This photo shows United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressing the Conference on Disarmament on Feb 26, 2018 at the UN building in Geneva. (JEAN-GUY PYTHON / AFP)
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations received 138 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in 2017, some involving multiple perpetrators and victims and over 40 percent arising from its peacekeeping missions, a UN report said on Tuesday.
The United Nations has been in the spotlight for several years over allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the report that the 62 allegations against personnel deployed in 10 peacekeeping missions and one political mission was a decrease from the 104 allegations reported in 2016.
Much remains to be done to ensure the United Nations has its own house in order..."zero tolerance" policy for sexual misconduct becomes a reality
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General
Guterres said 75 allegations involved personnel from other UN bodies and their partners, including 25 allegations involving organizations implementing UN programs. This was an increase from 42 such allegations reported in 2016.
One allegation of sexual violence was made against a member of a non-UN force operating under a UN Security Council mandate, which is "a substantial decrease from the 20 allegations reported in 2016," Guterres said.
The UN chief said 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."
A year ago, Guterres announced a new strategy for tackling sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers and staff and he said in the report it "is bearing fruit."
"Nevertheless, incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse continue to occur, causing damage and distress to the people we have pledged to protect," Guterres said in the report to the UN General Assembly.
The strategy, with prevention and accountability "at the core," called for a new focus on victims and banned alcohol and fraternization for troops.
Guterres said that last year a "no excuses" card outlining the responsibilities and obligations of all UN personnel in preventing and reporting sexual exploitation and abuse was distributed in the UN's six official languages, as well as local languages to all UN staff who operate in the field.
He cited the appointment last August of the first-ever victims' rights advocate and the deployment of advocates in the field. He also welcomed the tripling of contributions to a trust fund to support victims in 2017, to US$1.89 million in December.
Last September, Guterres held a high-level meeting and asked leaders from the UN's 193 member states to sign a voluntary compact on preventing and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse. He said 86 countries have done so, and he urged others to follow suit.
The secretary-general said last year's data showed that 41 of the 62 allegations against personnel in peacekeeping and political missions involved 101 military personnel, where 10 involved 23 police personnel, and 11 involved 11 civilian personnel.
There were a total of 130 victims — 21 girls and 109 women, he said.
Guterres said 23 of the allegations were related to paternity claims, and another was awaiting the birth of a child.
He said investigations into 20 allegations received in 2017 were completed with 14 substantiated and six unsubstantiated.
The data showed a decrease in allegations involving the UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, from 52 in 2016 to 19 in 2017.
But the number of allegations increased in the UN missions in Liberia and Haiti, which Guterres said "may be attributable to the outreach efforts towards local communities prior to the closure of those missions."
Countries that contribute peacekeeping troops are responsible for taking action in cases where sexual exploitation and abuse is substantiated. Guterres stressed the importance of holding perpetrators accountable and providing adequate assistance and support to victims.