Welcome to the United Nations Information Center

Welcome to the United Nations Information Center – Washington’s new website. With this new, more interactive site, we encourage you to not just explore the UN in Washington and dig deeper into the UN’s main site through links to in-focus issues, but to actively participate in the dialogue on the UN’s work around the world – work that is critical to U.S. interests globally. Whether it is with peacekeepers in conflict zones working to establish and keep security in difficult regions, through humanitarian relief efforts after natural disaster, or by helping build democratic institutions that support equal rights for all, the UN is taking actions that will create a better and more secure world for all people, including Americans.

To do its work, the UN has become a more open place. While governments clearly take the lead in all decision making on UN activities, there is an ever increasing space for business, civil society, and citizen voices to be heard. At UNIC Washington, we strive to make the UN understandable and accessible to all sectors and individuals in Washington and throughout the U.S., and want to hear back from those who are interested in the UN’s role in the world. We welcome your visits and comments on this blog and the website, we hope you’ll follow us on our social media platforms, and, most of all, that you will engage with the efforts of the UN.

Having been with the UNIC Washington for just over 7 months now, I look forward to connecting with communities across the U.S. and learning about your concerns and ideas for the UN. In our rapidly changing world where challenges and opportunities continue to arise and evolve, everyone needs to have a voice and an opportunity to contribute. In our own small way at UNIC Washington, we strive to make that happen.

UN report finds impunity for killings ‘remains rampant’ in Ukraine conflict

A new report by the United Nations human rights office released today describes widespread killings that have taken place in Ukraine since January 2014, concluding that very limited accountability has taken place.

The report, which was prepared by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, stated that the armed conflict in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, “accounts for the majority of violations of the right to life in Ukraine over the last two years,” claiming up to 2,000 civilian lives, with nearly 90 per cent of conflict-related civilian deaths resulting from indiscriminate shelling of residential areas.

More than 9,300 people have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the separatist conflict in eastern regions of the country in mid-April 2014. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission was deployed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to the country in March 2014 upon the invitation of the Government of Ukraine.

Covering the period from January 2014 to May 2016, the report states that the killings are being According to the report, the killings are being “fuelled by the inflow of foreign fighters and weapons from the Russian Federation.” It concluded that no responsibility has been taken for any civilian deaths caused by the conduct of hostilities, and that some of the killings may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.

“Impunity for killings remains rampant, encouraging their perpetuation and undermining prospects for justice,” said the 20-page report, which includes an additional 31-page annex describing more than 60 specific cases, focusing mainly on cases of alleged killings of civilians, and people otherwise protected under international humanitarian law, in the conflict zone while no armed hostilities were taking place in the immediate vicinity of the incidents.

The report also found that significant numbers of people, including civilians, have also been summarily executed or have died in custody, with most such killings occurring in 2014 and early 2015.

Report notes ‘widespread lack of discipline’

According to the report, armed groups mainly executed individuals who had, or were believed to have, vocal “pro-unity” views or to support Ukrainian forces, while Ukrainian forces targeted people based on their alleged affiliation with, or support for, armed groups, or for their “separatist” or “pro-Russian” views.

Numerous allegations of executions of Ukrainian soldiers and elements of armed groups who had surrendered or were hors de combat were also reported, although the full scale of the phenomenon is hard to assess, the report found.

The report noted that there was a widespread lack of discipline in hastily assembled armed groups and within the Ukrainian forces, which included many rapidly mobilized soldiers and volunteer battalions. A significant number of people known to be criminals also joined one side or the other, and these factors led to “an unbridled rule of the gun with armed men readily resorting to violence towards civilians, especially to those who ‘disobeyed’ their orders.”

The Government of Ukraine has investigated and prosecuted some perpetrators of summary executions from its own ranks, although in some cases, investigations are slow or “protracted deliberately so that alleged perpetrators are provided with opportunities to escape justice,” according to the report.

Dozens of people have also died while in custody in the territories controlled by the armed groups. Allegations concerning the death of people in government custody have also been received, with most deaths allegedly caused by torture and ill-treatment, or by inadequate or lack of medical assistance.

