United Nations peacekeeping operations - Sexual exploitation and abuse

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

As delivered by Phillip Taula, 10 March 2016.

We thank the Secretary-General for his helpful briefing and engagement on this important issue. We welcome his recent report and its recommendations, and the appointment of Jane Holl-Lute as his Special Coordinator.  

Let me begin by acknowledging the vital work carried out by peacekeepers serving with missions mandated by this Council, and by paying testament to the courage and commitment they display in carrying out their role in trying and dangerous circumstances. As mentioned earlier, we have seen this directly in the Security Council's recent visit to West Africa. 

But today we must be frank in also acknowledging that our systems for preventing, monitoring and responding to instances of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel are failing. This failure is inflicting a terrible cost on the people that our peacekeepers are responsible for protecting. The reputation and effectiveness of this organisation is being damaged.  

These allegations represent more than isolated, individual instances of wrong doing. Nor are they restricted to one or two Missions. They represent a systemic failure, one that all of us – the Secretariat, contributing countries and Council members – have a responsibility to fix. Continuing to muddle through with our current “business as usual” approach is simply not an option.  

Zero tolerance against sexual exploitation and abuse has been our mantra for the last decade. And yet despite this, and despite the many policies, standards and procedures that have been put in place to address this since Prince Zeid’s landmark report, we continue to see new allegations emerge against peacekeepers and to learn of new victims, at times of an horrific nature.   This is despite the considerable high level attention directed to this issue – including by the Secretary-General himself – over the past year.

We are not lacking a clear problem definition, or policies and standards.  What we are lacking appears to be the political will to implement and enforce these standards. Too often a blind eye is turned to allegations, and no action is taken to hold those responsible to account.   We need to create a genuine culture of zero tolerance. 

A culture where there is clear accountability, both for abuse and for its prevention, reporting, and prosecution. A culture where the fear of reputational damage from acknowledging allegations does not override the responsibility to respond effectively. A culture where the real stigma lies not with the allegations themselves, but in failing to adequately report and respond.   New Zealand understands that there are no quick and easy solutions.

There are many practical and operational challenges that need to be addressed. We can only address this problem if all concerned - this Council, the wider UN system, and troop and police contributing countries - work together to find solutions.   At the heart of our response must be the victims of abuse, and their right to respect, support and accountability. An effective response to serious crimes and human rights violations will also go some way to restoring the credibility of UN peacekeeping in the communities they are sent to protect.  

Council members have been working on a draft resolution to address these shortcomings. New Zealand thanks the United States for its initiative. The Security Council can support action in several key areas:  

First, we must support the Secretary-General’s commitment to repatriate those contingents which demonstrate a widespread or systematic pattern of sexual exploitation or abuse or a consistent failure to adequately follow up on allegations.  

Second, we must remove the obstacles around making complaints and ensure better management of all complaints received. Processes for dealing with victims need to be centrally coordinated and managed more carefully and confidentially.  

Third, victims need to receive the support, assistance and responses that they deserve. Many aspects of the approach in the 2008 UN comprehensive strategy on assistance and support to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse should simply be baseline work for any UN mission.  

Fourth, the UN needs to get more serious about systems and resources for vetting UN peacekeepers.  The current policy is limited to screening senior leadership only, and the UN needs to invest much more in order to go further than that.  

Fifth, we need a better process and division of roles on investigative duties. No national legal system would build in a 10-day delay to begin investigation, as set for the UN if a troop or police contributing country is unable to investigate.  

Finally, we believe it is beyond question that this Council has both a right and an obligation to engage on this issue. New Zealand fully respects the competence and role of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the Fifth Committee.  But we strongly disagree that this Council is not responsible for the consequences of the mandates it approves, or for the actions of the personnel it deploys. The draft resolution we have is primarily about implementing and enforcing the standards that the General Assembly has agreed or acknowledged already.

We can and must provide for more effective responses to sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping. We owe it to the victims, to the peacekeepers that have given their lives, to ourselves, and to the values on which this organisation was founded.


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