United Nations receives 54 allegations of sexual misconduct in 3 months

Incidents involve 66 victims, including 13 girls under 18, and two women and one girl have become pregnant

Soldiers form the Italian contingent in the UNIFIL patrol the blue line in Lebanon's southern border town of Naqura on the border with Israel, south of Beirut, on February 24, 2018.
The UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon has made efforts to prevent tension between Lebanon and Israel from escalating into a conflict, warning of continued escalation on the backdrop of oil exploration and construction of a barrier on the border. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID

The United Nations said Tuesday it received 54 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against peacekeepers and civilian staff and groups implementing UN programmes in the first three months of 2018, including one involving an 11-year-old girl.

Deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that 14 allegations involved peacekeeping operations, 18 involved UN agencies, funds and programmes and 21 were related to partner organisations. One allegation involved a member of a non-UN international force operating under a Security Council mandate, he said.

Mr Haq said the allegations involve 66 victims, including 13 girls under age 18. He said two women and one girl were pregnant, and paternity was established in one case. The ages of 16 victims were unknown, he said.

The United Nations has long been in the spotlight over allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo. But the latest figures demonstrate again that sexual misconduct spans the entire system.

Mr Haq stressed that “with over 95,000 civilians and 90,000 uniformed personnel working for the UN, sexual exploitation and abuse are not reflective of the conduct of the majority of the dedicated women and men who serve the organisation.

“But every allegation involving our personnel undermines our values and principles and the sacrifice of those who serve with pride and professionalism in some of the most dangerous places in the world,” he said.

In 2017, the United Nations received 138 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, some involving multiple perpetrators and victims, and more than 40 per cent arising from its peacekeeping missions, according to a report in March.

Mr Haq said there were no quarterly figures issued in 2017, but the first quarter figures for 2018 appear significantly higher, while the percentage of allegations involving peacekeepers is markedly lower at 26 per cent.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in the March report that much remains to be done “to ensure the United Nations has its own house in order” and his “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual misconduct becomes a reality.

“No individual serving under the United Nations flag should be associated with sexual exploitation and abuse,” he said. “Combating this scourge continues to be one of my key priorities for 2018, as is assisting and empowering those who have been scarred by these egregious acts.”

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said tackling sexual abuse will be on the agenda of Mr Guterres’s meeting in London on May 3 and May 4 with his senior leadership and the heads of 31 UN agencies and specialised organisations. It is being hosted by the London-based International Maritime Organisation.

Mr Dujarric told reporters Monday that the secretary general would deliver “a strong message” to the UN Chief Executives Board “on the need to improve the … system’s approach to preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace”.