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PRESS CONFERENCE ON HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE ON ELIMINATING SEXUAL EXPLOITATION BY UNITED NATIONS PERSONNEL

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

4 December 2006

The United Nations and other operations were maintaining constant vigilance to create a culture of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse by their personnel in peacekeeping, humanitarian and development activities, several high-level officials said at Headquarters today, during a press conference held to coincide with the United Nations High-Level Conference on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations and Non-Governmental Organizations Personnel.

Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, emphasized that the United Nations had nearly 100,000 peacekeepers in the field and, given the rapid turnover in military staff, effectively managed nearly twice that number of peacekeepers each year. The vast majority of them served honourably, she said.

“You don’t run an organization through fear, intimidation, and investigation,” Ms. Lute stressed. “You run an organization effectively on purpose and pride. It is in their honour that we are pursuing this agenda, so vigorously, to root out even a single instance of this behaviour where it occurs.”

“This is a problem that is not just a peacekeeping problem,” added Kathleen Cravero, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, United Nations Development Programme. “It’s not even just a humanitarian problem, and it certainly isn’t just a United Nations problem.”

Such situations occurred anywhere international workers were present in resource-poor settings, particularly those that were in post-conflict situations, she said. The goal of the Conference was to strengthen the ability of the United Nations and its partners to prevent such exploitation and abuse.

Such efforts required adequate funding, concrete steps and benchmarks, said Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive of Save the Children. They also required the involvement of local communities in prevention, awareness, training and response efforts.

“All of this, as with any high-level conference, will ring hollow for children unless it’s backed up in the months and years ahead by monitoring and money,” she said.

Although more needed to be done, Ms. Whitbread noted that there had been much progress in the last several years, with leadership at the highest levels committed to addressing problems system-wide, rather than through an agency by agency approach.

Asked about the effectiveness of no-fraternization policies, Ms. Lute said that there was no “one-size-fits-all approach”. From time to time, there might be a need for curfews and the establishment of “no-go” areas, but since local nationals made up such a high percentage of peacekeeping staff, a no-fraternization policy would be next to impossible to enforce.

“We don’t think you solve the problem simply by building a fence around your peacekeepers,” she added. “We need to instil in every single peacekeeper’s mind an unambiguous hold on what the standards are and what their responsibilities for upholding them are.”

Asked about reports from Liberia of the opening of nightclubs and casinos where young girls were present and most of the customers were United Nations peacekeepers, Ms. Lute said that zero tolerance did not equal zero occurrences. She noted that many peacekeeping operations were taking place in broken societies, where abuse of women and children was broadly condoned, and that sexual abuse and exploitation were not unknown in wealthy, privileged societies. Peacekeepers could not be part of those same behaviour patterns. While the record was not perfect, the leadership of the Organization was committed to addressing the problem.

Asked what the specific consequences would be if a United Nations peacekeeper were accused of raping a young girl, Ms. Lute said that all credible allegations would be investigated. A peacekeeper found to have committed such acts, at minimum, would be repatriated, and there would be follow-up with the country regarding disposition of the case. It was important to publicize that follow-up in order to provide feedback to victims that justice had been done, she added.

Asked to define “credible proof”, Ms. Lute, said that the General Assembly had given responsibility for serious offences to the Office of Internal Oversight Services for thorough investigation, and those results would be shared with the country concerned. The Chief of Mission would conduct the investigation and make recommendations to Headquarters, which would then also review the matter.

As for how to report allegations of misconduct, Ms. Whitbread and Ms. Lute noted that it was not always clear from the victim’s point of view which agency was involved and where to go to make a report. That was part of what the conference was designed to address -- simplifying and improving complaint mechanisms from the perspective of the victim.

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For information media • not an official record



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