CAIRO – 1 October 2017: In less than two weeks since the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 72), more than 90 United Nations (U.N.) member states answered the UN secretary general’s, António Guterres, calls to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA).
72 member states signed the voluntary compact on SEA, with 19 more having formally indicated that they will soon do so to add more weight to this vital initiative on the national and international levels.
“This represents an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity and a firm commitment to addressing the issue comprehensively and effectively, ensuring full implementation of the secretary general’s zero tolerance policy,” said UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, addressing the press according to the U.N. News Center.
The voluntary compact was introduced by the UN-SG on the sidelines of the UNGA 72 high-level meeting on preventing SEA. It represents an ambitious strategy with the aim of comprehensively addressing SEA by U.N. personnel.
Furthermore, the compact reaffirms member states’ mutual belief that SEA runs counter to their shared values, jeopardizes the trust of people served by the U.N., sets out specific commitments to prevent SEA, holds individuals accountable and respects the dignity of victims by providing them with meaningful support.
During the general assembly, the SG confirmed that the U.N. would “not tolerate anyone committing or condoning sexual exploitation and abuse” and would “not let anyone cover up these crimes with the U.N. flag.” Guterres also announced a victim centered approach to address SEA and forming the “Circle of Leadership on the prevention of and response to SEA in UN operations,” which is comprised of heads of states and governments committed to ending impunity and strengthening measures to prevent SEA in international deployments.
During the GA session, the special coordinator on improving the U.N. response to SEA, Jan Holl Lute, said in an interview with U.N. News earlier this month, “sexual exploitation and abuse is not an issue that only concerns peacekeeping or military or uniformed personnel; it is a scourge that exists everywhere across our system.”
Lute also highlighted the appointment of Jane Connors as the first U.N. advocate for the rights of victims of SEA in August. The advocate is expected to support an integrated, strategic response to victim assistance in coordination with relevant U.N. system actors.
In addition, Lute highlighted other practical actions to combat SEA, such as the establishment of a victims’ trust fund, the use of a new system for SEA reporting, the recruitment of more female peacekeepers, a mandatory e-leaning course on SEA to increase awareness and consistently collecting information and surveys.
The special coordinator added, “we want people to know that if they bring an allegation forward, it will be handled discretely and humanely and that we are seeking the appropriate and rapid justice for victims.”
Lute confirmed also that there will be regular consultations with civil society and humanitarian partners to solicit views on what the U.N. needs to do to visibly and tangibly achieve its goals to eliminate SEA, as well as what support they can provide to the U.N. She explained that any claims of SEA will be first internally investigated, if they are found guilty, cases will be handed over to the personnel’s home country and staff is dismissed.
Since his appointment in January, Guterres showed personal commitment and leadership at the highest level to strengthen the U.N. approach to prevent and respond to SEA within the organization, particularly in countries where the U.N. has peacekeeping operations.
In his report on special measures for protection from SEA, Guterres a new approach where the U.N. will put the rights and dignity of victims at the forefront of its prevention and response efforts. He is the first secretary general to highlight SEA committed by U.N. staff.
Also, in January, the secretary general requested Lute to create a high-level task force to urgently develop a strategy to achieve “visible and measurable further development” on SEA in consultation with relevant organizations across the U.N. system.
The task force includes the director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM); the under secretary general of the Department of Field Support (DFS); the assistant secretary-general of the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA); director of the Office of the Under Secretary General of the Department of Management (DM); military adviser at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO); special consultant to the secretary general; chief of staff of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and the chief of the Methodology, Education and Training Section at the Office of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).