Watchdog slams UN response to peacekeeper sex abuse claims as ‘further exploitation’ of victims
The United Nations on Friday reported 31 new allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against peacekeepers and civilians working for UN agencies from July to September – almost half against those employed to help refugees.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric released the figures and said Secretary General Antonio Guterres “is obviously disappointed and saddened that these actions continue”.
The United Nations has been in the spotlight for several years over allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo.
According to UN figures, there were 80 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN peacekeepers and 65 allegations involving UN civilian staff in 2016 – an increase from 2015.
Guterres announced new measures in March to tackle the increase in sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers and staff, including a new focus on victims and bans on alcohol and fraternisation for troops.
According to Dujarric, there were 12 allegations against peacekeepers and 19 against civilians working for UN agencies between July 1 and September 30.
Fifteen of the allegations involved the Geneva-based UN refugee agency known as UNHCR which helps more than 22 million people who have fled to another country, he said. Three involved civilians working for the UN migration agency, the International Office for Migration, and one who worked for the UN children’s agency Unicef.
This was the first three-month update and Dujarric said the UN will continue the practice of quarterly reporting.
Of the 12 peacekeepers alleged to have been involved in sexual abuse or exploitation, he said four were serving in Congo, three in Liberia, two in Central African Republic, and one each in Mali, Haiti and South Sudan.
The other alleged perpetrators included five civilians from host countries working for the UN, 10 civilians helping implement UN programmes, and three UN consultants, Dujarric said.
The alleged victims included at least 24 women and six girls.
As for the allegations, Dujarric said an investigation had substantiated one claim involving UNHCR.
He said 13 others – including two involving UNHCR – were at various stages in the investigative process, 10 others were under preliminary assessment, and seven where limited information had been provided were under review.
The first victims’ rights advocate, Jane Connors, who was appointed as part of Guterres’ initiative, just returned from a visit to Central African Republic with the UN chief. Last year, the violence-torn country had the highest number of misconduct allegations against peacekeepers in the world.
Connors told reporters on Friday that her priority “is to give visibility to those who have suffered ... and support them as they rebuild their lives”.
Victims in the Central African Republic are getting medical help, food and psychological and social support, Connors said.
The Code Blue campaign, a watchdog group, reported in September that leaked case files show “egregious mishandling” of sexual misconduct allegations against UN peacekeepers in CAR.
Code Blue cited 14 cases which were investigated last year to determine whether the allegations could be substantiated. In eight cases, it said, the alleged victims were not even interviewed.
Paula Donovan, co-director of Aids-Free World which organised the Code Blue campaign, said she was “appalled and offended” at Connors’ presentation.
The focus of the victims’ rights advocate has swung away “from ensuring victims’ access to justice” to “a vague, ever-shifting menu of services”, she said.
“There is no victims’ bill of rights that codifies exactly which rights victims of UN sexual abuse hold and can demand,” Donovan said. “The concept is a public relations response to serious crimes, a further exploitation of women and children who have already been violated by the UN.”