have accepted the need to create the Fund. Of course, there is much to discuss for implementation, but it was difficult to ask for more at this COP,” Ulises Lovera, Paraguay’s climate change director, told IPS, weary from a longer-than-expected negotiation, early Sunday morning at the Sharm El Sheikh airport.
“This COP has taken an important step towards justice. I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalize it in the coming period,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. He also described as an achievement that a “red line” was not crossed, that would take the rise in global temperature above the 1.5-degree limit.
More than 35,000 people from nearly 200 countries participated in the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) on Climate Change in Sharm El Sheikh, an Egyptian seaside resort on the Red Sea, where the critical dimension of global warming in the different regions of the world was on display, sometimes dramatically.
Practically everything that has to do with the future of the modes of production and life of humanity – starting with energy and food – was discussed at a mega-event that far exceeded the official delegations of the countries and the great leaders present, such as U.S. President Joe Biden and the Brazilian president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Hundreds of social organizations, international agencies and private sector stakeholders came here to showcase their work, seek funding, forge alliances, try to influence negotiations, defend their interests or simply be on a stage that seemed to provide a space for all kinds of initiatives and businesses.
At the gigantic Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Center there was also a global fair with non-stop activities from morning to night in the various pavilions, in stands with auditoriums of between 20 and 200 seats, where there was a flurried program of presentations, lectures and debates, not to mention the more or less crowded demonstrations of activists outside the venue.
In addition, government delegates negotiated on the crux of the summit: how to move forward with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which at COP21 in 2015 set global climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (3rd-R) walks hurriedly through the Sharm El Sheikh Convention Center during the last intense hours of the COP27 negotiations, when there were moments when it seemed that there would be no agreement and the climate summit would end in failure. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS
On the brink of failure
Once again, the nine-page Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan did not include in any of its pages a reference to the need to abandon fossil fuels, but only coal.
The document was the result of a negotiation that should have ended on Friday Nov. 18, but dragged on till Sunday, as usually happens at COPs. What was different on this occasion was a very tough discussion and threats of a walkout by some negotiators, including those of the European Union.
But in the end, the goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, established in the Paris Agreement, was maintained, although several countries tried to make it more flexible up to 2.0 degrees, which would have been a setback with dramatic effects for the planet and humanity, according to experts and climate activists.
“Rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions (are) required – lowering global net greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030 relative to the 2019 level – to limit global warming to 1.5°C target,” reads the text, although no mention is made of oil and gas, the fossil fuels most responsible for those emissions, in one of the usual COP compromises, since agreements are reached by consensus.
The Bolivian delegation in Sharm El Sheikh, which included officials as well as leaders of indigenous communities from the South American country, take part in a meeting with journalists at COP27 to demand more ambitious action. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS
The priorities of the South
Developing countries, however, focused throughout the COP on the Loss and Damage Fund and other financing mechanisms to address the impacts of rising temperatures and mitigation actions.
“We need financing because we cannot deal with the environmental crisis alone. That is why we are asking that, in order to solve the problem they have caused, the rich nations take responsibility,” Diego Pacheco, head of the Bolivian delegation to Sharm El Sheikh, told IPS.
Environmental organizations, which showed their power in Egypt with the presence of thousands of activists, also lobbied throughout COP27 for greater commitments, including mitigation actions.
“This conference cannot be considered an implementation conference because there is no implementation without phasing out all fossil fuels,” the main cause of the climate crisis, said Zeina Khalil Hajj of the international environmental organization 350.org.
“Together for implementation” was precisely the slogan of COP27, calling for a shift from commitments to action.
“A text that does not stop fossil fuel expansion, that does not provide progress from the already weak Glasgow Pact (from COP26) makes a mockery of the millions of people living with the impacts of climate change,” said Khalil Hajj, head of global campaigning at 350.org.
One of the demonstrations by climate activists at COP27 held in Egypt Nov. 6-20, demanding more ambitious climate action by governments, as well as greater justice and equity in tackling the climate crisis. CREDIT: Busani Bafana/IPS
The crises that came together
Humanity – as recognized by the States Parties in the final document – is living through a dramatic time.
