Time is of essence and we can no longer afford to delay transparent, effective and thorough action when new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse arise with far too similar traits and perpetrators. Many question our credibility. Some have even dubbed us “the harbors of bad patterns.” These perceptions should drive us to look internally for the shortcomings that sustain the mechanisms that no longer serve us, as we work to uphold the UN Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy. We also welcome his recent appointment of Jane Holl Lute, as Special Coordinator on improving the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse.
We must take concrete action now.
The way forward must be paved with several key actions that target the root causes of sexual exploitation and abuse. Firstly, we must all concede that sexual exploitation and abuse is also a grave human rights violation. We must steer clear from only seeing it as a disciplinary matter. Secondly, current UN policies fall short of wholly protecting victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly if the alleged perpetrators are non-UN forces mandated by the Security Council to aid in peacekeeping. The recent reports on sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) affirm the pervasiveness of this crime and the subsequent lack of accountability. In these reports we see the same countries being accused of the same crimes. How is this possible?
The degree of bestiality of these acts is escalating, which makes the public believe that the accused must be enjoying immunity. Accountability is porous and designed for a select few. This should not be the case.
Peacekeepers of troop contributing countries and non-UN forces should all be denounced and face justice. The fact that non-UN forces are not under UN command egregiously hampers our ability to hold all perpetrators accountable. The C-34 Report for the 2016 substantive session calls for non-UN forces to immediately report allegations of human rights violations and sexual exploitation and abuse while also requesting that appropriate steps be taken to investigate the allegations. The implementation of these measures along with those outlined in Resolution 2272 will rid our system of double standards, hold all peacekeepers to the highest standards of conduct, and put to rest political and bureaucratic motives that breed inaction.
Thirdly, a cultural shift within the UN system is needed in order for real change to take hold. It must be impressed upon all that sexual exploitation and abuse is a system-wide core responsibility. Each department, agency and representative of the UN should understand and own their role in ensuring perpetrators are held accountable and victims receive the assistance they deserve. The UN mechanisms for fighting sexual exploitation and abuse must be strengthened by this unwavering conviction.
Fourthly and consequently, we must close the gap on accountability for it undermines all of our efforts and is a complete dishonor to the victims that had the courage to come forward and share their truths. The lack of accountability extends far beyond the field, past mission leadership, residing in the reports and bureaucratic disarray of the Secretariat. We, the troop and police contributing countries, must also do our parts in timely investigating and prosecuting all credible allegations while simultaneously informing the Secretariat and other relevant parties about the prosecutorial developments, with the ultimate goal of recovering the trust between the UN and the civilians we have been tasked to protect.
Fifthly, we must guarantee that all peacekeepers have undergone adequate training on sexual exploitation and abuse. Such training can not only deter peacekeepers from partaking in such heinous crimes, but also equip them with the knowledge to identify situations that could spiral into future cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.
This alertness can significantly impact our missions, strengthening our efforts on all fronts. In Rwanda, our training on sexual exploitation and abuse is coupled with the deployment of a legal advisor and investigator for each infantry battalion serving on the ground. We have deployed these experts since 2011 and found significant gains in their deployment.
As one of the largest troop and police contributing countries, we do not tread lightly on this matter and, furthermore, we align ourselves with those seeking to improve UN’s response to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. For this reason and many more, we, along with other top troop contributing countries and protection of civilian (POC) stakeholders, developed the Kigali Principles in May of 2015. These principles set the benchmark for effective peacekeeping by focusing on the protection of civilians, which includes human rights violations as grave as sexual exploitation and abuse. We ask all the stakeholders to join us in upholding these principles.
The systematic sexual exploitation and abuse that plagues our peacekeeping efforts must come to an end. The reports that have come out of the Central African Republic are enough to keep us awake at night. What if these victims were your sisters? Your daughters? Your mothers? We must work feverishly to change the mechanisms that have welcomed silence and fostered the deplorable acts of sexual exploitation and abuse that are not representative of us, nor the legacy we strive to leave behind.
This article was extracted from the statement by the Minister of State in Charge of Cooperation, Amb. Eugene-Richard Gasana, at the UN General Assembly briefing on sexual exploitation and abuse involving international forces, on April 5.