Press Releases

    GA/PK/186
    5 April 2005

    Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations Begins Review of Report on Sexual Exploitation

    Stressing Sense of Urgency, Determination to Address Problem, Department Head Outlines Measures Taken So Far

    NEW YORK, 4 April (UN Headquarters) -- Meeting today in a reconvened 2005 session to consider the United Nations first-ever comprehensive report on the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping personnel, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping embarked on a tight timetable for reviewing the report and submitting its findings to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) before the end of May to enable appropriate action by the General Assembly at its fifty-ninth session. 

    Sharing the Secretary-General’s expressed deep concern about recent findings of sexual exploitation and abuses in United Nations peacekeeping, the 113-member Special Committee, established by the General Assembly in 1965 to conduct a comprehensive review of all peacekeeping-related issues, asked the Secretary-General in February to prepare the comprehensive report and agreed to meet again upon its release. The Committee sought recommendations on such exploitation and abuse by military, civilian police and civilian personnel in United Nations peacekeeping missions managed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). 

    The resulting strategy, prepared by the Secretary-General’s Adviser, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, supplies sweeping recommendations, including the establishment of a voluntary trust fund for victims of sexual exploit and abuse by peacekeeping personnel funded in part through fines levied against civilian and uniformed personnel found to have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse. It also recommends on-site court-martial proceedings for egregious crimes, such as rape and the dissemination of pocket-sized cards reprinting the United Nations standards on sexual exploitation and abuse in the national languages of the troop contributors. 

    Addressing the Special Committee this morning before it moved into an open-ending working group until 8 April, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said the problem of sexual abuse and exploitation in peacekeeping threatened to undermine the many peacekeeping gains and besmirch the very name of the United Nations. The problem was abhorrent, but one could take courage from the shared sense of urgency and determination that existed across the United Nations to address it.  It was with that sense of urgency and determination that his Department had already undertaken a range of measures. And, it was with the same sense of urgency and determination that the Special Committee had come together again, so soon after its regular 2005 session.

    On measures already taken by the Department, he drew attention to the completion of investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 96 peacekeeping personnel (19 civilians and 77 military). So far, three United Nations staff had been summarily dismissed; six more were undergoing the disciplinary process; and three had been cleared. On the military side, 66 persons had been repatriated or rotated home on disciplinary grounds, including six commanders.  Missions had also put in place a wide array of measures to prevent misconduct, from establishing focal points to facilitate receipt of allegations to installing telephone hotlines and requiring troops to wear their uniforms at all times. But, he warned, with improved complaints mechanisms in the field, the problem was likely to appear to get worse before it got better.

    Prince Zeid stressed that the problem did not belong only to certain Member States. Poor discipline of personnel in the field who, left to their own devices, exploited the weakness of others, was a problem that knew no national or regional affiliation. And, it had occurred among the military and civilian personnel of a wide range of countries from all parts of the world.  Their representatives in New York had all too often remained silent out of shame.  The silence itself was shameful. Despite joint action now by all concerned, the problem would not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, everyone must act with a sense of urgency, not only because that was appropriate, morally speaking, but also because if the problem were left to fester, it would undermine, most severely, the institution of peacekeeping, which everyone had worked so hard to build. 

    The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations will meet again in a formal meeting at a date and time to be announced in The Journal.

    Background

    The Special Committee on Peacekeeping opened a week-long session this morning, following the conclusion of its usual 2005 session in February, to consider the report it had requested, entitled “A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations” (document A/59/ 710).

    A letter from the Secretary-General to the General Assembly President attached to the 24 March report explains that, as the allegations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo surfaced, it became clear that the measures currently in place to address the problem were “manifestly inadequate” and that a “fundamental change” in approach was needed. He began a review process to determine the nature and extent of the problem and resolve it. 

    As a first step, the Secretary-General says he invited Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan, to act as his adviser and assist him in addressing the problem. When the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in its 2005 report (document A/59/19) requested the Secretary-General to make available a comprehensive report with recommendations on sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping personnel, he asked Prince Zeid to undertake its preparation. 

