Speakers call for holistic approach, focus on victims’ rights, as Budget Committee reviews Secretary-General’s strategy to address sexual abuse

Report
from UN General Assembly
Published on 08 May 2017 View Original

GA/AB/4233

8 MAY 2017
GENERAL ASSEMBLY FIFTH COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-FIRST SESSION, 32ND MEETING (AM)

Eradicating sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping missions would require a collective and holistic approach that left no room for impunity, delegates said today as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) took up the Secretary-General’s blueprint for tackling the issue across the Organization.

Jane Holl Lute, Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, titled “special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:  a new approach”, emphasizing how it was written in the first person to underscore his commitment to the issue at a system-wide level.

“When sexual exploitation and abuse occur, we will respond to their needs directly,” she said, emphasizing that the Secretary-General’s approach sought to put victims’ rights and dignity first with the appointment of victims’ rights advocates in four field missions in which high levels of sexual abuse and exploitation had been reported.

Among other elements, the strategy would counter any sense of impunity and create a culture of prevention so that any United Nations staff member, or anyone serving under the Organization’s flag, could speak up about any acts of abuse they might witness, she said.  A high-level meeting on the topic would be held on the margins of the general debate of the next General Assembly session and a standing advisory board would be set up to make recommendations.  Public disclosure would meanwhile be strengthened, while a database to monitor and analyse the problem would include non-United Nations forces deployed under a United Nations mandate.

Ecuador’s representative, on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China, said a collective, holistic approach was needed to combat sexual exploitation and abuse, with all stakeholders playing their respective roles.  An effective triangular cooperation mechanism could be an option to deal with that menace, she said, adding that the Group of 77 wanted to better understand the mechanisms, or lack thereof, of how the United Nations dealt with staff members found guilty of abuse.

The representative of the United States said a more thorough analysis of past efforts to address sexual exploitation and abuse should have been outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.  Stressing the importance of an inter-agency, United Nations-system-wide approach to enforcing a zero-tolerance policy, she welcomed the Special Coordinator’s work to enhance coordination among the United Nations funds and programmes for prevention efforts.

Switzerland’s delegate, speaking also for Liechtenstein, strongly urged the United Nations to embrace a unified system-wide approach with a view to strengthen prevention, investigation and accountability.  Genuine accountability and the realization of the zero-tolerance policy concerned the United Nations system and Member States, whose full cooperation and commitment were fundamental to successfully tackle those issues, she stated.

Also speaking today was Lisa Buttenheim, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support, who introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “triennial review of the rates and standards for reimbursement to Member States for contingent-owned equipment”.  That document provided highlights of 27 recommendations from the Contingency-owned Equipment Working Group, with financial implications totalling approximately $13.6 million, she said, adding that Working Group was recommending a net increase of 0.6 per cent in reimbursement rates for contingency-owned equipment and self-sustainment, costing about $5.5 million a year.

Presenting the related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Carlos Ruiz Massieu said it recommended approval of the Working Group’s recommendations.

In other business, the Committee filled vacancies in three subsidiary bodies.  It appointed, by acclamation, Olivier Myard of France to ACABQ to replace Catherine Vendat, also of France, for the remainder of her term expiring on 31 December 2019; Zhang Wei of China to the Committee on Contributions to replace Fu Daopeng, also of China, for the term expiring on 31 December 2017; and Vladimir A. Storozhev of the Russian Federation to the International Civil Service Commission to replace his countryman, Sergey V. Garmonino, whose term of office would expire on 31 December 2020.

Also speaking today were representatives of Costa Rica and Norway, as well as the European Union.

The Committee will meet again at a date and time to be announced.

