Three Ways to End Gender-based Violence

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Testing new approaches for preventing gender-based violence to galvanize more and new partners and resources. Credit: UN Women

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 30 2022 (IPS) – How are the multiple shocks and crises the world is facing changing how we respond to gender-based violence? Almost three years after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered high levels of violence against women and girls, the recent Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum 2022 (SVRI) shed some light on the best ways forward.


Bringing together over 1,000 researchers, practitioners, policymakers and activists in Cancún, Mexico, the forum highlighted new research on what works to stop and address one of the most widespread violations of human rights.

While some participants candidly – and bravely – shared that their initiatives did not have the intended impact, many discussed efforts that transformed lives, in big and small ways.

After 5 days of the forum one thing was clear; a lack of evidence is not what is standing in the way of achieving a better future. It is a lack of opportunities and the will to apply that evidence.

Among the many shared findings, UNDP presented its own evidence.

Since 2018, the global project on Ending Gender-based Violence and Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a partnership between UNDP and the Republic of Korea, and in collaboration with United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, has tested new approaches for preventing and addressing gender-based violence, to galvanize more and new partners, resources, and support to move from rhetoric to action.

Three key strategies have emerged.

1. We need to integrate

Gender-based violence (GBV) intersects with all areas of sustainable development. That means that every development initiative provides a chance to address the causes of violence and to transform harmful social norms that not only put women disproportionately at risk for violence, but also limit progress.

Bringing together diverse partners to jointly incorporate efforts to end GBV into “non-GBV” programmes has been central to the Ending GBV and Achieving the SDGs project. Pilots in Indonesia, Peru and the Republic of Moldova integrated a GBV lens into local development planning.

The results were local action plans that focused on needs and solutions identified by the communities themselves, including evidence-based GBV prevention programming such as the Common Elements Treatment Approach, which has been proven to reduce violence along with risk factors such as alcohol abuse. This approach is growing, opening up new and more spaces for this work.

2. We need to elevate

While evidence is crucial to creating change, the work doesn’t stop there. We also need to elevate this evidence to policy makers and to support them in putting the findings into action. In our global project, we went about this in different ways.

In Peru women’s rights advocates and the local government worked together to draft a local action plan to address drivers of violence in the community of Villa El Salvador (VES). By working collaboratively and building trust between key players, the project was able to take a more holistic approach and to create stronger alliances to boost its sustainability and impacts.

In particular, the local action plan was informed by cost analysis research that showed that this approach would pay for itself if it prevented violence for only 0.6 percent of the 80,000-plus women in VES who are at risk for violence every year.

Since the pilot’s launch, more than 15 other local governments have expressed interest in the model, and it has already been replicated in three.

3. We need to finance

Less than 1 percent of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) and philanthropic funding is given to prevent and address GBV, despite the fact that roughly a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

The “Imperative to Invest” study, funded by the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative and presented at the SVRI Forum, shows just what can be achieved with a US$500 million investment. The study highlights that Spotlight’s efforts will have prevented 21 million women and girls from experiencing violence by 2025.

The Ending GBV and Achieving the SDGs project also finds positive results when financing local plans. Through pilot initiatives in Peru, Moldova and Indonesia, it was possible to mobilize funds when different municipal governments take ownership of participatory planning processes at an early stage.

The local level is a key, yet an often overlooked, entry point to identifying community needs and, through participatory, multi-sectoral partnerships, to translate them into funded solutions.

In Moldova the regional government of Gagauzia assigned funds to create the region’s first safe space, with the support of the community.

The SVRI Forum was living proof that a better future is possible. It offered profound moments for thoughtful exchange, learning with partners and peers, and deepened our own reflections on the outcomes and next steps for this global project.

As we approach the final countdown to meeting the SDGs, including SDG5.2 on eliminating violence against women and girls, it has never been more urgent to take all this evidence and turn it into action against gender-based violence. Let’s act today.

Jacqui Stevenson is Research Consultant UNU International Institute for Global Health, Jessica Zimerman is Project Specialist, Gender-based Violence, UNDP, and Diego Antoni is Policy Specialist Gender, Governance and Recovery, UNDP.