    The report represents the first comprehensive analysis of the problem and contained bold recommendations directed at both the Secretariat and Member States, the Secretary-General says. It is “a fair and honest account of a serious problem”, and he concurred fully with all recommendations relating to the report’s four main areas of concern: the current rules on standards of conduct; the investigative process; organizational, managerial and command responsibility; and individual disciplinary, financial and criminal accountability. 

    Implementation of the report’s recommendations will strengthen the ability of peacekeeping operations to promote good conduct and discipline more broadly and increase the accountability of managers and officers in this area, the Secretary-General says further. Since the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse is not confined to peacekeeping contexts, the report also offers many innovative ideas that could be applicable to the wider United Nations system. 

    The report itself finds that basic standards of conduct and integrity required of the various categories of peacekeeping personnel -- set out in the Staff Regulations and Rules, the Ten Rules and “We Are United Nations Peacekeepers” -- are similar because they are all derived from principles established in Article 101, paragraph 3, of the United Nations Charter, which required the highest standards of integrity of United Nations officials.  But, those documents are general in nature; they do not give specific instructions on precisely what acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are prohibited. The 2003 Secretary-General’s bulletin fills that gap by setting out such detailed prohibitions, but it must be noted that the bulletin applies of its own force only to United Nations staff. 

    United Nations peacekeeping has a distinguished history of helping many States and peoples emerge from conflict with the hope of a better future, says the report. However, peacekeeping personnel have all too often read normalcy into a situation that is far from normal. It is this inability on the part of many peacekeepers to discern the extent to which society is traumatized and vulnerable that is at the root of many of the problems addressed in the report. The report also points out many gaps in liability, especially since the present peacekeeping regime recognizes different categories of personnel, governed by different sets of rules.

    Because troop-contributing countries are responsible for the conduct and discipline of their troops, the report says that the General Assembly should apply rules in the Secretary-General’s bulletin on measures for protection from sexual abuse to all categories, including civilian police, military observers, members of the national contingents, United Nations volunteers, consultants and contractors. 

    On military personnel, the model status-of-forces agreement has assumed that the Secretary-General will obtain formal assurances from a troop contributor that it will exercise criminal jurisdiction over its troops in return for the immunity given by the host State, the report says.  However, since such formal assurances are no longer obtained, it calls for such clauses to be inserted again into the model memorandum of understanding to ensure that troop-contributing countries have a legal obligation to consider for prosecution acts of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by military members of peacekeeping missions that constitute crimes under the laws of the troop-contributing country or the host State.

    The report goes on to say that troop contributors must report how they followed up with the investigated cases the United Nations refers to them, but since a decision on whether or not to prosecute is an act of sovereignty, the Assembly is asked to decide that contributors must agree on these procedures before their troops and other personnel are accepted for a mission. The Assembly must also authorize a professional investigative body with experts who have had experience in sex crime investigations, particularly those involving children.

    It also suggests that a military prosecutor from the relevant troop contributor should be part of this professional investigating mechanism, and that a troop contributor handling accusations should hold on-site courts martial, since that would facilitate access to witnesses and evidence in the mission area. Troop-contributing countries whose legislation does not permit on-site courts martial should consider reforming their legislation, it states further. 

    Moreover, since soldiers are only as good as their commanders, the report says that commanders who imposed discipline or cooperated with investigations should be rewarded with a special commendation. Missions should have extensive programmes of outreach to the local population, and the number of female peacekeepers should be increased. Abandoned mothers of peacekeeper babies are in a desperate financial situation.  Upon identification through blood of DNA tests, fathers who are not United Nations staff members could make payments to a proposed United Nations Trust Fund for victims, which would also take care of children whose fathers were known to be peacekeepers, but who could not be identified.

    The report states further that a United Nations staff member who is a father of a peacekeeper baby, in addition to facing other punishments set out under the Organization’s regulations, could pay the mother “say, the equivalent of one year’s salary of a local employee of the mission”.

    Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

    JEAN-MARIE GUÉHENNO, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, recalled that when the Special Committee last met in February, he had expressed his deep concern that the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse threatened to undermine the many gains peacekeeping had made and besmirch the very name of the United Nations. Indeed, it was precisely the image and reputation of the United Nations that gave it the credibility to work so effectively in war-torn countries and bring peace and stability to millions across the world.  The problem of sexual abuse and exploitation in peacekeeping was an abhorrent one. It would not be a simple problem to address, but one could take courage from the shared sense of urgency and determination that existed across the United Nations to address it.

    He said that it was with that sense of urgency and determination that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had already undertaken a range of measures that lay within its purview. It was with the same sense of urgency and determination that the Special Committee had come together again, so soon after its regular 2005 session, when it expressed its outrage and called for a comprehensive report on the problem. As a result of that request, it had had before it the report of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser. It provided a clear framework for effective and long-term action. The report also underscored a key point that must be borne in mind -- the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse would only be solved by joint action by the Secretariat here at Headquarters, by the troop-contributing countries and the General Assembly as a whole, and by the managers and leaders in peacekeeping operations on the ground.

    Updating the Special Committee on the range of measures already taken by the Department to address the problem, he drew attention to the completion of investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 96 peacekeeping personnel (19 civilians and 77 military). So far, three United Nations staff had been summarily dismissed; six more were undergoing the disciplinary process; and three had been cleared. On the military side, 66 persons had been repatriated or rotated home on disciplinary grounds, including six commanders. Over the past year, missions had put in place a wide array of measures to prevent misconduct and to enforce United Nations standards of conduct. For instance, on the prevention side, missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia provided basic induction training on those standards relating to sexual exploitation and abuse. Earlier this year, awareness-raising posters and brochures on sexual exploitation and abuse had been distributed to all missions.

    Regarding enforcement of United Nations standards of conduct, he said that the missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Congo, Ethiopia, Kosovo and Timor-Leste had established list of premises and areas frequented by prostitutes. Those areas were now out of bounds to all personnel. A network of focal points on sexual exploitation and abuse had been established in all mission headquarters to facilitate receipt of allegations, and telephone hotlines had also been installed in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission had put in place several mission-specific measures, such as a requirement for contingent members to wear their uniform at all times. The Congo Mission also required regional heads of offices to come up with concrete work plans on how they would prevent sexual exploitation and abuse.

    He said that those measures were having an impact on the ground, but they did not, in and of themselves, constitute a comprehensive strategy, but only a first step along what would be a “long and arduous path of systemic change and reform”.  Indeed, the problem was likely to get worse before it got better.  In other words, as the complaints mechanisms in the field were improved and its people started to trust that action would be taken against those who violated United Nations standards of conduct, the number of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse would probably increase and not decrease.  At DPKO Headquarters, a task force had been established to develop guidance and tools for peacekeeping operations to address the problem effectively. It was designing a database to track and monitor allegations and investigations involving sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as follow-up action. The DPKO was also developing internal communications messages to remind peacekeeping personnel of its duty of care and why it served.

    In addition, he noted that the DPKO was co-chairing with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) a broader initiative under the auspices of the Joint Executive Committee (ECHA-ECPS). That joint initiative aimed at creating an organizational culture throughout the United Nations system that prevented sexual exploitation and abuse.  It was also developing common policies and guidance, including on victim assistance. The various measures taken by the Department in the past year at Headquarters and in the field had “opened our eyes to the enormity of the task” that lay ahead.  Indeed, “we need deep, systemic change”. The report on the subject (document A/59/710) provided a wide range of recommendations, which should bring the things closer to that goal, many of which were within the purview of the DPKO and the Secretariat to implement. 

    In closing, he said that sexual exploitation and abuse did not occur in a vacuum. Those acts occurred where there was a general breakdown in discipline. Prince Zeid’s recommendations were an acknowledgement that lasting reform was needed on many fronts. The DPKO was committed to putting in place the changes required both in the short- and longer-term. There was no turning back. He looked forward to working with the Special Committee to implement the reforms that it decided upon, and to root out the problem through joint and determined action.

