Remarks and Responses by Ambassador Samantha Power Regarding Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations

| Mar. 11, 2016

This page contains text and video for three remarks and responses by Amb. Power during the debate over  UN Security Council Resolution 2272 on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations:

  • Remarks at the UN Security Council Meeting on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations | March 10, 2016

  • Response at the UN Security Council Meeting on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations | March 10, 2016

  • Explanation of Vote at the Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2272 on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations | March 11, 2016


Remarks at the UN Security Council Meeting on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations | March 10, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your briefing today, for the important report upon which it is based, and for your determined leadership in tackling what you have rightly called “a cancer in our system.” We know that you have faced considerable pushback against your efforts to bring to light these horrific abuses and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable. And we thank you for holding firm.

Let me begin by reading a quote: “The Security Council is deeply concerned with the allegations of sexual misconduct by United Nations peacekeeping personnel…The Security Council… recognizes the shared responsibility of the Secretary-General and all Member States to take every measure within their purview to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by all categories of personnel in United Nations peacekeeping missions to enforce United Nations standards of conduct in that regard. The Security Council reiterates the importance of ensuring that sexual exploitation and abuse are properly investigated and appropriately punished.”

Those words were spoken in this chamber nearly 11 years ago – in May 2005 – by the Security Council President at the time. She was speaking on behalf of the Council at its first-ever meeting on the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers. Like today’s meeting, that session had been convened following the release of a report commissioned by the Secretary-General at that time, Kofi Annan, in order to lay out a strategy for eliminating the scourge of such abuses in peacekeeping operations. The report, as many of you know, followed a series of disturbing allegations of SEA in 2004, not unlike the ones that have surfaced since last year.

Yet, as we all know, despite the commitment made by this Council over a decade ago to address this problem, the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers persists. According to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report released last week, 69 allegations of SEA were levied against uniformed and civilian personnel serving in peacekeeping missions last year – a 20 percent increase in reported violations from the previous year. More than half of the allegations in peacekeeping operations involve rape or sexual abuse of children. And these are just the cases we know about; as Special Representative of the Secretary-General Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who took over as head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic last August, has said – the cases reported are likely just the “tip of the iceberg.”

We have long known that one of the most effective ways to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation is to send a clear message that perpetrators will be held accountable. So it is deeply alarming that, according to the Secretary-General’s report, out of 69 allegations of SEA in 2015, in only 17 instances were investigations completed by January 31, 2016. Seventeen out of 69. And in only one of those cases did a country report to the UN that it had punished a perpetrator in response to a substantiated allegation. One out of 69. And the perpetrator in that case was found to have engaged in a sexually exploitive relationship; as punishment, he was suspended for nine whole days – nine days.

Now, some have argued that this discussion has no place in the UN Security Council, implying that they do not think sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers has an impact on international peace and security. They are mistaken. In addition to being a heinous abuse, SEA erodes the discipline of military and police units, and undermines the confidence of local communities in peacekeepers – both of which are critical to fulfilling UN Security Council mandates.

More broadly, when those entrusted with being protectors become perpetrators, it undermines the credibility of peacekeeping missions everywhere, as well as the legitimacy of the UN writ large – and along with it, it undermines our ability to address effectively the serious threats of our time.

I have listened really hard to those who think that this Council has no role to play in overseeing discussions about what we do next on curbing sexual abuse and exploitations by peacekeepers. But I have to say, I honestly do not understand the argument – I don’t. It is this Council that sends peacekeepers into conflict areas, because we believe their presence is essential to promoting international peace and security.

We deem it our responsibility as a Council to oversee every part of their missions – how many soldiers and police to send, what their mandate is, when they can use force. And we give them clear mandates to protect civilians. So let me pose the question this way to the skeptics:

When governments attack civilians, it is our job.

When armed groups, non-state actors, attack civilians, it is our job.

When terrorists attack civilians, it is our job.

So why in the world, when the UN’s own peacekeepers are the ones attacking civilians – when peacekeepers commit the sickening crime of raping children – is it someone else’s job? Explain that. Why is that the exception?

The Security Council cannot have responsibility for protecting civilians against all threats, from all forces, except those whom we directly oversee.