Source: UNDP

IPS UN Bureau

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Pandemic Aggravated Violence against Women in Latin America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Gender Violence

This article is part of IPS coverage of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.

"Not one woman less, respect our lives” writes a Peruvian woman on the effigy of a woman in a park in front of the courthouse, before a demonstration in Lima over the lack of enforcement of laws against femicides and other forms of violence against women. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

“Not one woman less, respect our lives” writes a Peruvian woman on the effigy of a woman in a park in front of the courthouse, before a demonstration in Lima over the lack of enforcement of laws against femicides and other forms of violence against women. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Nov 24 2022 (IPS) – Violence against women has failed to decline in the Latin American region after the sharp rise recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, while preventing the causes of such violence remains a major challenge.


This is what representatives of the United Nations, feminist organizations and women’s movements told IPS on the occasion of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.

“We attack the problem but not its causes. I have been talking for 30 years about the importance of preventing violence against women by fostering major cultural changes so that girls and boys are raised in the knowledge that it is unacceptable in any form.” — Moni Pizani

This date, established in 1999 by the United Nations, was adopted in 1981 at the first Latin American and Caribbean feminist meeting held in Colombia to promote the struggle against violence against women in a region where it continues to be exacerbated by high levels of ‘machismo’ or sexism.

The day was chosen to pay tribute to Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three sisters from the Dominican Republic who were political activists and were killed on Nov. 25, 1960 by the repressive forces of the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

The date launches 16 days of activism against gender violence, culminating on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, because male violence against women and girls is the most widespread violation of human rights worldwide.

“It is not possible to confirm a decrease in gender violence in the region at this post-pandemic moment,” said Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of the region’s leading experts on women’s rights. “I could say, from the information I have gathered and empirically, that the level has remained steady after the significant increase registered in the last two years.”

Pizani, who retired from the United Nations, currently supports the UN Women office in Guatemala after a fruitful career advocating for women’s rights. She was twice representative in Ecuador for UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, then worked for East and Southeast Asia and later opened the UN Women Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama City as regional director.

“Before the pandemic we used to talk about three out of 10 women having suffered violence, today we say four out of 10. The other alarming fact is that the impact is throughout the entire life cycle of women, including the elderly,” she told IPS in a conversation in Tegucigalpa, Honduras during a Central American colloquium on the situation of women.

UN Women last year measured the “shadow pandemic” in 13 countries in all regions, a term used to describe violence against women during lockdowns due to COVID.

Seven out of 10 women were found to have experienced violence at some time during the pandemic, one in four felt unsafe at home due to increased family conflict, and seven out of 10 perceived partner abuse to be more frequent.

The study also revealed that four out of 10 women feel less safe in public spaces.

Pizani said the study showed that this violation of women’s human rights occurs in different age groups: 48 percent of those between 18 and 49 years old are affected, 42 percent of those between 50 and 59, and 34 percent of women aged 60 and over.

Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of Latin America's leading experts on gender issues, with a long career at UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, takes part in a Central American colloquium in Tegucigalpa on sustainable recovery with gender equality in the wake of the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of Latin America’s leading experts on gender issues, with a long career at UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, takes part in a Central American colloquium in Tegucigalpa on sustainable recovery with gender equality in the wake of the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

According to the same study, unemployed women are the most vulnerable: 52 percent of them experienced violence during the pandemic.

And with regard to mothers: one out of every two women with children also experienced a violation of their rights.

The expert highlighted the effort made by many countries to adopt measures during the pandemic with the expansion of services, telephone hotlines, use of new means of reporting through mobile applications, among others. But she regretted that the efforts fell short.

This year, the region is home to 662 million inhabitants, or eight percent of the world’s population, slightly more than half of whom are girls and women.

The level of violence against women is so severe that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) cites it as one of the structural factors of gender inequality, together with gaps in employment, the concentration of care work and inequitable representation in public spaces.

Governments neither prevent nor address violence

Peru is an example of similar situations of gender violence in the region.