Peacekeeping Operations:  Cross-Cutting Issues

LISA BUTTENHEIM, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “triennial review of the rates and standards for reimbursement to Member States for contingent-owned equipment” (document A/71/802), noting recent meetings of the Contingency-owned Equipment Working Group, contained in document A/C.5/71/20.  Providing highlights of the Working Group’s 27 recommendations, which had financial implications totalling approximately $13.6 million, she said it had agreed to recommend a net increase of 0.6 per cent in reimbursement rates for contingency-owned equipment and self-sustainment, costing about $5.5 million annually.  The recommendations included specific steps to acknowledge contemporary peacekeeping needs and challenges while recognizing that it was essential to focus on capability, quality and performance.  The Working Group formed recommendations with a view to introducing internationally recognized environmental and health standards, improving the ability to deploy more mobile operations and attempting to strike a balance between the fairness of the reimbursement system and the affordability of United Nations peacekeeping.

She said the unprecedented number of issue papers submitted for consideration in 2017, double the amount from 2011 and 2014 meetings, reflected a growing recognition of the importance of the role of the Working Group and its outcomes and the increasing challenges facing peacekeeping operations and peacekeepers in the field.

HEIDI MENDOZA, Under-Secretary-General for International Oversight Services, introduced the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on its activities for peace operations for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2016 (document A/71/337 (Part II)).  Covering work in internal audits, investigations, inspection and evaluations, the Office had issued 249 oversight reports on peace operations and 528 recommendations.  The Internal Audit Division had continued to make use of thematic audits to identify systemic strengths and weaknesses across peace operations.  The Investigations Division issued 159 reports and referred 139 matters to more appropriate offices of entities for possible action.  The Inspection and Evaluation Division had issues two reports and examined the results of national policy capacity-building in selected operations.

She said the Investigations Division concluded major investigations into widespread allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in Dekoa, Central African Republic.  Many complaints had called for an unprecedented response by the Office through the rotational deployment of 31 staff members to that country.  Findings had been transmitted to the Department of Field Support for referral to relevant troop-contributing countries.  The experience had resulted in the Division reviewing how it responded to challenges of investigation and sexual exploitation and abuse and had led to the launch of a training course on forensic interviewing of children at a New York-based child advocacy centre.

JANE HOLL LUTE, Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports titled “special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:  a new approach” and its addendum (documents A/71/818 and A/71/818/Add.1).  Stating that the report was unlike any other put before the Committee under that title, she said it was the result of intensive consultations during the initial months of the Secretary-General’s term, involving all Member States, as well as civil society experts.  The Secretary-General recognized that the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse was system-wide, not just limited to peacekeeping operations or to uniformed personnel, she said, noting that his report set out a number of conditions under which sexual exploitation and abuse might occur.

Member States had been essential to the process of developing the report, in particular troop- and police-contributing countries, as well as countries that shared the Secretary-General’s commitment to eradicating the problem, she said. His approach would put victims’ rights and dignity first, she said, adding:  “When sexual exploitation and abuse occur, we will respond to their needs directly.”  He would meet with victims to hear their perspective, and he would appoint victims’ rights advocates in four field missions that had seen high levels of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Emphasizing the Secretary-General’s determination to put the United Nations own house in order and address any sense of impunity, she said a culture of prevention would be created in which every staff member, and everyone serving under the United Nations flag, would speak up if they witnessed acts of sexual exploitation and abuse.  The aim would be to improve reporting and management accountability while strengthening attentiveness across the United Nations system.  In addition, she said, the Secretary-General called for the establishment of a “circle of leadership” on the issue that would include Heads of State and Government, and for a high-level meeting to be held on the margins of the next session of the General Assembly at which the matter would be taken up.

