Speech: Importance of addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping

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  1. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this session on addressing sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. We have just heard a remarkable address by the Special Envoy who put into context all the work we seek to do.

    I am joined by experts in this field:

    • Dr Jane Holl Lute, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Improving the UN’s Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and
    • The Right Honorable Dr Jorge Menéndez, who is the Defence Minister for Uruguay.

    Dr Holl Lute was appointed in February this year and I have had the privilege of talking to her on numerous occasions and also meeting her to discuss her important work. I have been particularly encouraged by the systematic and very determined way that she has set about her task of eradicating sexual exploitation and abuse from UN peacekeeping operations. And like you, I look forward to hearing an account from her today about her progress on the work that she has been given and particularly about her ideas about how we can all support her further in the work she does. Because everything I listened to last night at the dinner and today at our sessions has encouraged me to see the way in which colleagues here are concentrating on the practical next steps. How do we put into practice the ideals that we’re espousing.

    Training and accountability are both clearly central to eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse. Dr Jorge Menéndez has kindly offered to share Uruguay’s experience in these areas. I hope we can all learn a lot from these direct experiences.

    Earlier today you heard about the UK’s approach to peacekeeping and that’s our three Ps – planning, pledges and performance. I’ve always been accused of trying to use alliteration too much, in fact even on one of those websites ‘theyworkforyou.com’ apparently it’s my usual activity, well I don’t like to disappoint and I shall keep on using it to remind us all where our emphasis should be. Ending sexual exploitation of course falls under that third P: the effective performance of UN peacekeepers.

    Effective peacekeeping transforms lives. And I realize as a civilian that peacekeepers often are acting in the face of extreme danger, I don’t underestimate that. Peacekeepers should shield the oppressed, they provide hope to the desperate, and they police a more peaceful future. For this, we are all deeply grateful. And sometimes when we criticize, sometimes when that’s reported in the press I know that it must be disheartening to the peacekeepers who are doing their very best. I say to them, we want all peacekeepers to perform well as you do, to reinforce the great reputation of the United Nations.

    The lives of many women and girls, and sometimes men and boys, have however often been devastated by the action of UN peacekeepers. Clearly that must be stopped. And what I’ve heard today is your determination to stop that activity.

    Many attempts have been made over the years to stop the abuses and also to bring those responsible to account.

    Unfortunately success so far has proved elusive. The independent report that was produced by the Secretary-General last year highlighted serious fragmentation within the UN system itself and an inadequate response to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic.

    The appointment of Dr Jane Holl Lute, with a mandate to recommend necessary reforms, is a clear step in the right direction for all of us. It sends a clear signal of the determination of the Secretary-General to commit to solving this issue. The UK Government, I say now, is equally committed to support the Secretary-General’s work. We have provided £1 million to support the UN’s work, and of course the office of Dr Holl Lute.

    The UK fully supports other steps taken by the Secretary-General to end abuses. For example, we support his decision to repatriate entire contingents when there are widespread and systemic allegations sexual exploitation and abuse, or where the investigations have proved inadequate.

    We also fully support the Secretary-General’s decision to publish the number of allegations against troop contributing countries, and the status of those investigations.

    Looking ahead, there is much agreement about what needs to be done.

    Whether it’s in areas we’ve heard much about today, Somalia or South Sudan, whether it’s about Syria or the Lebanon, it is essential that all peacekeepers are fully vetted, trained and equipped before they are deployed. UK troops receive rigorous pre deployment training, including on sexual exploitation and abuse. There should clearly be more of that.

    As well as being properly trained, peacekeepers need to know that they will be held accountable if they commit acts of sexual exploitation and abuse. Troop contributing states must have the mechanisms, created by them, the resources, provided by the states, and the will to investigate allegations swiftly and thoroughly, and punish the offenders if found guilty by a proper judicial process.

    There are reporting mechanisms in place, but we need to better educate local communities about them, and about the legal and social assistance that can be available to them.

    It is also imperative that victims are kept informed of the status and outcome of those investigations so that they can see that justice really is done. Accountability and transparency as always go hand in hand.

    Our determination to end sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers is an important battle in a much wider war. A fight that also requires a sustained international effort - the fight against gender violence and discrimination. For as long as there is violence against women and gender inequality is tolerated, the risk of sexual exploitation will stay with us. That is unacceptable. I have explained the commitment of the United Kingdom; I’ve heard already today commitments strongly expressed by other countries. We have much to do and we have here experts who can help us along that road. I am a strong supporter of the United Nations and have been since I was at school. I want the United Nations to be remembered in 70 years time for the success that it has seen in its first 70 years.

    I’m first going to ask Dr Jane Holl Lute to address us and I will then turn to our Uruguayan Defence Minister.

    Before I hand over to Dr Holl Lute, I will conclude by reiterating that much remains to be done to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse. This will require commitment not just from the UN, but from the entire international community.

    I believe that commitment exists. Let’s work together to eradicate the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse, for the credibility of our peacekeeping missions, and for the people we serve to protect.

    Thank you

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