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Call for panel to end sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment at the UN 

One of the features in CRJ 17:3 (published in September 2022) will examine violence against women, trafficking, domestic and sexual violence in times of conflict, and the risks faced by women, girls and children after disasters. Emily Hough will also be interviewing Purna Sen, PhD, former Executive Co-ordinator and Spokesperson on Addressing Sexual Harassment, UN Women. 
Here follows the text of a call for states to support an external, independent panel to chart out system-wide work towards ending sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment at the United Nations.

The BBC documentary Whistleblowers: Inside the UN shows clearly that sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment not only happen at the UN, or in connection with the organisation’s work, but that cases are inadequately handled in the internal justice system.

The accounts of various forms of sexual abuse within the UN are not a surprise nor is lack of accountability to the survivors who report. Justice remains out of reach for too many people, mostly women, who have been abused: investigation timelines are too long, there is limited transparency and some who have made reports have subsequently lost their jobs or faced retaliation. Reports of investigations are shared with alleged abusers yet not made available to people who make those reports: a commitment to confidentiality is often the reason given for what is seen as secrecy.

These problems are not new nor is knowledge about them.The harms pile up and those who should experience internal justice but feel it isn’t forthcoming, leave the organisation.The need to act has never been more urgent. Its absence or delay certainly harms the abused and the organisation is also damaged.

Many states have expressed their deep concerns about this; some have funded organisation-specific external investigations as well as efforts to uncover and address sexual exploitation by the UN. A UN-wide review of the conditions that allow these problems is well overdue, as are actions to address them that have the confidence of victim-survivors.

This call is for Member States to:

  • Fund an external, independent Panel, with members, selected in part for their proven willingness and determination to act bravely and ethically, to include
  • at least victim-survivors and / or their advocates
  • those who understand power, discrimination and inequality
  • those who understand the nature, politics and dynamics of international organisations

The Panel will:

  • Review the various initiatives that have looked into sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment at or associated with the UN as the basis for developing a plan of work to build procedural and cultural change that is worthy of the trust of survivors and that build towards elimination
  • Be available to victim-survivors and/or their advocates for a set period of time
  • Ensure that accountability to survivors is built into its proposed action plan
  • Be time limited, completing its work within 12 months of establishment
  • Ensure UN co-operation with the Panel and follow up on necessary actions as determined by the Panel
The importance of the UN is given; the various vital works it undertakes can make a difference across the world. In order to become the best it can be, the UN needs to attract and keep the best staff; ensure that those who work for it in any capacity are not harmed and if they are so harmed, receive timely and meaningful justice; likewise for people who are abused by those working in the name of the UN; those who abuse colleagues within the UN or people outside it, even once, should face timely and substantive adverse consequences.

All workers have the right to a world of work free of violence and harassment, including at the UN. Nobody should be sexually abused or exploited by the UN: it has to stop.
  • Martina Brostrom, Survivor, former UNAIDS staff, Current Project Manager Closing the Accountability Gap for victims/survivors of SEAH, CHS Alliance
  • Kirstie Campbell
  • Forager, Director of Seabuckthorn Scotland CIC and Sadaya (Veterans) Charity, and former long term WFP consultant
  • Jeremie Dupin, Independent Journalist, who broke the news on Sexual Abuse by UN troops in Haiti and on the Cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by UN soldiers in 2010
  • Malayah Harper, SheDecides Global Champion, Former General Secretary World YWCA, Former Director Gender Equality UNAIDS, Current Director EngenderHealth, Writer
  • Djordjina Sejour, Experiential Expert on exploitation by UN Peacekeepers
  • Purna Sen, PhD, Formerly Executive Co-ordinator and Spokesperson on Addressing Sexual Harassment, UN Women, Visiting Professor, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, LMU; Independent Advisor on discrimination, rights and justice
Image: Adobe Stock | Lucky Xian
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