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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Fine countries that fail to investigate sex assault allegations by their peacekeepers, says UN chief Guterres

"Sexual exploitation and abuse has no place in our world. It is a global menace and it must end.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres greets US vice president Mike Pence before the start of a UN Security Council meeting on peacekeeping where Mr Guterres called for fines to be imposed on countries who fail to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by their peacekeepers, on  September 20, 2017 in New York. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres greets US vice president Mike Pence before the start of a UN Security Council meeting on peacekeeping where Mr Guterres called for fines to be imposed on countries who fail to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by their peacekeepers, on September 20, 2017 in New York. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, asked the Security Council to back sweeping changes to the rules for UN peacekeeping operations, including new rules to tackle the scourge of sexual abuses that has dogged the organisation.

Mr Guterres told a gathering of the UN’s top body on Wednesday that participating countries must face penalties for sheltering alleged abusers or failing to tackle allegations that troops engaged in crimes like rape.

“Peacekeeping remains a highly cost effective instrument,” he said. “If we can do better on prevention, peacekeeping and rebuilding we can reduce the pressure on our uniformed colleagues. Peacekeeping operations must embody UN values, since the earliest days of my tenure I have sent out signals of intolerance of abuse. I am determined to stamp out sexual exploitation and abuse. We are taking strong steps to promote accountability. Sexual exploitation and abuse has no place in our world. It is a global menace and it must end.

The Secretary General announced the appointment of Jane Connors as the first-ever UN Victims' Right Advocate.

"The Victims' Rights Advocate will develop system-wide mechanisms and policies to promote reliable gender- and child-sensitive processes for victims and witnesses to file complaints," he explained. "We will not let anyone cover up these crimes with the UN flag. Every victim deserves justice and our full support."

The special session drew the participation of nine presidents, three vice presidents, six prime ministers, three deputy prime ministers and more than 30 foreign ministers who are scheduled to attend the day-long session. Some 71 countries have signed up to speak. Mike Pence, the US vice-president, took the US seat.

At the end of the day the 15 members of the security council were set to vote on a resolution that is designed to clean up the scandalous record of the Blue Helmets. Entrusted with protecting the world’s most vulnerable, troops have instead faced 2,000 accusations of abuse since 2005, including a notorious Haitian sex ring.

The centrepiece of the proposed reform is that countries that do not investigate allegations of abuse by their troops would face fines, which would be withheld from their mission fees. The UN does not have the legal power to conduct its own criminal investigations. The withheld money would go into a fund for victims instead.

The resolution would also provide recognition for “the primacy of politics” a term that means peacekeeping should only take place in circumstances where diplomatic efforts to end conflicts were ongoing. These political strands include mediation, monitoring ceasefires and assisting the implementation of peace accords. The resolution also underscored the need to enhance the overall effectiveness of peacekeeping operations and “the critical importance of improving accountability, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness”.

The reforms are a key demand of the US administration which wants a more effective peacekeeping operation at a time of budget cuts.

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