It was one of the countries with the strictest lockdowns, paralyzing government action against gender violence, which was gradually resumed in the second half of 2020 and which made it possible, for example, to receive complaints in the country’s provincial public prosecutors’ offices.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office Crime Observatory reported 1,081,851 complaints in 2021 – an average of 117 per hour. The frequency of complaints returned to pre-pandemic levels, which in 2020 stood at around 700,000, because women under lockdown found it harder to report cases due to the confinement and the fact that they were cooped up with the perpetrators.

Cynthia Silva, a Peruvian lawyer and director of the non-governmental feminist group Study for the Defense of Women’s Rights-Demus, told IPS that the government has failed to reactivate the different services and that the specialized national justice system needs to be fully implemented to protect victims and punish perpetrators.

Lawyer Cynthia Silva, director of the Peruvian feminist institution Demus, poses for a picture at the headquarters of the feminist organization in Lima. She stresses the need for government action against gender violence to include not only strategies for attending to the victims, but also for prevention in order to eradicate it. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Lawyer Cynthia Silva, director of the Peruvian feminist institution Demus, poses for a picture at the headquarters of the feminist organization in Lima. She stresses the need for government action against gender violence to include not only strategies for attending to the victims, but also for prevention in order to eradicate it. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

She stressed the importance of allocating resources both for addressing cases of violence and for prevention. “These are two strategies that should go hand in hand and we see that the State is not doing enough in relation to the latter,” she said.

Silva urged the government to take action in measures aimed at the populace to contribute to rethinking socio-cultural patterns and ‘machista’ habits that discriminate against women.

Based on an experience they are carrying out with girls and adolescents in the district of Carabayllo, in the extreme north of Lima, she said it’s a question of supporting “deconstruction processes” so that egalitarian relations between women and men are fostered from childhood.

On Nov. 26 they will march with various feminist movements and collectives against machista violence so that “the right to a life free of violence against women is guaranteed and so that not a single step backwards is taken with respect to the progress made, particularly in sexual and reproductive rights, which are threatened by conservative groups in Congress.”

Adolescent women and men in Lima, the Peruvian capital, wave a huge banner during the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated such violence in Latin America. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Adolescent women and men in Lima, the Peruvian capital, wave a huge banner during the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated such violence in Latin America. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

An equally serious scenario

Argentina is another example of gender violence – including femicides – in Latin America, the region with the highest levels of aggression against women in the world, the result of extremely sexist societies.

This is in contrast to the fact that it is one of the regions with the best protection against such violence in national and even regional legislation, because since 1994 it has had the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.

The problem is that these laws are seriously flawed in their implementation, especially in the interior of the countries, agree UN Women, regional organizations and national women’s rights groups.

Rosaura Andiñach, an Argentine university professor and head of community processes at the Ecumenical Regional Center for Counseling and Service (CREAS), said it is worrying that in her country there are still high rates of femicide, despite the progress made in terms of legislation.

Between January and October 2022, there were 212 femicides and 181 attempted gender-based homicides in the country of 46 million people, according to the civil society observatory “Ahora que sí nos ven” (Now that they do see us).

She said the government still owes a debt to women in this post-pandemic context, as it fails to guarantee women’s rights by not adequately addressing their complaints.

“We do not want the same thing to happen as with a recent case: Noelia Sosa, 30 years old, lived in Tucumán and reported her partner in a police station for gender violence. They ignored her and she committed suicide that afternoon because she did not know what else to do. We are very concerned because the outlook is still as serious as ever in terms of violence against women,” Andiñach said.

It was precisely in Argentina that the #NiunaMenos (Not one woman less) campaign emerged in 2015, which spread throughout the region as a movement against femicides and the ineffectiveness of the authorities in the enforcement of laws to prevent and punish gender-related murders, because femicides are surrounded by a very high level of impunity in Latin America.

Moni Pizani, from UN Women, stressed that the prevention of gender violence should no longer fall short in the region.

“We attack the problem but not its causes. I have been talking for 30 years about the importance of preventing violence against women by fostering major cultural changes so that girls and boys are raised in the knowledge that it is unacceptable in any form,” she underlined.

