The UN Human Rights Office’s role in advancing the Secretary General's new strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse

19 May 2017

"Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, members of non-UN international security forces operating under a UN Security Council mandate, and indeed any UN personnel, military or civilian, betray the deepest values of our Organisation," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has declared. "Where crimes fall under their authority and jurisdiction, Member States should promptly investigate every allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse and prosecute those responsible. Work is underway across the UN – including by my Office – to ensure a more rapid and decisive response to all allegations. Central to all our efforts must be the need to ensure that all victims are given the assistance, protection, justice and remedy that is their right."

The UN Human Rights Office is heavily engaged in efforts to roll out the Secretary-General's new strategy on addressing sexual exploitation and abuse. The Office has lead responsibility for monitoring, investigating, reporting and following up all allegations of sexual and gender-based violence by non-UN international security forces operating under mandates from the Security Council. The Office and other relevant UN entities inform the relevant Member State and/or regional organisation of all credible allegations, and request them to undertake investigations, with adequate safeguards for victims, and prosecutions where appropriate. Currently we are following up a number of allegations regarding non-UN forces in the Central African Republic and Somalia. Data on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse reported to the UN Human Rights Office in 2016 is available in annex IV of the Secretary-General’s report “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach”.

Upholding victims’ rights are at the forefront of the Secretary-General's new strategy and of the work of the UN Human Rights Office. The Office will continue to advocate for strengthened access by victims of sexual exploitation and abuse to appropriate judicial, administrative and other proceedings, and for protection and assistance measures to be robust and victim-centred. In cases where victims are children, our approaches must take into account their specific needs. We will work with UN partners and external experts to explore ways to strengthen and improve the independence and quality of all investigations.  An important aspect of the UN’s work on victims’ rights is the establishment of a Victims’ Rights Advocate, at the Assistant Secretary-General level in headquarters, supported by field-level Victims’ Rights Advocates in four peacekeeping operations. The Office is contributing to defining the scope and work of these victims’ rights advocates, and considers them as a critical asset to strengthen our support to victims. Together with the Special Coordinator, and in coordination with other parts of the UN, the UN Human Rights Office is also drawing up standard guidelines on protection of victims, confidentiality and the appropriate parameters for information-sharing within the UN system, as well as between the UN and its external partners and Member States.

Plans are underway for the UN Human Rights Office, together with the Office of the Secretary-General, to promote measures by Member States deploying non-UN forces authorised by the Security Council to uphold the same standards as those set for UN forces, and to adhere to similar arrangements integrating measures related to prevention, accountability of perpetrators, remedies for victims, and cooperation with UN entities.

We are developing a human rights-based policy framework and guidelines to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and abuse, engaging the responsibility of all UN personnel across all operations of the entire UN.

The UN Human Rights Office is committed to remain deeply involved in the many system-wide action streams set up to implement the Secretary-General's new strategy, of which just a few are highlighted above.

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