United Nations Secretary General António Guterres released a report on February 28 detailing his strategy to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by UN peacekeepers against vulnerable communities. See UN Secretary General, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach, UN Doc. A/71/818, 28 February 2017. The report comes less than three months after Guterres’ remarks to the UN General Assembly prior to taking the oath of office, during which he announced his intention to address such crimes. His strategy identifies four primary areas of action: prioritizing victims, ending impunity, engaging civil society and other partners, and improving strategic communications to aid in education and transparency. See id. at para. 13. The report also identifies best practices for Member States, discusses previous initiatives on the matter, and provides data regarding the nature of these allegations and the state of their investigations in 2016. See id. at Annexes, II, III, IV. In recent years, the United Nations has been plagued with allegations that UN peacekeepers have sexually abused women and children in multiple countries, where they have been stationed to assist disadvantaged communities. [IJRC: Recommendations; Bloomberg; CNN] Moreover, the United Nations has been accused of mishandling those allegations and failing to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. See Marie Deschamps et al., Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers (2015). The former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also announced recommendations to address this issue in March 2016, but the new action items are broader in scope. [IJRC: Recommendations]
UN Secretary General Report
According to the report, sexual exploitation occurs as a result of inequality between genders and can threaten women and girls “wherever they live or work.” See Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach, para. 9. Sexual exploitation occurs more frequently during humanitarian missions due to local populations’ heightened levels of vulnerability. See id. at para. 11. When people are “hungry, displaced, desperate and under extreme duress,” peacekeepers are in a unique position of power. See id. Effectively combatting the issue, therefore, requires the elimination of circumstances that create vulnerability, the report argues, by promoting gender equality and empowering women. See id. at para. 10. The problem is also attributable in part to improper screening of civilians before they are hired by the UN, a lack of adequate training and discipline for all personnel, a sense of impunity among perpetrators, and a lack of “sustained efforts” by senior UN officials “until provoked by crisis.” See id. at para. 12.
The report concludes with a series of recommendations to the UN General Assembly in which the Secretary General requests the assembly’s endorsement of the new policies and enforcement mechanisms to be undertaken, as described in Guterres’ action plan. See id. at para. 79. In particular, Guterres seeks the General Assembly’s support in the establishment of a comprehensive repository of case information, strengthening investigative capabilities across the United Nations, and allocating funds to incentivize accurate reporting and assist victims. See id.
In March 2016, in response to those allegations, Ban Ki-moon (Secretary General at the time) presented recommendations to the UN Security Council on ways to increase UN accountability. [IJRC: Recommendations] Less than a month prior, Ban made recommendations to the General Assembly in a report concerning allegations of sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers in 2015 and corresponding response measures. [IJRC: Recommendations] In December 2016, as part of his goal to ensure global peace, then-Secretary-General-designate António Guterres vowed to address this issue further upon taking office. See United Nations, Secretary-General-designate António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly on taking the oath of office. [IJRC: Guterres] The strategy presented in this report is a robust and tangible effort toward Guterres’ stated aim of preventing and responding to “the appalling crimes of sexual violence and exploitation committed under the UN flag against those we are supposed to protect.” See United Nations, Secretary-General-designate António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly on taking the oath of office.