As we all know, a crucial part of accountability is transparency. The UN, its Member States, and the Security Council need to know when soldiers and police are accused of abusing the privilege of wearing the blue helmet. We need to know whether those allegations are being adequately investigated and, where appropriate, punished. And victims and their communities – imagine if it was a member of our family – they need to know that justice is being served. Yet the opaqueness of the existing system has made it virtually impossible for any of us to know these things. All too often, we don’t know whether investigations have been opened. And even when we know investigations are ongoing, we don’t know whether they are being carried out promptly, thoroughly, or impartially. Without basic facts, it is impossible to enforce a zero-tolerance policy. It’s no coincidence that we’ve had a zero-tolerance policy for a long time, and yet, sexual abuse and exploitation allegations have risen – it’s not a coincidence. There’s not sufficient accountability to our own policy.

One of the most eloquent justices who ever served on the United States Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis, once said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Yet allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers too often are allowed to remain in the darkness, where the rot they cause continues to spread – to the detriment of the entire enterprise of peacekeeping.

That is why it is so important, Mr. Secretary-General, that your report for the first time brings to light the nationality of the personnel who face credible allegations of SEA. And it is why we commend the UN for starting to post on its website new allegations of SEA – including the date the report was received, information about the nationality of the accused, and whether the alleged victims are minors. It is through such reporting that we know that, in the first three months of this year alone, 26 additional allegations of SEA have been reported – a horrifying number.

We can and must do more to shine a bright light on this enduring problem. A place to start would be providing additional information on the status of investigations. For example, while we know that the majority of investigations into allegations of SEA from 2015 are “pending,” we do not know when those investigations were opened. This data is crucial for gauging whether countries are acting in a timely manner.

Now, some countries have adamantly opposed this push for greater transparency, in particular the practice of identifying the nationality of peacekeepers credibly alleged to have committed such abuses. They claim that it unfairly singles out troop and police contributing countries that are putting themselves at risk in some of the most difficult environments around the world – police and troop-contributing countries whose service we commend.

Let me be very, very clear: The vast majority of the 91,000 troops and 13,000 police in UN peacekeeping missions serve honorably and with courage, putting their lives on the line every day to protect people in countries very far from their own. They do not commit sexual abuse, nor do they turn a blind eye to it. And most troop-contributing countries are serious about holding to account soldiers and police from their forces who would perpetrate such abuses, recognizing that impunity for SEA undermines the effectiveness of their troop contingents as a whole, whether they are serving in a UN mission or any other mission.

Yet this fact, the fact that so many serve so honorably – the vast, vast majority – is all the more reason that troop-contributing countries and police contributing countries should want to bring these cases to light, to investigate them, to hold accountable those who have committed abuses. Those serving honorably are the ones who have the greatest incentive to prevent the sickening acts of a few from tarnishing the noble service of so many.

When peacekeepers commit sexual exploitation and abuse with impunity, the fault not only lies with the peacekeepers who commit these deplorable acts, or the commanders who look the other way, or the countries that fail to conduct proper investigations. The blame rests on all of us – including the countries that fail to adequately train peacekeepers to prevent and root out these problems; the Member States that fail to press troop and police contributing countries to hold perpetrators accountable; the UN institutions that fail to report on the magnitude of the problem or repatriate units when countries prove unable or unwilling to investigate credible allegations of abuse. This is an all-systems failure.

Let me just give one example. According to the UN, there were seven separate allegations of SEA committed by peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a single mission, MINUSCA, over the course of 2015; one allegation was reported in January, one in February, four in August, and one more in September. The majority of the alleged victims of these abuses were kids. As these allegations continued to add up, members of this Council – including the United States – pushed for repatriation of the unit. In the meantime, more and more victims continued to come forward. In January of this year – of 2016 – there were three more credible allegations of SEA against the same unit, followed by five more in February. Think about that: eight credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse reported against a single group of peacekeepers in just two months. And in seven of those instances, the alleged victims were children.

How could we let that happen? All of us – how could we let that happen?

In late February, the entire contingent from DRC was repatriated – the first time the UN has ever repatriated an entire contingent for sexual exploitation and abuse. It was the right thing to do; it sends a clear message to all countries that there will be consequences for failing to address this serious problem. But it should never have taken so long. The Security Council was told the contingent would be repatriated. But this repatriation was delayed for operational reasons. That is unacceptable. The experience should force us all to ask: What if those soldiers had been sent home sooner? How many kids could have been spared suffering unspeakable violations that no child should ever have to endure, and that they will have to carry with them for the rest of their lives?