It faces a number of overlapping crises: food, energy, geopolitical, financial and economic, combined with more frequent natural disasters due to climate change. And developing nations are hit especially hard.
The demand for financing voiced by countries of the global South thus takes on greater relevance.
Cecilia Nicolini, Argentina’s climate change secretary, told IPS that it is the industrialized countries, because of their greater responsibility for climate change, that should finance developing countries, and lamented that “the problem is that the rules are made by the powerful.”
However, 80 percent of the money now being spent worldwide on climate change action is invested in the developed world, according to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the world’s largest funder of climate action, which has contributed 121 billion dollars to 163 countries over the past 30 years, according to its own figures.
In this context, the issue of Loss and Damage goes one step further than adaptation to climate change, because it involves reparations for the specific impacts of climate change that have already occurred, such as destruction caused by droughts, floods or forest fires.
“Those who are bearing the burden of climate change are the most vulnerable households and communities. That is why the Loss and Damage Fund must be established without delay, with new funds coming from developed countries,” said Javier Canal Albán, Colombia’s vice minister of environmental land planning.
“It is a moral and climate justice imperative,” added Canal Albán, who spoke at a press conference on behalf of AILAC, a negotiating bloc that brings together several Latin American and Caribbean countries.
But the text of the outcome document itself acknowledges that there is a widening gap between what developing countries need and what they actually receive.
The financing needs of these countries for climate action until 2030 were estimated at 5.6 trillion dollars, but developed countries – as the document recognized – have not even fulfilled their commitment to provide 100 billion dollars per year, committed since 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, and ratified in 2015, at COP21 which adopted the Paris Agreement.
It was the absence of any reference to the need to accelerate the move away from oil and natural gas that frustrated several of the leaders at the COP. “We believe that if we don’t phase out fossil fuels there will be no Fund that can pay for the loss and damage caused by climate change,” Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister, who was at the two-week conference in Sharm El Sheikh held Nov. 6-20, told IPS.
“We have to put the victims first in order to make an orderly and just transition,” she said, expressing the sentiments of the governments and societies of the South at COP27.
Yomira Cuadros faced motherhood at an early age, as well as the obstacles of a sexist society like Peru’s, regarding her reproductive decisions. In the apartment where she lives with her family in Lima, she expresses faith in the future, now that she has finally started attending university, after having two children as a result of unplanned pregnancies. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS
LIMA, Nov 18 2022 (IPS) – No woman in Peru should have to die, have her physical or mental health affected, be treated as a criminal or have an unwanted pregnancy because she does not have access to abortion, said Dr. Rocío Gutiérrez, an obstetrician who is the deputy director of the Manuela Ramos Movement, a non-governmental feminist center that works for gender rights in this South American country.
In this Andean nation of 33 million people, abortion is illegal even in cases of rape or fetal malformation. It is only legal for two therapeutic reasons: to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious and permanent health problem.
Peru thus goes against the current of the advances achieved by the “green wave”. Green is the color that symbolizes the changes that the women’s rights movement has achieved in the legislation of neighboring countries such as Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina and some states in Mexico, where early abortion has been decriminalized. These countries have joined the ranks of Cuba, where it has been legal for decades.
“I didn’t tell my parents because they are very Catholic and would have forced me to go through with the pregnancy, they always instilled in me that abortion was a bad thing. But I started to think about how pregnancy would change my life and I didn’t feel capable of raising a child at that moment.” — Fatima Guevara
But Latin America remains one of the most punitive regions in terms of abortion, with several countries that do not recognize women’s right to make decisions about their pregnancies under any circumstances. In El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Haiti it is illegal under all circumstances, and in some cases draconian penalties are handed down.
In the case of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Venezuela, meanwhile, abortion is allowed under very few conditions, while there are more circumstances under which it is legal in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.
“In Peru an estimated 50,000 women a year are treated for abortion-related complications in public health facilities,” Dr. Gutiérrez told IPS. “This is not the total number of abortions in the country, but rather the number of women who reach public health services due to emergencies or complications.”
Gutiérrez explained that the cases attended are just the tip of the iceberg, because for every abortion complicated by hemorrhage or infection treated at a health center, at least seven have been performed that did not present difficulties.