This strategy, she remarked, “involves investing in youth and children to ensure that the new generations are free from violence, harassment and discrimination, with respect for a life of dignity for all.”

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US to Fight Sexual Abuse in International Organizations

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

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:

Zero Tolerance

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.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Three Truths to Address Sexual Exploitation, Abuse & Harassment in the UN

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

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.

IPS UN Bureau

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UN Needs a Sea Change in its Handling of Sexual Exploitation & Abuse (SEA)

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights

Opinion

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

IPS UN Bureau

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Gender Equality & Women’s Rights Wiped out Under the Taliban

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

Women receive food rations at a food distribution site in Herat, Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

NEW YORK, Aug 15 2022 (IPS) – In the year that has passed since the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan we have seen daily and continuous deterioration in the situation of Afghan women and girls. This has spanned every aspect of their human rights, from living standards to social and political status.


It has been a year of increasing disrespect for their right to live free and equal lives, denying them opportunity to livelihoods, access to health care and education, and escape from situations of violence.

The Taliban’s meticulously constructed policies of inequality set Afghanistan apart. It is the only country in the world where girls are banned from going to high school. There are no women in the Taliban’s cabinet, no Ministry of Women’s Affairs, thereby effectively removing women’s right to political participation.

Women are, for the most part, also restricted from working outside the home, and are required to cover their faces in public and to have a male chaperone when they travel. Furthermore, they continue to be subjected to multiple forms of Gender Based Violence.

This deliberate slew of measures of discrimination against Afghanistan’s women and girls is also a terrible act of self-sabotage for a country experiencing huge challenges including from climate-related and natural disasters to exposure to global economic headwinds that leave some 25 million Afghan people in poverty and many hungry.

The exclusion of women from all aspects of life robs the people of Afghanistan of half their talent and energies. It prevents women from leading efforts to build resilient communities and shrinks Afghanistan’s ability to recover from crisis.

There is a clear lesson from humanity’s all too extensive experience of crisis. Without the full participation of women and girls in all aspects of public life there is little chance of achieving lasting peace, stability and economic development.

That is why we urge the de facto authorities to open schools for all girls, to remove constraints on women’s employment and their participation in the politics of their nation, and to revoke all decisions and policies that strip women of their rights. We call for ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

We urge the de facto authorities to ensure that women journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society actors enjoy freedom of expression, have access to information and can work freely and independently, without fear of reprisal or attack.

The international community’s support for women’s rights and its investment in women themselves are more important than ever: in services for women, in jobs and women-led businesses, and in women leaders and women’s organizations.

This includes not only support to the provision of humanitarian assistance but also continued and unceasing efforts at the political level to bring about change.

UN Women has remained in country throughout this crisis and will continue to do so. We are steadfast in our support to Afghan women and girls alongside our partners and donors.

We are scaling up the provision of life-saving services for women, by women, to meet overwhelming needs. We are supporting women-led businesses and employment opportunities across all sectors to help lift the country out of poverty.

We are also investing in women-led civil society organizations to support the rebuilding of the women’s movement. As everywhere in the world, civil society is a key driver of progress and accountability on women’s rights and gender equality.

Every day, we advocate for restoring, protecting, and promoting the full spectrum of women’s and girls’ rights. We are also creating spaces for Afghan women themselves to advocate for their right to live free and equal lives.

One year on, with women’s visibility so diminished and rights so severely impacted, it is vital to direct targeted, substantial, and systematic funding to address and reverse this situation and to facilitate women’s meaningful participation in all stakeholder engagement on Afghanistan, including in delegations that meet with Taliban officials.

Decades of progress on gender equality and women’s rights have been wiped out in mere months. We must continue to act together, united in our insistence on guarantees of respect for the full spectrum of women’s rights, including to education, work, and participation in public and political life.

We must continue to make a collective and continuous call on the Taliban leadership to fully comply with the binding obligations under international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party.

And we must continue to elevate the voices of Afghan women and girls who are fighting every day for their right to live free and equal lives. Their fight is our fight. What happens to women and girls in Afghanistan is our global responsibility.

IPS UN Bureau

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