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Sexual exploitation ‘utterly immoral’, Completely at odds with United Nations

MIssion, says Secretary-General to New York Conference


Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks to the High-Level Conference on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations and Non-Governmental Organization Personnel in New York, 4 December:

It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to this Conference.

We are here to address a question of crucial importance to the standing and effectiveness of the United Nations.  But, since we will be focusing to a large extent on misconduct, I would like to express, right at the outset, my tremendous pride in the admirable and upstanding behaviour of the vast majority of United Nations staff and the uniformed personnel who serve alongside them.  Throughout the world, in difficult and dangerous conditions, these courageous men and women make invaluable contributions to our work for peace and human dignity.

It is tragic and intolerable that those contributions are undermined by the small number of individuals among them who have engaged in acts of sexual exploitation and abuse.  Such acts violate the trust and respect placed in us by the communities we are sent to help.  They cause great harm to women and children who already face extreme hardship and violations in their daily lives.  And they overshadow, in the eyes of the public, our many achievements.

All of this is utterly immoral, and completely at odds with our mission.  Even if it is only a few who take advantage of our positions of relative power in the countries where we operate, it is a few too many.  Our behaviour should be something that others can emulate, and be judged against.  We are here today to chart a way forward for achieving that.

As you know, three years ago, after a period of intense collaboration between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, I promulgated a bulletin entitled Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.  The bulletin spells out prohibited sexual conduct, and explains the duties of individuals and managers.  It applies to all UN staff, as well as uniformed personnel.  It applies wherever they are stationed, whatever work they are doing.  This is because sexual exploitation and abuse can occur not just in peacekeeping or humanitarian contexts, but everywhere.

I am pleased that Member States recently adopted the standards set out in the bulletin for all uniformed personnel serving under the United Nations flag.

The UN system, for its part, has made considerable progress in implementing the bulletin and upholding the standards.  Today, our personnel are better informed about what is expected of them.  Allegations of exploitation and abuse are being handled in a more systematic and professional manner.  Staff who commit such acts are being fired.  And uniformed peacekeeping personnel are being sent home and barred from future peacekeeping service, and also in the expectation that their own Governments will deal with them.

Reforms continue throughout the UN system, aimed at preventing exploitation and holding individuals to account.  Some entities are further ahead than others in implementing the bulletin, and thus are an example to emulate.  I look forward to hearing today about their practical experiences and the lessons that they would want to share with us.

We will also hear from my Adviser on the subject, His Royal Highness Prince Zeid, the Permanent Representative of Jordan.  Prince Zeid will soon be leaving New York, and ending his role as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General.  I want to thank him for his tremendous contribution.  He has helped the United Nations to better understand the nature and extent of the problem, and he has pressed Member States to act.  It is in no small part thanks to him that we have a clear road map for reforming peacekeeping in this area.

Despite these concerted efforts, we have really only begun to address this egregious problem.  Acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by both civilian and uniformed United Nations personnel continue to occur.  There have been breaches of UN standards, such as sex with adult prostitutes.  And there have been crimes such as rape, paedophilia and human trafficking.  My message of zero-tolerance has still not got through to all those who need to hear it -– from managers and commanders on the ground, to all our other personnel.

One major problem is an overall climate that makes it difficult to report and expose abuses.  This is unacceptable.  We need to create an environment in which people feel able to report abuses without fear of retaliation.  People must be able to have faith in the Organization’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively when such acts occur.  And they need to be secure in the knowledge that victims, as well as the children born of such acts, will receive the assistance they require.

To help with the latter, I have put forward a draft policy statement and comprehensive strategy on assistance to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.  I look forward to the discussions that the Member States will have on the proposal later this month.

Another key indicator of our seriousness is the degree to which those who commit such acts are held accountable.  No one in the United Nations is above the law.  In September 2005, I established a group of legal experts to examine how to strengthen the accountability of UN staff, and related personnel such as UN police officers and military observers, who commit crimes while serving in UN peacekeeping missions.  The group has now issued its report, which includes a proposal for an international convention on the matter.  Here, too, I look forward to discussions and early action on the part of the Member States.

The bulletin is our overall template for action.  But, I am encouraged to know that many of you, as a further expression of your intent and will to act, have been involved in developing a statement of Commitment on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Non-UN Personnel.   The statement’s 10 commitments provide the framework for the development of a UN-wide strategy to implement the bulletin.  I call on those of you who have not yet done so to endorse the Statement at the earliest possible opportunity, and I urge all of you to work together to elaborate a good, credible strategy for action.

Very significant progress has been achieved in the past three years, across the UN system, to acknowledge the problem and to address it seriously.  This is a major step forward from the 1990s and early 2000s, when, to be blunt, neither the Member States nor the Secretariat fully grasped the extent and nature of these abhorrent acts.  The United Nations, particularly in peacekeeping contexts, should have reacted more aggressively, and much earlier.  Fortunately, a change –- of attitude, priorities and conviction -- is now well under way, and is producing concrete, positive results.  The challenge before us is to remain vigilant and resist sliding back into complacency.

As we move ahead, we will also need to continue enlisting the help of non-governmental organizations, international organizations, Government representatives and others in a position to contribute.  The United Nations cannot do it alone.

Finally, let me say a word about this Conference itself.  This is a timely opportunity.  In the interest of having a focused discussion, I suggest that you concentrate on two questions:

First, how can we create an organizational culture that prevents sexual exploitation and abuse, and what role can senior leadership play in achieving this goal?

Second, what is the role of senior leadership in responding effectively to acts of sexual exploitation and abuse when they do occur?

Let me thank you once again for coming to this Conference, and most of all for your commitment to this effort.  I am sure that my successor will take this issue every bit as seriously, and will, therefore, find the work of this Conference very useful.  In that spirit, I wish you all a productive day, and look forward to the outcome.

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For information media. Not an official record.