Multiplying by seven the 50,000 cases treated due to complications provides the shocking figure of 350,000 unsafe clandestine abortions performed annually in Peru.
The doctor regretted the lack of official statistics about a phenomenon that affects the lives and rights of women “irreversibly, with damage to health, and death.”
Gutiérrez said that another of the major impacts is the criminalization of women who undergo abortions, due to mistreatment by health personnel who not only judge and blame them, but also report them to the police.
Obstetrician Rocío Gutiérrez (C), deputy director of the feminist Manuela Ramos Movement, stands with two fellow activists holding green scarves – representing the struggle for reproductive rights – during the XV Regional Conference on Women held this month in the city of Buenos Aires. CREDIT: Courtesy of Rocío Gutiérrez
Under article 30 of Peru’s General Health Law, No. 26842, a physician who attends a case of presumed illegal abortion is required to file a police report.
Gutiérrez also referred to the fact that unwanted pregnancies have numerous consequences for the lives of women, especially girls and adolescents, in a sexist country like Peru, where women often do not have the right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive health.
Healing the wounds of unwanted motherhood
By the age of 19, Yomira Cuadros was already the mother of two children. She did not plan either of the pregnancies and only went ahead with them because of pressure from her partner.
In 2020, according to official data, 8.3 percent of adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 were already mothers or had become pregnant in Peru.
Cuadros, whose parents are both physicians and who lives in a middle-class family, said she never imagined that her life would turn out so differently than what she had planned.
“The first time was because I didn’t know about contraceptives, I was 17 years old. The second time the birth control method failed and I thought about getting an abortion, but I couldn’t do it,” Cuadros told IPS.
At the time, she was in a relationship with an older boyfriend on whom she felt very emotionally dependent. “I had made a decision (to terminate the pregnancy), but he didn’t want to, he told me not to, the pressure was like blackmail and out of fear I went ahead with the pregnancy,” she said.
Making that decision under coercion hurt her mental health. Today, at the age of 26, she reflects on the importance of women being guaranteed the conditions to freely decide whether they want to be mothers or not.
Peruvian activists go topless to demand the right to legal abortion, during a demonstration in the streets of the capital on Mar. 8, 2018. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS
In her case, although she had the support of her mother to get a safe abortion, the power of her then-partner over her was stronger.
“Becoming a mother when you haven’t planned to is a shock, you feel so alone, it is very difficult. I didn’t feel that motherhood was something beautiful and I didn’t want to experience the same thing with my second pregnancy, so I considered terminating it,” she said.
Finding herself in that unwanted situation, she fell into a deep depression and was on medication, and is still in therapy today.
“I went from being a teenager to an adult with responsibilities that I never imagined. It’s as if I have never really gone through the proper mourning process because of everything I had to take on, and I know that it will continue to affect me because I will never stop being a mother,” she said.
She clarified that “it’s not that I don’t want to be a mother or that I hate my children,” and added that “as I continue to learn to cope, I will get better, it’s just that it wasn’t the right time.”
She and her two children, ages nine and seven, live with her parents and brother in an apartment in the municipality of Pueblo Libre, in the Peruvian capital. She has enrolled at university to study psychology and accepts the fact that she will only see her dreams come true little by little.
“Things are not how I thought they would be, but it’s okay,” she remarked with a newfound confidence that she is proud of.
Gutiérrez said more than 60 percent of women in Peru have an unplanned pregnancy at some point in their lives, and argued that the government’s family planning policies fall far short.
“There are a set of factors that lead to unwanted pregnancies, such as the lack of comprehensive sex education in schools, and the lack of birth control methods and timely family planning for women in all their diversity, which worsened during the pandemic. And of course, the correlate is access to legal and safe abortion,” said Gutiérrez.
She lamented that little or no progress has been made in Peru in relation to the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights, including access to safe and free legal abortion, despite the struggle of feminist organizations and movements in the country that have been demanding decriminalization in cases of rape, artificial insemination without consent, non-consensual egg transfer, or malformations incompatible with life.