    Secretary-General’s Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

    Prince ZEID RA’AD AL-HUSSEIN, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations peacekeeping personnel, said that the Special Committee’s attention to the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping personnel had sent a strong signal of the determination of Member States to address the problem. Certainly, despite joint action now by all concerned, the problem would not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, everyone must act with a sense of urgency, not only because that was appropriate, morally speaking, but also because if the problem were left to fester, it would undermine, most severely, the institution of peacekeeping, which everyone had worked so hard to build. He understood that it was in recognition of that urgency that the Special Committee had decided to provide its findings for consideration by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) by the end of May. 

    He said that that urgency meant a very tight timetable, especially for those issues that the Committee might wish to present to the Fifth Committee in May, and before that to the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). The Special Committee would consider his 24 March report this week and decide on its own recommendations. He underscored, however, that the recommendations in the report were intended to form a comprehensive response to a problem that could not be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion. The recommendations included a number of steps that could and should be taken immediately, and others that would require longer deliberation among the Committee members.  It might be beneficial to analyze the recommendations with a view to the potential time frame for implementation, identifying those that could be undertaken within existing resources and mandates and those that would need a new mandate from the General Assembly. 

    Peacekeeping achievements were a source of great national pride for many nations, he said. Those countries sent their women and men to bring peace and stability to war-torn States, and some even gave their lives to that noble cause. So, it was no surprise that acts of sexual exploitation and abuse stirred feelings of shame and embarrassment, and sometimes even denial. “We must overcome this”, he urged.  Everyone should recognize they had a serious problem on their hands, and ensure that every effort was made to prevent such appalling conduct from happening again. The problem did not belong only to certain Member States. Ill discipline of personnel in the field who, left to their own devices, exploited the weakness of others, was a problem that knew no national or regional affiliation. It was a problem that had occurred among the military and civilian personnel of a wide range of countries from all parts of the world. Their representatives in New York had all too often remained silent out of shame. The silence itself was shameful. 

    Having once been a peacekeeper, he said he had worked in the field with many compatriots, military and police peacekeepers alike, and knew what they were capable of. He had seen them perform extraordinary feats of courage, often in the most trying conditions, and they had done so with unswerving dedication to the United Nations. But, he also had recognized, including publicly, that on occasion, his Government had had to confront some appalling cases of criminal conduct by its own peacekeepers, including a brutal rape of a local woman by a Jordanian in East Timor a few years ago, and more recently in Kosovo, when a Jordanian civilian police officer murdered a fellow officer.  While those were two of the worse cases, sadly there had been other allegations.  For those reasons, the Jordanian Government and Jordan’s military authorities were “completely committed to seeing an end to this”, he said.

    That was not just a military problem for the United Nations, he said. Sexual exploitation and abuse had been carried out in the past by civilians, civilian police and military, alike. Member States and the Secretariat, therefore, had a collective responsibility to work together and eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse in the future. His report was an attempt to explain why the current disciplinary system in peacekeeping operations was broken and allowed sexual exploitation and abuse to take root. It provided recommendations in four broad areas: the current rules on standards of conduct; the investigative process; organizational, managerial and command responsibility; and individual disciplinary, financial and criminal responsibility. 

    He provided members with details of each of those areas and admitted that that was an ambitious programme of reforms. He, therefore, urged the Committee to take a phased approach to implementing the required changes. Some recommendations could be implemented straight away, whereas others might need to be developed further before they could be presented to the General Assembly for approval. As a Permanent Representative of a troop-contributing country, he urged the Committee to recognize the enormously negative impact that sexual exploitation and abuse had on peacekeeping. The Secretariat could only do so much on its own; the Member States must also do their part. He hoped the session would be the start of a two-year process of change, which would result in a more professional and effective form of peacekeeping, where the highest standards of conduct were the norm. 

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