UN peacekeeping has been marred by repeat allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). In the last 10 years, there have been over 850 allegations of SEA levelled against personnel deployed in UN missions - an average of one every four days. In addition to the suffering caused to many victims, these allegations sap the legitimacy and credibility of UN peacekeeping, undermining the trust communities place in peacekeepers that is so integral to the successful implementation of mission mandates.
Sexual exploitation and abuse is a term that covers a wide range of unacceptable behaviour. In many instances the allegations concern acts of sexual violence. These should be recognised as the crimes they are and require a judicial response.
While the UN doesn't separately track allegations of sexual violence, many of the allegations listed on the UN's Conduct and Discipline website concern acts such as rape and sexual assault which are self evidently examples of sexual violence.
The UN has done commendable workto address the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse, but unless sexual violence is addressed separately as a criminal issue requiring a criminal justice response, then a sense of impunity is always going to hamper efforts.
Sexual violence, and sexual exploitation and abuse more broadly, does not only occur as a consequence of the actions of the troops and police of UN peacekeeping missions, but also those of UN civilian staff (both attached to missions and in the Organisation more broadly), non-UN peacekeepers and the staff of humanitarian and other organisations that work with the UN. Indeed it is an issue for society as a whole. However there are specific political and legal factors that come in to play with respect to UN troops and police, and these require a specific response.
UN troops and police are at the heart of UN Peacekeeping, UN peacekeeping is at the heart of the UN and the UN is at the heart of our global system. They should be setting the standards to which the rest of the world aspires.
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