The UN received a total of 259 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by the staff working in its agencies and their partner organisations in 2018, an increase of more than a hundred in such incidents from the previous year, according to a report presented by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The report, presented to the General Assembly, said that from January 1 to December 31, 2018, the UN received a total of 148 sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) allegations directly involving UN workers, and 111 involving staff from partner organisations implementing UN programmes.
This represents an increase in the total number of incidents reported in 2017, when 138 allegations were made, and 165 allegations made in 2016, it said.
The report said while the figures of allegations rose in 2018 compared with the previous two years, there was increased awareness among the UN and UN-related staff, and improved and harmonized reporting tools across the organisation towards a ‘zero tolerance’ effort to end sexual exploitation and abuse across the UN.
According to the report, not all the allegations have been fully verified and many are still under investigation or are still in a preliminary assessment phase.
The report said that the third system-wide survey on sexual exploitation and abuse was administered in 2018 to the UN and affiliated personnel at 34 duty stations with humanitarian and/or peace operations.
The duty stations included those in countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, India, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Pakistan, South Sudan and Syria.
There were some encouraging signs in Peacekeeping Operations, where allegations were down almost by half over the past two years, it said.
While 103 SEA incidents were reported in 2016, only 54 allegations were made in 2018, the report said.
Despite this improvement in the UN’s peacekeeping wing, the number of allegations went up against personnel in other UN entities, with 94 allegations received in 2018, compared with 50 in 2017.
In a troubling sign, the number of allegations against partner organisations implementing the UN’s programmes reached a high of 109, increasing more than four-fold from 2017 when only 25 incidents were reported.
“The numbers show that the UN’s victim-centred approach, implemented over a year ago, is paying off as there seems to be an increased trust among the victims and survivors to come forward and report incidents,” the UN said in a statement.
The Secretary-General has stressed that there will be zero tolerance towards sexual exploitation and abuse across the UN.
His strategy, in its first phase, focuses on addressing the issue within the UN system, as well as those mandated by the world body to carry out programmes.
This entails more than 90,000 staff in more than 30 entities and more than 100,000 uniformed personnel.
In 2017, Guterres had launched a new strategy to prevent and end sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel.
A major element of this new approach was the creation of the ‘Circle of Leadership’ for Heads of State and Government to demonstrate resolve and commitment at the highest political level to eradicate the scourge.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member of the Circle of Leadership.
The Secretary General said in the report that he encourages Member States to give greater visibility to their initiatives to eradicate sexual exploitation and abuse, including information on the status of administrative and judicial processes, which will be included in a public electronic hub.
In 2018, he had asked the members of the circle to provide him with updates, and seven Member States have responded, including India, Australia, Germany, the UK and Uruguay.
The world body had launched in October last year an electronic tool called ‘Clear Check’, to screen UN staff dismissed as a result of substantiated SEA allegations, or those who resigned or were separated during an investigation.
The UN does not have the authority or a legal mandate to criminally prosecute individuals found guilty of committing sexual exploitation and abuse and criminal accountability of individuals continues to rest with the relevant country.
In cases where the alleged offender is a civilian, the UN conducts administrative investigations.
The staff member is dismissed when the allegation is substantiated and if the UN concludes that a crime may have been committed, it refers the matter to relevant national authorities for further action, the statement said.