We have to do better by these victims. This means not only securing justice, but also ensuring they receive the care that they need and deserve in the aftermath of such crimes, both in the short-term and in the long-term. The Secretary-General has proposed a trust fund to support special services for victims, which would withhold payments from repatriated individuals and direct the funds to victims. We should move swiftly together to create this fund.

In closing, let me just share the story of one of those alleged victims, a 14-year-old girl who lives in Bambari, in the Central African Republic. She recently told a human rights organization that, in December 2015, she was walking along a path near a peacekeeper base when she was accosted by an armed soldier, whose uniform she recognized as the one worn by peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She said, “He slapped me in the face and made me continue to walk on the path…then he ripped off my clothes and used them to tie my hands behind my back. He threw me on the ground, placed his gun to the side and got on top of me to rape me. When he was done he just left. I had to put my clothes on and I went home.”

In 2005, the author of the Secretary-General’s first report on this problem, Prince Zeid – who, of course, is now the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – warned the Council in this chamber, “Sexual exploitation and abuse would carry with it the most serious consequences for the future of peacekeeping if we were to prove ourselves incapable of solving this problem.” The same holds true to this day. And the profound consequences of failing to solve this – for peacekeeping missions, for the UN, and for so many individuals like that 14-year-old girl in Banbari – continue to add up. We knew how to fix the problem then. We know how to fix the problem now. We cannot wait any longer. The United States has tabled a Security Council resolution to take our responsibility addressing this grave issue.

As an immediate step, we urge all Council members to support it. I thank you.


Response at the UN Security Council Meeting on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations | March 10, 2016

Thank you, and I know I had the floor at length earlier so I will try to be as brief as possible. But, like the Secretary-General, because of the gravity of what we’re discussing here and the insufficiency of what we have mustered as an international community up to this point, I think it’s worth coming back to some of the points of convergence around the table here – but also the few points of divergence, which I don’t think we should paper over.

First, just in response to something my Egyptian colleague mentioned – that is on the question of the number of cases – I actually just want to seek clarification because, at least as interpreted, there was a reference to initially several dozen cases and then only a handful of cases. And I want to just state for the record it is more than several dozen cases, certainly well more than a handful of cases. We have more than 69 allegations in the year 2015, we have 26 already in 2016 – that is people coming forward and reporting cases. But we have no idea how pervasive this problem is. We have no idea.

As everyone, I think, believes one case is one too many, but I think we need to be very, very careful given the details that exist in your report. We need to all at least mobilize around the extent of the problem that has managed to be documented – at least. I suspect if there was better reporting in more places, unfortunately, you would likely see more allegations being brought forward. But that’s a supposition; let’s just at least have a shared understanding of the facts that have been presented by the Secretary-General.

Second, and a number of Council members made this point, we totally agree that there cannot be collective guilt or national stigmatization. I think that is extremely important – I think all of us tried to make that point in our statements. But that is why individual responsibility and individual accountability, individual punishment – if warranted – is so important. And it’s not happening, by and large – and I’ll come back to the Secretary-General’s statistics in a second, but the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again – or not do the same thing over and over again – and expect a different result. The system that has been in place has not had the desired effect, in two respects: the allegations keep being brought forward – and with a lot of documentation, photos of babies who have been born, DNA test that prove this and that. I mean, this is happening – this is a phenomenon. But moreover, where the individual perpetrators of these crimes are not being punished back in their home countries. Now Mr. Secretary-General, I really particularly appreciated your extemporaneous comments here at the end, and absolutely the UN and individuals who serve the UN have to do much more. But courts martial processes, courts – these are not something you have in this building. So we have to support you as Member States. You could do everything that you have set out to do in your report, which you do and the people who work for the UN must, but you need us. What you do is totally necessary and not at all sufficient. So we have got to make changes, we can’t just say the same things we’ve been saying for a decade and expect that the outcomes are going to be different, that there’s going to be less sexual abuse or more accountability in capitals.

