UN tack­les sex­ual abuse,

▶ Guter­res calls meet­ing to ad­dress ex­ploita­tion and hopes pact to ad­dress problem will be signed by 193 states

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He is call­ing it the Cir­cle of Lead­er­ship – about 50 heads of state and govern­ment com­mit­ted to end­ing sex­ual ex­ploita­tion by United Na­tions peace­keep­ers on in­ter­na­tional mis­sions.

At his first UN gen­eral assem­bly ses­sion as sec­re­tary gen­eral, An­to­nio Guter­res has in­vited world lead­ers to an event to­mor­row to dis­cuss the sex­ual ex­ploita­tion and abuse that have tar­nished the UN’s peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions and con­tinue to blacken the UN’s name.

Mr Guter­res last week an­nounced the draft of a pact that he hopes the UN’s 193 mem­ber states will sign. It em­pha­sises “the shared prin­ci­ples” of the UN and mem­ber states for peace op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing com­mit­ments to pre­vent sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

The Cir­cle of Lead­er­ship will make com­mit­ments to end im­punity for those ac­cused of sex­ual abuse and ex­ploita­tion on in­ter­na­tional mis­sions. The lead­ers join­ing the cir­cle will be an­nounced to­mor­row.

Mr Guter­res’s ini­tia­tive came as the UN’s peace­keep­ing mis­sion to the Cen­tral African Repub­lic said it would look into claims that in­ves­ti­ga­tions into sex­ual abuse by UN forces were mis­han­dled.

In March, Mr Guter­res an­nounced mea­sures to tackle the in­crease in sex­ual abuse and ex­ploita­tion by UN peace­keep­ers and staff, in­clud­ing a fo­cus on vic­tims and bans on al­co­hol and frater­ni­sa­tion for troops.

He said then that “no magic wand ex­ists to end the problem”, but “I be­lieve that we can dra­mat­i­cally im­prove how the United Na­tions ad­dresses this scourge”.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by As­so­ci­ated Press un­cov­ered about 2,000 al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse and ex­ploita­tion over 12 years.

One of the worse cases in­volved a group of Sri Lankan peace­keep­ers who ran a child sex ring in Haiti be­tween 2004 and 2007. De­spite a UN in­ves­ti­ga­tion, none of the peace­keep­ers was pros­e­cuted.

US am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley re­ferred to that in­ves­ti­ga­tion in a UN se­cu­rity coun­cil meet­ing in April, warn­ing that the US could with­draw fund­ing both for mis­sions where such abuses were rife, and for coun­tries that failed to hold per­pe­tra­tors to ac­count.

This week, a watch­dog said it had ob­tained leaked case files show­ing “egre­gious mis­han­dling” of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions by the UN against peace­keep­ers in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic.

The 14 cases given by the Code Blue cam­paign were in­ves­ti­gated last year af­ter com­plaints con­cern­ing nine coun­tries – Pak­istan, Zam­bia, Repub­lic of Congo, Bu­rundi, Morocco, Egypt, Cameroon, Gabon and Niger.

But a “sham process” meant these com­plaints were never in­ves­ti­gated in depth. In eight cases, the vic­tims were not in­ter­viewed, cor­rob­o­rat­ing wit­nesses were not sought for tes­ti­mony, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors showed “over­whelm­ing bias” against those who com­plained.

A woman who said she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted by a Moroc­can UN sol­dier at Obo, east­ern Cen­tral African Repub­lic, was ques­tioned for 13 days by nine men – UN staff and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties – be­fore her com­plaint was dis­missed as false and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded that she was af­ter com­pen­sa­tion.

“In at least four cases, fact-fin­ders gave weight to un­sub­stan­ti­ated as­ser­tions sug­gest­ing that the ac­cused peace­keep­ers were the true vic­tims in the in­ci­dents,” Code Blue’s re­port said.

Ten cases did not ap­pear on the UN web­site where in­for­ma­tion about sex­ual mis­con­duct is sup­posed to be re­leased.

UN spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was “look­ing into the al­le­ga­tions made by Code Blue”.

Jane Holl Lute, the spe­cial co­or­di­na­tor on im­prov­ing the UN re­sponse to sex­ual ex­ploita­tion and abuse, said the sec­re­tary gen­eral be­lieved the UN could not ful­fil its man­date of pre­vent­ing con­flict and bat­tling poverty with in­ef­fec­tive re­sponses to claims of sex­ual abuse.

Mr Guter­res said: “I’m go­ing to pur­sue this agenda be­cause it is a black mark not only on our his­tory but on our­selves, and it’s a real im­ped­i­ment to the ef­fec­tive­ness of this or­gan­i­sa­tion’s op­er­a­tions.”

He in­tends to put vic­tims “at the cen­tre”, to end im­punity for al­leged per­pe­tra­tors, to en­gage with so­ci­ety, and to in­crease ed­u­ca­tion and trans­parency.

But Ms Lute con­ceded that: “This is an ever-present dan­ger for women ev­ery­where. There is no coun­try, there is no mil­i­tary that is im­mune from these be­hav­iours.

“This is not a problem ex­clu­sive to uni­formed per­son­nel, nor is it ex­clu­sive to peace­keep­ing. And civil­ians, frankly, are more guilty of this than are uni­formed mil­i­tary per­son­nel, by per­cent­age.”

But she also ac­knowl­edged that re­ported cases of abuse by UN peace­keep­ers might in­crease this year, be­cause more peo­ple un­der­stand “this is an en­vi­ron­ment that they can trust to re­port”.

To­mor­row, Mr Guter­res will in­tro­duce the first UN rights ad­vo­cate for vic­tims – Aus­tralian lawyer and hu­man rights ad­vo­cate, Jane Con­nors.

Ms Lute said that the scan­dals in peace­keep­ing had tar­nished the UN’s cred­i­bil­ity for­ever.

“From my point of view, you’ll never hear a story about UN and UN peace­keep­ing with­out some­one re­fer­ring to this black mark on our record,” she said.

“Even though we may re­ally turn the tide, which is what we’re try­ing to do, we will never be able to erase the his­tory books.”

Guter­res says con­duct of forces was a stain on the UN’s rep­u­ta­tion and its ef­forts to live up to its char­ter and val­ues

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