University student Fátima Guevara decided to terminate an unwanted pregnancy when she was 19 years old. Four years later, she is sure that it was the right decision, in terms of her plans for her life. The young woman told her story at a friend’s home, where she was able to talk about it openly, in Lima, Peru. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS
The obscurity of illegal abortion
The obscurity surrounding abortion led Fátima Guevara, when she faced an unwanted pregnancy at the age of 19, to decide to use Misoprostol, a safe medication that is included in the methods accepted by the World Health Organization for the termination of pregnancies.
“I didn’t tell my parents because they are very Catholic and would have forced me to go through with the pregnancy, they always instilled in me that abortion was a bad thing. But I started to think about how pregnancy would change my life and I didn’t feel capable of raising a child at that moment,” she told IPS in a meeting at a friend’s home in Lima.
She said that she and her partner lacked adequate information and obtained the medication through a third party, but that she used it incorrectly. She turned to her brother who took her to have an ultrasound first. “Hearing the fetal heartbeat shook me, it made me feel guilty, but I followed through with my decision,” she added.
After receiving proper instructions, she was able to complete the abortion. And today, at the age of 23, about to finish her psychology degree, she has no doubt that it was the right thing to do.
The UN Secretariat building in New York City. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías
NEW YORK, Nov 15 2022 (IPS) – The U.S. Government has recently published ‘Engagement Principles’ on Protection from Sexual Exploitation Abuse & Sexual Harassment within International Organizations’, and while any involvement from Member States is to be encouraged, these principles do not address the fundamental need for either deterrence or for accountability.
The concept of a “survivor-centred approach” – sadly – is an irrelevant sound bite to appease a political lobby. Post-incident care and support for the victim is not only admirable but very necessary but serves no deterrent purpose, and any bearing it might have on the prosecution of an offender will be indirect at best.
Nothing done for victims after an incident will prevent future victims being similarly assaulted. One of the accepted tenets of criminology is that criminal activity is not discouraged by procedures, committees, working groups or focal points, nor is there any deterrent effect in increasing the penalty for anyone convicted of the offence; criminal activity is minimised by maximising the likelihood of the perpetrator being held accountable for their actions. The UN choses to ignore that, and will not acknowledge three basic truths the Member States must recognise:
FIRST: that any sexual assault is a serious criminal offence that should be prosecuted as such.
In the real world, where both a criminal case and a civil one arise from the same event; the civil case will be sisted to give priority to the more important criminal prosecution. The UN, however, does the opposite and insists that their administrative investigation take priority over the criminal investigation of the same incident.
As a result, even where a rape is reported in the UN, the chances of the perpetrator being successfully prosecuted in a criminal court is minimised to the point where the risk is insignificant.
SECOND: that while UN personnel require and deserve the protection of the 1946 Convention on Privileges & Immunities, that Convention does not grant immunity for sexual offences.
Abuse of the concept of immunity has greatly influenced the evolution of the UN culture into one of narcissistic entitlement, where sexual predators believe they can act with impunity.
Functional Immunity was afforded to UN staff members under the Convention which states, very clearly, in Section 18:
Officials of the United Nations shall : (a) be immune from legal process in respect of words spoken or written and all acts performed by them in their official capacity; (Emphasis added.)
Given that any sexual activity – whether consensual, contractual, or coerced – is not part of the “official duties” of any UN staff member; it is self-evident that no immunity can apply in the case of any sexual offence. If such an offence appears to have been committed; the host nation must therefore have jurisdiction over the matter.
The Convention was adopted to protect UN staff against harassment by a hostile government, and in those conditions, there will always be a risk that criminal charges might be fabricated. There is no doubt, therefore that the UN must take an interest in any accusations against staff members, but as soon as their preliminary enquiries establish reasonable grounds to believe that a sexual offence has been committed; the matter should be handed over to local law enforcement immediately – for them to proceed with a criminal investigation.
The Convention was never intended to protect offenders from the consequences of their own criminality. That is made clear in Section 20 which reads:
Privileges and immunities are granted to officials in the interests of the United Nations and not for the personal benefit of the individuals themselves. The Secretary-General shall have the right and the duty to waive the immunity of any official in any case where, in his opinion, the immunity would impede the course of justice and can be waived without prejudice to the interests of the United Nations.