Third – and I have six points, forgive – Egypt has said that the General Assembly is the competent body to deal with what my friend and colleague rightly denounced as these horrific crimes. We, the United States, we are part of the General Assembly. We would welcome constructive action by the General Assembly. But the General Assembly has had 11 years, since our last open Security Council meeting on this topic, to take more aggressive, constructive steps that might have made more of a dent in this problem. What we in the General Assembly have done has not yet worked. The facts are the facts. The allegations are the allegations. The record of inaction by and large in capitals is a record that shames us all, including those of us that have very strong bilateral relationships with a lot of the countries – we haven’t been as aggressive as we’ve needed to be. But what’s hard about hearing this jurisdictional argument again and again about how this belongs somewhere else is that in the C34, Egypt has consistently refused to support language welcoming or taking note of the Secretary-General’s report. So somewhere these steps have to be taken and the Security Council has waited a long time for those steps to be taken, and a long time for the kind of consensus we need in the C34 to give the Secretary-General the support he needs and to be more aggressive, commensurate to the gravity of this set of crimes. Which, again, if it were happening to our kids we would not be having jurisdictional fights like this. We would not – we wouldn’t think about “oh no, it doesn’t belong here, it doesn’t belong.” And yet, because it’s somebody else’s kids, we want to push this off somewhere else, where we know that in that body there will be a stalemate and gridlock and we will be in the same world we’ve been in, which is a world that is not working for these victims.

Fourth, several countries have, again, implied – and this is related – that the Security Council should stand down. And I just have to repeat, as a matter of logic – maybe I’m just, you know, not smart enough to follow like all the jurisdictional hijinks that go on here at the UN. But, in areas where peacekeepers are deployed, we the Security Council are responsible and try to take action when armies rape women and kids. We the Security Council see ourselves as responsible when non-state actors and militia rape women and kids, or men for that matter. We see ourselves as responsible when terrorists – again, who pose a grave threat to international peace and security – rape women and kids. How is it possible that we can argue that when our own peacekeepers – the people we have sent into the field – rape women and children, that the Security Council doesn’t have a responsibility? How do we say that? This is our problem. This is our responsibility.

The Secretary-General – fifth – described “cases closed.” And I just really want to implore you Mr. Secretary-General, again thanking you for your leadership and the personal responsibility you have taken, that we move beyond getting reports from the field that say “case closed” to a world of transparent and fulsome investigations. We don’t know why these cases were closed. Was it because people waited a year to go back and actually try to talk to a victim? Was it because the evidence had perished? Was it because the peacekeepers who were alleged to have committed the crimes had been deployed out? Knowing what we know, and having tried to unpack a little of what happens in these investigations, I would be very, very careful about equating closed cases with just and fulsome investigations.

And finally, my last point, just reinforcing something the Secretary-General – I think everyone here – has said, which is about troop-contributing countries, police-contributing countries, the peacekeepers who are serving in – as Ismael said – some of the worst circumstances imaginable. Peacekeepers who will come back to their home countries, their families will barely know where they’ve been; places that none of their families, or their community, neighbors would have ever have visited; no parades, no celebration of the service that these men and women take overseas. It is an awesome sacrifice that troops, police, civilians who serve in these missions are making. The risks are off the charts. The United States is not a big troop and police contributor to UN peacekeeping, and I think that gives us a lot of humility, in fact, talking about what we’re talking about here in this Council, and even more respect for those countries – and I look around the table, whether it’s Egypt, or China, or Senegal, or Uruguay – who send thousands of peacekeepers into these environments. We just salute you. This is why President Obama has dedicated more than any American president in his time and his energy to try to support peacekeeping. It’s so important, and it’s so thankless. We need to do more to honor that service, and I do think that’s a point of great convergence around this table. These peacekeepers are saving thousands – hundreds of thousands of lives, probably, every day if we think about what these situations would be like.

So we also have to be clear who the victims are as we talk about what is happening in the field. And the victims are not the UN troops and police, most of whom are serving – as everyone has said – with such distinction and with such bravery. The victims are the men, women, and far too often the children who are the victims of rape, sexual abuse, and other violations of human rights – committed by the very people who were sent to protect them. Those are the victims. We can’t forget that fact as we have a debate about what to do. We can’t forget who the victims are, and we can’t forget how we would be acting if we actually knew those victims – if they weren’t numbers, if they weren’t abstractions, but if they were people we knew, people we were related to, people we care about. Thank you.


Explanation of Vote at the Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2272 on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations | March 11, 2016

Thank you, Mr. President. On behalf of the United States, I would like to sincerely thank those countries that voted in favor of this resolution. The resolution adopted today underscores the Security Council’s responsibility – our responsibility – to address the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping, which has been allowed to persist for far too long. Impunity for such abuses clearly undermines our efforts to promote international peace and security. This resolution makes clear that it is our job to ensure that there is accountability when men, women, and children are abused by the blue helmets this Council sends to protect them.

