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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UN Deploys Unarmed Weapon in Humanitarian & Peacekeeping Operations

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Credit: IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 2022 (IPS) – A sign outside the United Nations reads, perhaps half-seriously, that it is a “No Drone Zone”—and “launching, landing or operating Unmanned or Remote-Controlled aircraft in this area is prohibited”.

The “warning” comes even as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – are some of the new weapons of war deployed mostly by the US, and more recently, by Iran, Ukraine and Russia in ongoing military conflicts.


But the unarmed versions continue to be deployed by UN peacekeeping forces worldwide and by national and international humanitarian organizations.

In a recently-released report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA says for women in Botswana, especially those living in remote communities where medical supplies and blood may not be in stock, giving birth can be life-threatening.

In 2019, the country recorded a maternal mortality rate of 166 deaths per 100,000 births, more than double the average for upper-middle-income countries.

Lorato Mokganya, Chief Health Officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, is quoted as saying that when a woman has lost a lot of blood during childbirth and may need to be transferred to a bigger medical facility, she first needs to be stabilized where she is before being driven out of that place. Timely delivery of blood can be lifesaving.

“A drone can be sent to deliver the blood so that the patient is stabilized,”

In an effort to curb the country’s preventable maternal deaths and overcome geographical barriers this innovative initiative will revolutionize the delivery of essential medical supplies and services across Botswana, says UNFPA.

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the UN Population Division and a consulting demographer., told IPS the increased use of drones for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions of the United Nations is certainly a good idea and should be encouraged.

“Why? Simply because the numerous benefits from the use of drones greatly outnumber the possible disadvantages”.

As is the case with all new technologies, he pointed out, resistance to the use of drones is to be expected. The public’s distrust in the use of drones is understandable given their use in military operations and surveillance activities.

Also, it should be acknowledged that drones could be misused and efforts are needed to ensure privacy, security and safety, said Chamie.

“In brief, the use of drones should be promoted and facilitated in the work of the UN’s humanitarian and peacekeeping operations as it will greatly enhance the effectiveness of their vital work,” he declared.

Credit: United Nations

Drones have been deployed in several UN peacekeeping missions, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda—going back to 2013.

Although this technology is not a magic solution, “the promise of drones is really tremendous,” says Christopher Fabian, principal advisor on innovation at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

For UNICEF and other humanitarian and development agencies, he said, in an interview with UN News, drone technology can make a big difference in three ways.

First, drones can leapfrog over broken infrastructure in places where developed transportation networks or roads do not exist, carrying low-weight supplies.

Second, UAVs can be used for remote sensing, such as gathering imagery and data, in the wake of natural disasters like mudslides, to locate where the damage is and where the affected peoples are.

Third, drones can extend wi-fi connectivity, from the sky to the ground, providing refugee camps or schools with access to the Internet.

As big as a Boeing 737 passenger jet and as small as a hummingbird, a huge variety of drones exist. According to research firm Gartner, total drone unit sales climbed to 2.2 million worldwide in 2016, and revenue surged 36 per cent to $4.5 billion.

Although UNICEF’s use of drones has been limited, the agency is exploring ways to scale up the use of UAVs in its operations, Fabian said.

“Hardware itself does not violate human rights. It is the people behind the hardware,” said Fabian, stressing the need to “make sure that any technology we bring in or work on falls within the framing of rights-based documents,” such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF has a set of guiding principles for innovation, which includes elements like designing with the end-user.

For drone applications to spread further, Fabian said, the UN has a strong role in advocating this technology and ensuring that policy is shared with different governments.

In addition, governments have to clearly define why they need drones and what specifically they will be used for, while also building up national infrastructure to support their use.

The private sector must understand that the market can provide them real business opportunities.

In 10 to 20 years, drones might be “as basic to us as a pen or pencil,” said Fabian.

“I believe this technology will go through a few years of regulatory difficulty but will eventually become so ubiquitous and simple that it’s like which version of the cell phones you have rather than have you ever use the mobile phone at all,” he said.

Meanwhile, armed UAVs are being increasingly used in war zones in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and most recently Ukraine.

The US has launched drone strikes in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan targeting mostly terrorist groups. But the negative fallout has included the deaths of scores of civilians and non-combatants.

In recent months, the use of drones by both Russia and Ukraine has triggered a raging battle at the United Nations while Iran has launched drone attacks inside Iraq.

The US, France, UK and Germany have urged the UN to investigate whether the Russian drones originated in Iran. But Russia has denied the charge and insisted the drones were homemade.

Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, urged Secretary-General António Guterres and his staff on October 25 not to engage in any “illegitimate investigation” of drones used in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, going back to 2017, Malawi, in partnership with UNICEF, launched Africa’s first air corridor to test the humanitarian use of drones in Kasungu District.