Another element of the Secretary-General’s strategy was direct and continuous engagement with members of civil society and other external partners, particularly in the field, to promote better awareness and sharing of best practices, she said.  A standing advisory board would make recommendations and help the Organization remain at the leading edge of best practice.  The Secretary-General was also committed to improved strategic communication for education and transparency.  Public disclosure systems would be strengthened, building on the excellent work of the Conduct and Discipline Unit in the Department of Field Support.  A system-wide database would be created that would include non-United Nations forces deployed under a United Nations mandate.  In closing, she noted that the Secretary-Generals’ report had been written in the first person to communicate his personal, professional and ongoing commitment to end the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse and to clear the path for the United Nations to pursue its original purpose of promoting peace in the world.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related reports (documents A/71/827/Add.14 and A/71/867).  On the Triennial Review, he said the ACABQ recommended approval of the recommendations of the Working Group as contained in the Secretary-General’s report.  With regard to special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, he said that, in the ACABQ’s view, most of the measures set out in paragraph 79 of the Secretary-General’s report were policy matters to be decided by the General Assembly.  Its observations and recommendations were, therefore, mostly related to estimated resource requirements and related funding arrangements set out in the report’s addendum.

On the programme budget for 2016/17, he said, the Advisory Committee trusted that the Secretary-General would ensure strict application of the nine principles contained in General Assembly resolution 60/283 in his intended use of the commitment authority granted to him on limited budgetary discretion under resolution 70/248 to absorb the costs of four temporary positions in the Office of the Special Coordinator for the last six months of the 2016-2017 biennium.  It also trusted, in that regard, that he would fully justify the use of those resources in the second 2016-2017 performance report.

With regard to the four Victims’ Rights Advocate positions at the P-5 level in peacekeeping missions, he said ACABQ had been informed that it would, in 2017/18, be informed of any decision by the Controller to authorize their establishment on a temporary basis, with details to be provided in the 2017/18 performance report.  Furthermore, proposals to establish those positions would have to be included in the 2018/19 proposed budgets of relevant missions for consideration by the General Assembly during its second resumed seventy-second sessions.

The Advisory Committee emphasized that proposals to establish regular budget and peacekeeping posts and positions must be submitted for approval by the General Assembly in the context of relevant budget documents, he said.  It also trusted that any future proposals from the Secretary-General on the Office of the Special Coordinator and/or the Office of the Victims’ Rights Advocate would include details of the proposed structures and rationale for their placement within the Organization, as well as on the number, grade levels, functions and reporting lines of the posts and positions proposed.  Full justification should be provided, taking into account existing resources dedicated to dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse, he said, adding that if the Secretary-General submitted a proposal for General Assembly approval, consideration should be given to a cost-sharing formula to apportion costs among different funding sources, as was the case for other Organization-wide initiatives, such as Umoja.

LOURDES PERIERA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Working Group’s recommendations would improve conditions in various areas, but some key issues remained unresolved, such as armed personnel carriers.  On the work of OIOS, a high number of investigations remained pending.  She expected the Office would expedite the conclusion of those cases and encouraged it to continue its efforts to improve effectiveness and efficiency.  Turning to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse, she said a collective, holistic approach was needed, with all stakeholders playing their respective roles.  An effective triangular cooperation mechanism could be an option to deal with that menace, she said, expressing interest in learning details, such as what steps the Secretary-General intended to take.  Seeking further information on mechanisms the Secretariat used in dealing with cases involving civilians and United Nations personnel both at Headquarters and in the field, the Group of 77 would like to better understand the mechanisms, or the lack thereof, of how the United Nations dealt with staff members found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Elaborating further, she noted a lack of coordination on reporting regarding preventive, enforcement and remedial actions to address and prevent incidents of abuse.  Moreover, clear information on the overall scope and links between reports and databases was unavailable.  System-wide collaboration was needed to provide stakeholders with timely information that could help the Organization better coordinate its response.  The Group of 77 would examine the Secretary-General’s proposal, which included establishing an office of the victims’ rights advocate.

HANNAH BODENMANN (Switzerland), also speaking for Liechtenstein, expressed dismay over reports of misconduct and of sexual exploitation and abuse.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s initiative with regard to victim support, she strongly urged the United Nations to embrace a unified system-wide approach to combating those crimes and supported all efforts to strengthen the prevention, investigation and accountability for such acts.  Accountability was the key to deterring future crimes and ending impunity.  Genuine accountability and the realization of the zero-tolerance policy concerned the United Nations system and Member States, whose full cooperation and commitment were fundamental to successfully tackle those issues.