If the Secretary-General can give an example of how the prosecution of a sexual predator could possibly “prejudice to the interests of the UN” – the world deserves an explanation.
The UN interprets the Convention to protect UN staff members from sexual offences even when no staff member is accused of any such thing, as was demonstrated in 2015 by the Organization’s response when French authorities sought to investigate allegations against French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
The Convention states in Section 21:
The United Nations shall cooperate at all times with the appropriate authorities of Members to facilitate the proper administration of justice, secure the observance of police regulations and prevent the occurrence of any abuse in connection with the privileges, immunities and facilities mentioned in this article.
That is a provision the Secretariat appears to ignore, because “immunity” was cited as the reason why UN staff members could not assist French investigators by introducing them to victims. The UN has never explained how that could be justified.
Immunity was created for the best of reasons, it has now become part of the problem.
THIRD: that ‘self-regulation’ by the UN has clearly been a failure; the Organization cannot properly investigate itself.
What most people fail to appreciate about the corruption in the UN is that it is almost always “procedurally correct” – which may mean the resulting administrative decision cannot be challenged before the UN Dispute Tribunal, it does not make the decision ethical or legitimate – but OIOS investigations will not pursue any such line of enquiry for fear of what it might reveal.
Complaints about malpractices, misconduct, bias or abuses of authority by investigators are common, but are routinely ignored – because there is no independent oversight of OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) and the management of the office is tied up in the same network of mutually supportive patronage that is ingrained in the UN culture.
The OIOS “leadership” is widely believed to do the bidding of the USG/DMSPC in particular, legitimising the most patent retaliation – because the USG/DMSPC protects them from any accountability for their own shortcomings. The former Director of Investigations admitting that their primary objective was simply “to get the Americans off our backs” – for which, naturally, he was promoted.
As for sexual misconduct investigations; the term “survivor-centered approach” makes little sense. It is described as an innovative approach but in any sexual assault, the victim has always been the most important witness – so how exactly were these cases actually investigated in the past?
Post-incident care for the victim has no bearing on the burden of proof. Cases must be proved by established facts, and that requires diligent and competent investigators – not “investigators” promoted for their personal loyalty, or whose misconduct has routinely been overlooked for the same reason.
Gross incompetence by managers, rampant misconduct and corruption anywhere in the UN must be considered serious in its own right, but incompetence, misconduct and corruption in the investigative function is more serious because that facilitates the corruption everywhere else.
Einstein is said to have defined insanity as doing same thing over and over, and expecting a different result, but that has been the UN’s approach to investigating sexual misconduct for the last 20 years.
The solution clearly lies with someone capable of thinking differently – but within the UN culture; anyone who dares to think differently is a dangerous heretic who cannot be promoted.
Peter Gallo is a lawyer and former OIOS investigator, whose disagreements with the Organization began when OIOS sought to demand that as an investigator, he must “never ask questions just to satisfy his curiosity” – a bizarre instruction that the UN did not consider even unusual, despite the fact that no one was ever able to point out a single example of his ever having done so….He has written extensively on the UN’s failure to properly investigate misconduct, been quoted in the media, featured on television documentaries and twice testified before congressional committees on the subject.
An art exhibition in Juba, supported by the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), seeks to educate people about gender and sexual based violence. Credit: UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis
NEW YORK, Nov 8 2022 (IPS) – Calling it “so disappointing and disheartening” in social media on 17 October, Dr. Rosie James, a British medical expert, announced that “I was sexually assaulted by a World Health Organization (WHO) staff tonight at the World Health Summit.”
WHO, as we all know, is a part of the UN system of entities. She went to emphasize that “This was not the first time in the global health sphere that this has occurred (for MANY of us).”
Dr. James further elaborated to our disdainful shame that “I want to make something clear. This is not just a WHO or UN issue. I and many others have experienced sexual abuse in medicine and field NGOs, for example. Workplaces need to be safe and supportive environments for all. And it will take each one of us to make that a reality.”
It is an embarrassment to the international community that she warned that “We must do better #Zero Tolerance; # MeToo; #Gender Equality.”