The resolution signals the Security Council’s strong support for the UN zero tolerance policy, and for the ongoing efforts by the Secretary-General to strengthen this institution’s response, reporting, and remedial measures to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and abuse among UN peacekeepers. The resolution underscores that peacekeepers found guilty – not those accused – those found guilty of committing SEA do not deserve to serve in UN peacekeeping missions, sending a clear message to troop- and police- contributing countries who fail to take action to prevent or punish credible allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as to all Member States, and to UN bodies, to ensure that these investigations are carried out thoroughly, promptly, and impartially.

I also just want to echo my French colleague’s comment that the color of the helmet means little to the victim. All of us, wherever we serve, whether it is wearing a blue helmet, or a green helmet, or some other colored helmet, have a responsibility to live up to the standards that this resolution tries to enshrine. All of us have a responsibility if individuals who serve us overseas – the same way that we have a responsibility within our borders – to ensure that these kinds of crimes are never carried out and when they are carried out that the perpetrators are held accountable.

The resolution today endorses the Secretary-General’s decision to repatriate UN peacekeeping units that demonstrate widespread or systemic sexual abuse and exploitation. And it requests that the Secretary-General repatriate all uniformed personnel from a contributing country in a given mission if that country fails to take appropriate steps to address credible allegations of SEA, fails to hold the perpetrators accountable, or fails to inform the Secretary-General of the status of such efforts.

I would like, if I could, to respond to Egypt’s intervention. We were accused implicitly – politely – of having an ulterior motive. I confess, I have an ulterior motive. My ulterior motive is actually – finally – to do something about a cancer, the cancer of sexual exploitation and abuse against people who trust the UN flag. They see a peacekeeper coming their way, they think, “This is someone who is going to help me.” They don’t think, “I’ve got to run, this is somebody who is going to rape me.” That’s not what they think. That’s not what they should ever think. But that is what they are going to think, and that is what some of them do think, because there is not accountability for the crimes that are committed in any way sufficient to the scale of what appears to be this problem. So that’s my ulterior motive. I confess. Sue me.

I also take note – a very important comment that Egypt made – of the admission that the measures contained in this resolution, measures requiring accountability, would not have been passed by the General Assembly. We agree – the General Assembly has been totally paralyzed. There are countries within the negotiations that are going on as we speak that have tried to water down the recommendations that the Secretary-General has made. It’d be one thing if we were succeeding, if it was working, if the system was working. We come in here every day, we lament, we condemn. We condemn the abuse and we condemn the lack of accountability, and then we go to the General Assembly and some of us try to water down provisions to try to strengthen the system. What’s up with that?

You can’t simultaneously try to water something down in the General Assembly and then complain when the body that sends peacekeepers out to try to protect people actually takes responsibility for the fact that some of those who are supposed to do the protecting are committing sexual abuse. You can’t have it both ways. If the General Assembly had been able to actually put in place methods for accountability, and if the system were working, and if girls like the ones Matthew just quoted who are now left with the children of the people who have come and raped them and then gone back to their countries never having been held accountable – if the system had prevented these kinds of acts, or at least had some kind of accountability, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’re only here because it just keeps happening. So I think it is very, very strange to hear Member States call, on the one hand for more aggressive action or more accountability, and then try to punt the issue to a body that for years has been unable to come to consensus. And no reasonable person can expect with several countries – again, including on this Council – trying to water down what happens in the General Assembly, no reasonable person can expect a different result.

Let me conclude with two messages.

To the tens of thousands of troops and police who serve honorably in UN peacekeeping operations: We salute you unequivocally for putting your lives on the line for people who live in countries far from your own, with little fanfare or recognition. We, and the civilians that you protect with your bravery, are completely indebted to you for your service. And as I did yesterday, I would single out those countries on this Council who have contributed so many peacekeepers – including Egypt, Senegal, China, Uruguay, of course, the United Kingdom getting involved again. Really, as a country that does not contribute a lot of troops, we are in awe of your service.

To the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, we pledge that we will do better. We will do better to ensure that the blue helmets we send as your protectors will not become perpetrators. That is what we are striving toward. And when they do, as this resolution demands we do, this Council has committed itself to ensuring that people who violate you, who violate the good name of the United Nations, and the good name of their countries, will be held accountable.

Thank you.



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