CARMEN CSERNELHÁZI, European Union, expressed support for the Secretary-General’s leadership in addressing sexual exploitation and abuse.  Peacekeeping was the Organization’s core task and flagship activity focused on protecting civilians and any act perpetrated against the most vulnerable was intolerable.  The European Union looked forward to discussing issues raised in the Secretary-General’s report, including the functions of the proposed victims’ rights advocate, she said, expressing support for working the with Secretary-General and the Security Council to strengthen the process for the timely sharing of information with Member States contributing to peace operations under Council mandates.

She said the European Union was also committed to working on a long-term basis with partners, troop-contributing countries and stakeholders in a spirit of genuine cooperation on combating and preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.  While the European Union was not opposed to addressing the issue in General Assembly plenary meetings, she emphasized that doing so would not preclude the mandates of governing structures, such as the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the Security Council.  There must be no backsliding on what had been agreed upon, she said, adding that “we owe it to the victims and our own contingents to set high standards and stick to them”.

ROLANDO CASTRO CÓRDOBA (Costa Rica) said sexual exploitation and abuse were violations of the rights the Organization was supposed to protect.  They were the result of poor practices that still existed against women and children and the inability of existing laws to end such abuse.  While the Organization had taken action, much remained to be done.  Costa Rica favoured a holistic approach focusing on eliminating the causes and risk factors, which was essential for prevention.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s proposals, he said perpetrators must be punished.  Adequate budgets and effective policies and procedures must be ensured with a view to ending impunity, including withholding funds pending reviews of such cases.  Victims must receive support through the United Nations system, he said, encouraging the approval of the Secretary-General’s proposal.

CHERITH NORMAN CHALET (United States) said a more thorough analysis of previous efforts to address sexual exploitation and abuse should have been outlined in the Secretary-General’s recent report.  An assessment of the impact and effectiveness of those efforts and why the proposals before the Committee would fill the identified gaps and positively affect victims of sexual exploitation and abuse should have also been included in that report.  The United States stressed the importance of an inter-agency, United Nations-system-wide approach to enforcing the zero-tolerance policy and welcomed the work of the Special Coordinator to enhance coordination among the United Nations funds and programmes for sexual exploitation and abuse prevention efforts.  Her delegation urged a strong inter-agency approach to enhance and harmonize investigative capacities, increase transparency, and improve reporting mechanisms for allegations of abuse.  Commitment to the zero-tolerance policy through the empowerment of the Secretary-General must be demonstrated and action much be taken whenever a country’s nationals were accused of such heinous acts.

MAY-ELIN STENER (Norway) said that preventing sexual exploitation and abuse was a responsibility of leadership, and in that context, her delegation welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to call for a high-level meeting on the topic on the margins of the general debate of the next General Assembly session.  The plight of victims was of key concern, and in that regard, Norway welcomed the victim-centred approach and focus on the rights of and assistance to victims in physical and psychological terms, as well as in legal matters.  Norway encouraged further elaboration on the role and functioning of the Trust Fund for victims’ support and called on fellow Member States to contribute to it.  In light of serious deficits detected by the independent review of abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, Norway would have liked to have seen a clear strategy for assigning responsibilities, defining communication lines and procedures and increasing accountability within the United Nations system as a whole.  Norway welcomed an increased focus on prevention and how to address risk assessments and mitigation measures to reduce the number of victims.  Better reporting, strengthened investigations, improved follow-up and the end of impunity were all steps in the right direction.  Zero impunity was an attainable goal provided future efforts were developed in a spirit of transparency, inclusivity and trust, as well as mutual respect for the roles, responsibilities and duties of the various stakeholders.