In 2021, an independent commission reported on cases concerning WHO personnel responding to the tenth Ebola virus epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That was not enough of a warning bell for the WHO staff and its leadership. Now this.
To make the matter worse, CNN reported another shocking news about a UN employee getting a 15-year prison sentence by a US court for multiple sexual assaults, perpetrating “monstrous acts against multiple women over nearly two decades.”
During some years of that period. the staff worked for UNICEF, known for its longstanding, unblemished record of care and dedication for the world’s children.
These and many other such cases, particularly UN peacekeepers and other staff of UN peace operations encouraged the US government to announce on 26 October that it has established its engagement principles for use by all federal agencies engaging with the United Nations and other International Organizations on the prevention and response to incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.
These principles reflect the US government’s “commitment to increase U.S. engagement in a clear and consistent manner” and to “promote accountability and transparency “in response to such issues.
This is the first time a Member State has publicly declared a set of “engagement principles” to work with the UN in an area of utmost importance which puts the UN’s credibility at stake.
More so, as it is announced by the largest contributor to the UN budget and a veto-wielding Member of the UN.
Substantively, there are many positive aspects of these principles in putting the UN on guard. But at the same time, if various Member States start announcing such “engagement principles” in various areas and issues and insist on pursuing those in the context of UN’s work, a chaotic situation is bound to emerge.
The UN has yet to make its position known on the US announcement which in effect is an expression of the latter’s frustration about the way the UN has been handling the sexual exploitation abuse cases in a rather lackadaisical manner over the years.
Its much-touted zero-tolerance and no-impunity policies have not improved the situation to the satisfaction of many well-wishers of the UN.
Zero-tolerance policy is applied by the UN system entities as if they are using a zebra-crossing on a street which does not have any traffic lights.
The non-governmental entity the Code Blue Campaign is the most articulate and persistent actor with regard to the sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) issues and incidents in the UN system as a whole.
The Campaign, steered by Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan as the co-founders, surely deserves the global community’s whole-hearted appreciation and highest commendation for its laudable work.
It has correctly emphasized 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.”
The labyrinthine rules, regulations, procedures, channels of communication of the UN make the mockery of the due-process and timely justice. These have been taken advantage of by the perpetrators time and again.
As most of the SEA incidents happen at the field levels, nationalities and personal equations play a big role in delaying or denying justice.
The victim-centred approach of the UN in handling SEA cases has been manipulated by the perpetrators and their organizational colleagues to detract attention from their seriousness.
Not only the victims should get the utmost attention, so should be the abusers because upholding of the justice is also UN’s responsibility.
Also, UN watchers become curious whenever media publish such SEA related reports, the UN authorities invariably mentions the concerned staff is on leave or administrative leave. When these cases are in the public domain, the abusers are merrily enjoying the leave with full pay.
It is also known that during the leave the abusers have tried to settle the matter with the victims or their families with lucrative temptations. The leave has also been used to wipe off the evidence of the crime. These have happened in several cases with the full knowledge of the supervisors.
What a travesty of the victim-centred approach!
The head of the UN peace operations where the SEA cases take place should be asked by the Secretary-General to explain the occurrence as a part of his or her direct responsibility. Unless such drastic measures are taken the SEA would continue in the UN system.
Another unexpectable dimension of the victim-centred approach is that the abuser-peacekeepers are sent back home for dispensation of justice as per the agreement between the troops contributing countries (TCC) and the UN. Sending them home is one of the biggest reasons for the continuation of SEA in the peace operations.
The victim is not present in that kind varied national military justice situation and no evidence are available except UN-cleared reports to show or suppress the extent of abuse.
Again, a travesty of justice supported by the upholder of the global rule of law!
The UN Secretary-General would be well-advised to propose to the Security Council a change in the clause of the agreement that UN signs with the TCCs which incorporates for repatriation of abuser-peacekeepers to their home countries. If a TCC refuse to do so, the agreement would not be signed. Period.
A functional, quick-justice global tribunal should be set up with the mandate to try the peacekeepers as decided by the UN. If the International Criminal Court (ICC) can try heads state or government for crimes against humanity, why the UN peacekeepers cannot be tried for SEA?
That would be a true victim-centred approach!
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations; former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and President of the Security Council