posted on Wed 9 Mar 2016 4:54 PM
Briefing and Draft Resolution on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeepers

Tomorrow (10 March), the Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on his annual report to the General Assembly on special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (A/70/729). The US circulated a draft resolution late last week supporting many of the Secretary-General’s recommendations on this issue. At press time, it seemed that not enough progress had been made in the negotiations for the draft text to be adopted at tomorrow’s meeting. The last time the Council adopted an outcome on prevention of and accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse was a presidential statement in May 2005 (S/PRST/2005/21).

Inviting the Secretary-General to brief the Security Council on his annual report and the draft resolution constitute a response to the increasing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic by personnel of the UN-led Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), as well as by members of the French parallel forces and by soldiers from the Chad and Equatorial Guinea contingents of the AU-led peacekeeping mission there preceding the re-hatting of some of its troops into MINUSCA. In December 2015, an independent panel appointed by the Secretary-General to review how the UN handled reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeeping forces in CAR, released its report. The panel found systematic failures in UN reporting chains and inadequate responses by several UN officials, including by the then-head of MINUSCA, Babacar Gaye. In August 2015, due to these allegations, the Secretary-General had asked for Gaye’s resignation. In January the Democratic Republic of the Congo contingent to MINUSCA was repatriated. However, allegations have continued to be lodged against MINUSCA personnel. So far in 2016, the UN’s conduct and discipline unit has registered 26 new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, 22 of them in the Central African Republic.

The 2015 annual Secretary-General’s report details 69 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in ten peace operations, and is the first to publicly disclose the nationality of UN personnel allegedly involved. Fifty-four of the allegations involved members of UN military contingents or police, and 15 involved civilian UN staff. Twenty-two allegations were specific to MINUSCA, 16 to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the remaining 31 allegations were spread over eight peace operations.

Council members are unanimous in their condemnation of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in the very communities they are supposed to protect. Council members welcome the Secretary-General’s initiative in February to create the position of Special Coordinator on Improving the UN’s Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, to which he has appointed Jane Holl Lute (US). However, contentious negotiations over the draft resolution have demonstrated divisions among Council members. Some members think that the draft could be strengthened to signal the Council’s seriousness about accountability and support to victims. Other members believe the draft exceeds the boundaries of the Security Council’s competence.

The draft resolution endorses the Secretary-General’s decision to repatriate units where there is credible evidence of patterns of sexual exploitation and abuse; requests the Secretary-General to replace military or police units if the home country has not taken appropriate accountability measures, and if accountability measures are not appropriate to then determine whether that member state should participate in current or future peace operations; requests the Secretary-General to gather and preserve evidence of sexual exploitation and abuse, and assist victims; welcomes the expansion of the UN’s vetting of peacekeeping personnel; urges member states to assess their own national legal and administrative frameworks that govern military and police misconduct; urges troop- and police-contributing countries to conduct investigations within six months, take appropriate accountability steps and report fully to the UN on actions taken; and requests follow-up reporting by the Secretary-General to the Security Council.

Several Council members have observed that the two rounds of negotiations of the draft resolution have been discouraging. Egypt, while condemning the prevalence of sexual exploitation and abuse and fully supporting the UN’s zero-tolerance policy, is of the view that the Council is not the right venue to consider what are essentially conduct and discipline issues. Egypt further argues that the Council is not able to fully represent troop- and police-contributing countries’ points of view. Russia also expressed some reluctance to proceed with negotiations on an issue, which in their view, infringed on member states’ sovereignty—especially in urging member states to assess their national frameworks. Several Council members expressed the view that sexual exploitation and abuse was better dealt with in the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34)—where it seems ongoing negotiations on the same issue have also been difficult.

The P3, New Zealand and Spain were supportive of the draft, arguing that the Council has an oversight responsibility for the mandates it approves. Several Council members on both sides of this divide expressed concern that the US-drafted text was limited to military and police units in UN-led peace operations and did not include UN civilian personnel who accounted for 22 percent of the 2015 allegations. These members were concerned that the draft did not refer to non-UN international forces operating under Council authorisation, although the French and AU forces in the Central African Republic, as well as the AU-led AMISOM in Somalia, have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse. Some Council members recalled that references to non-UN forces had already been included in the sexual exploitation and abuse provisions of resolution 2242 on women, peace and security adopted in October 2015, arguing that a Council resolution specifically focused on sexual exploitation and abuse should meet the same standard.

Several Council members, who are also troop-contributing countries, such as Egypt and Senegal, underscored that their countries have zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse. Concern was expressed about the removal of contingents instead of finding a way forward that would ensure accountability and transparency without punishing entire contingents. There was also some unhappiness over the “naming and shaming” in the Secretary-General’s report, with some troop-contributors arguing that naming the contingents should only be done where the member state had failed to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in a reasonable amount of time. In addition, there were several questions about the criteria the Secretary-General would use to determine “credible evidence of patterns of sexual exploitation and abuse” that would in turn inform his decision to repatriate an entire contingent.

At press time, it seemed unlikely to many Council members that a draft would be put forward for a vote at tomorrow’s briefing. It also remained unclear whether negotiations would continue with a view to adopt later in the month.

(Post-script: On 11 March, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2272 addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in peace operations. The adoption was slightly delayed as Egypt, in a rare procedural move, requested a separate vote on its amendment to the second operational paragraph of the draft resolution. Angola, China, Egypt, Russia, and Venezuela supported the amendment, Senegal abstained, and the remaining nine Council members voted against. Egypt’s amendment did not receive nine positive votes and was not accepted. The Council then voted on the un-amended draft resolution that was adopted with 14 votes in favour, and 1 abstention by Egypt.)