Sexual Abuse by UN Peacekeepers Admitted
Wednesday, March 1, 2006 11:25 AM

Security Council

5379th Meeting (AM)

Problem of Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers Now Openly Recognized, Broad Strategy in Place to Address it, Security Council Told

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, briefing the Security Council today on steps taken to address accusations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping personnel, said peacekeeping was a dangerous business.  “We dishonour these brave men and women when we fail to prevent or punish those from within their ranks who victimize the very people peacekeepers are meant to protect and serve.”

Mr. Guéhenno said that neither the Department of Peacekeeping Operations nor the Member States had discussed the matter until the revelation that a shockingly large number of United Nations peacekeepers had committed such misconduct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Today, with the severity of the problem openly recognized and a broad United Nations strategy in place to tackle it, concrete meaningful progress was being made.

To be “clear and up front”, however, there was still a considerable way to go, he continued.  Not all troop contingents or staff on the ground fully supported all aspects of the “zero tolerance” policy, particularly as it pertained to prostitution.  He sought cooperation to address that particular point, and he called for the strengthening of peacekeeping operations and the Office of Oversight Services’ (OIOS) capacity to investigate violations, while respecting due process.  Once those hurdles were overcome, it should be possible to significantly narrow the gap between zero tolerance and full compliance, he said.

The Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, warned that allegations against United Nations peacekeeping personnel would remain unacceptably high until all four corners of the strategy were secured.  Moreover, with every improvement in the mechanisms designed to facilitate complaints, there would likely be occasional spikes in accusations.  Nevertheless, and despite that, the numbers of allegations currently being registered in some locations was still cause for considerable concern.

He said that Member States, together with all personnel in the field, should exert even greater efforts in all the missions concerned to draw down those numbers.  Ultimately, the sexual exploitation and abuse issue must be viewed, not as some ephemeral issue of passing importance, but as the serious topic it was.  It was difficult to change a culture of dismissiveness, long developed “within ourselves, in our own countries and in the mission areas”.  Because peacekeepers and their colleagues were performing a service of immense worth for the world community, it was all the more urgent to remove the blight of sexual exploitation and abuse on what was otherwise a distinguished and appreciated performance.

Calling the sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers “one of the greatest stains on UN history”, the United States’ representative, whose delegation holds the Security Council presidency for the month, said it was absolutely unacceptable that horrific crimes of sexual abuse and exploitation had been committed by United Nations peacekeepers against individuals they had been assigned to protect.  In his national capacity, he urged speakers to act now, not only to pursue justice and a resolution to crimes already committed, but to set up the necessary institutions, mechanisms, training, and oversight procedures to ensure that they were not repeated in existing and future peacekeeping operations.

He said that failure to act on the matter would have profound implications for both existing and potential future peacekeeping missions.  As the next operation was planned in Darfur, he did not want to worry about possible headlines of United Nations peacekeepers there raping the very population they were entrusted to protect.  He concurred fully with Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno when he said last May that it was precisely the United Nations image and reputation that gave it the credibility and reputation to work so effectively in war-torn countries and bring peace and stability to millions across the world.  Eliminating such misconduct was integral to the success of peacekeeping.  Resolving and preventing future acts of sexual exploitation and abuse called for the same fundamental shift in the culture of the way the Organization operated, he said.

Speakers voiced broad agreement that only by holding itself to the highest standards of ethical conduct could the Organization preserve the credibility and moral authority necessary to carry out its mission in societies already vulnerable and deeply wounded by the turmoil and brutality of war.  They rejected the behaviour of those individuals within the peacekeeping operations that threatened to tarnish the name and image that had allowed the United Nations to work effectively in war-torn countries and echoed their support for the United Nations zero tolerance policy.

They also noted the considerable efforts that had been made recently by the Secretary-General and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to ensure progress in that regard.  For example, more than 221 peacekeepers had been investigated, 10 civilians had been fired, and more than 88 uniformed personnel had been repatriated.  Conduct and discipline units had been established in some peacekeeping missions and the number of gender and children advisers in United Nations peace support missions had increased.  It was generally acknowledged, however, that the problems persisted in several missions.  Troop-contributing countries, therefore, were urged to ensure that their deployed personnel were appropriately trained and held to the highest standards of conduct.  Continuing to tear down the “wall of silence” was deemed imperative to restoring the reputation of the United Nations and all those who represented it.

Representatives of the following countries also participated in the discussion:  France; China; Russian Federation; Ghana; Congo; United Kingdom; Greece; Slovakia; Peru; Denmark; Japan; Argentina; Qatar; United Republic of Tanzania; Brazil; Singapore; Austria, on behalf of the European Union; and Canada.

Cited InProblem of Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers Now Openly Recognized, Broad Strategy in Place to Address It, Security Council Told, Press Release, UN Department of Public Information, 23 February 2006.