Also with UNICEF, Vanuatu has been testing the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of drones to deliver life-saving vaccines to inaccessible, remote communities in the small Pacific- island country, according to the United Nations.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands separated over 1,600 kilometres. Many are only accessible by boat, and mobile vaccination teams frequently walk to communities carrying all the equipment required for vaccinations – a difficult task given the climate and topography.

To extend the use of drones, UNICEF and the World Food Programmes (WFP) have formed a working group.

In addition, UNICEF, together with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), chairs the UN Innovation Network, an informal forum that meets quarterly to share lessons learned and advance discussions on innovation across agencies, the UN points out.

“Drones are also used in other parts of the UN system. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its partners have introduced a new quadcopter drone to visually map gamma radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged by the devastating 2011 tsunami”.

ROMEO, or the Remotely Operated Mosquito Emission Operation, met the competition’s aim of improving people’s lives. It was designed to transport and release sterile male mosquitoes as part of an insect pest birth control method that stifles pest population growth.

Some UN peacekeeping missions, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic, have deployed unarmed surveillance UAVs to improve security for civilians, according to the UN.

The UN, however, warns that drone technology can be a double-edged sword. UN human rights experts have spoken out against the lethal use of drones.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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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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What Does it take to Build a Culture of Equality & Inclusion at the UN? Reflections from Inside a Change Process

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics

Opinion

“The Quilt in the Making”. Credit: Claudia Steinau

GENEVA, Oct 28 2022 (IPS) – The organisational is personal. Every day since the two of us were asked back in 2020 to co-lead the process of culture transformation at UNAIDS, the United Nations organisation which drives global efforts to end AIDS, we have both felt at our very core how crucial it has been to get it right.


The mission of UNAIDS is vital to ensuring the health and human rights of every person. Staff and partners need to be confident of a supportive and empowering culture that will enable their work.

A 2018 Report by an Independent Expert Panel had shone a light on what were important organisational shortcomings, leading to a comprehensive set of changes in leadership, systems and crucially, culture.

As the Culture Transformation process has got underway, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented shifts in work, and a resurgence of global protests, including from the Black Lives Matter movement and for women’s rights, have a generated an inspirational momentum for action to tackle intersectional injustice.

Reflecting almost three years of UNAIDS culture transformation work, what stands out in particular for the two of us is how the “outer work” has required so much “inner work”. We have needed to be, and to help others be, our full selves, and to acknowledge what we don’t yet know of each other’s experiences.

The process has deepened our appreciation of how our differences, both personally and professionally, are a key strength, enabling each situation, each process, to be seen from a combination of unique angles, and how equality is crucial in enabling all these to be brought forth.

Creating safe spaces for our colleagues to speak about their lived experiences was transformative. We asked ourselves and those around us tough and tender questions. We had colleagues tell us they felt heard for the first time. Brave conversations helped colleagues to connect and to advance the tangible changes that matter most to them.

We understood the need for a common reference framework for all of us at UNAIDS. This has led to a first set of feminist principles that guide our way forward.

Through the process, it became ever more clear to both of us that culture transformation begins at the personal level. As a Malawian woman of African-Asian heritage, living and working in Latin America at this time, intersecting identities and multiple cultural heritage became for Mumtaz the centre of personal reflections.

In leading conversations on decolonizing the HIV Response, Mumtaz’s own colonization was calling for attention. For Juliane, too, this has been powerful journey: as someone who has experienced sexual assault in the workplace, this work is deeply personal, driven by a determination to build safe workplaces for everyone, including by addressing inequalities and unhealthy power balances. Our intersectional feminist approach has brought our experiences to our work.

But this work has also highlighted that whilst the organisational is personal, so too the personal is often dependent on the organisational. Engaging with intersectional feminist principles at the personal level was not enough.

That is why we were proud to help UNAIDS become the UN entity to put intersectional feminist principles at the core of its being. It is why vital work continues to integrate those principles into policies and practices to advance a workplace culture in which every individual can flourish.

As we have helped build a movement for change across six regions, engaged in conversation with more than 500 colleagues, and supported some 25 diverse teams in their own journey, we have recognised the centrality of the institutional level.

Cultural transformation is a long and challenging process that requires the tenacity and creativity of many. To weave the stories and aspirations of so many of the champions for change together while preserving their uniqueness, we have borrowed the quilt symbol that is iconic in the AIDS response.

As the change process evolves, new tiles will be added, others might fade or need repairing. But the work is not done. It is a ‘quilt in the making’ – individual and collective work, one tile at a time.

Mumtaz Mia and Juliane Drews have led UNAIDS Culture Transformation since May 2020.

Mumtaz is a Public Health expert with two decades of experience working to end AIDS. Juliane is a change management expert with 15 years of experience in developing inclusive and just organizations in which staff in all their diversity thrive.

The link to UNAIDS Culture Transformation here.

IPS UN Bureau

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