The report also documented killings within the armed groups and government forces, including at least 121 cases of “intentional homicide” of Ukrainian servicemen, some of whom were whistle-blowers who revealed the misconduct of Ukrainian forces in the conflict zone. Armed groups have, in some cases, resorted to execution as a punishment for crimes or disciplinary acts for misconduct in their own ranks.

Report highlights large number of deaths during mass assemblies

In addition, the report highlighted the large number of deaths that occurred during mass assemblies, especially during the Maidan and Odessa events, for which it said that accountability has so far remained very limited.

As of 1 June, some 55 individuals have been charged in relation to the deaths of Maidan protestors, including ten senior Government officials and 29 former commanders and servicemen of the “Berkut” special police regiment.

However, the investigation into the killings of 13 law enforcement agents at Maidan has been hampered by a law that exempts all people who participated in mass protests, and are suspected or accused of crimes between 21 November 2013 and 28 February 2014, from criminal responsibility, according to the report, which recommended that the law be amended to allow prosecutions for all killings that took place during the Maidan.

The report also highlighted the violence that took place on 2 May 2014, in Odesa, during which 48 people died as a result of clashes between “pro-unity” and “pro-federalism” groups.

OHCHR “remains concerned that the authorities have still not taken appropriate measures to ensure effective investigations into the 2 May 2014 events, nor to protect the independence of the judiciary,” the report said.

Furthermore, the report found that the lack of accountability remains widespread in Ukraine, despite efforts by the Government to bring perpetrators from its own ranks to justice and the pre-trial investigations by the Office of the Chief Military Prosecutor into cases of killing, torture and ill-treatment by members of the armed groups of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk people’s republic” and self-proclaimed “Luhansk people’s republic.”

While acknowledging the challenges faced by the authorities in ensuring justice, including the lack of access to the territories where many of the alleged acts took place, the report noted “an apparent lack of motivation to investigate some cases … especially when it concerns acts allegedly committed by Ukrainian forces.”

“Accountability will be key to the establishment of sustainable peace in Ukraine, including in the eastern part of the country,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“This is the only way forward, as has been fully and tragically demonstrated by the many countries which have not dealt properly with serious international crimes and human rights abuses, and as a result have sooner or later toppled back into violence,” he added.

UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia handing over security responsibility to national forces

Liberian security forces today took full control of their security for the first time since the civil war ended 13 years ago, marking a historic milestone for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia and a major benchmark in the country’s peace process.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon today paid tribute to the determination of the people and the Government of Liberia to work towards lasting peace after the end of the conflict that led to the deployment of the UN Mission, known by its acronym UNMIL, in October 2003.

“The continuing improvement in the security and stability of Liberia has enabled the United Nations to enter the final stage of its peacekeeping efforts in the country,” the Secretary-General said in a statement attributable to his spokesperson.

The achievement is also due to the important role played by partners, in particular the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the Mano River Union, in supporting the consolidation of peace, security and stability in Liberia. Including during the Ebola outbreak, which remains a concern in the region.

In his statement, Mr. Ban also welcomed the contributions from troop and police-contributing countries, as well as bilateral partners and multilateral organizations, noting that they “facilitated the considerable achievements made by UNMIL.”

Since Liberia’s civil war ended in 2003, UNMIL has been supporting the West African nation to rebuild its institutions so it can maintain stability without its presence. In 2015, Liberian authorities launched an undertaking to assume full responsibility of the country’s security by the end of this June.

From this week forward, the UN peacekeeping forces – which will include 1,240 military and 606 police personnel – will have a supporting role only. The Government is taking responsibility for all aspects of Liberia’s security, including executive protection, unexploded ordnance disposal and marking of Government weapons, which were handed over in recent months. The details were agreed to by the Security Council in resolution 2239 (2015).

Despite the achievements, Mr. Ban called on all partners to stay engaged and to continue assisting the Government of Liberia to consolidate peace and build long-term stability.

He stressed that the UN will remain engaged in Liberia, supporting its people and Government.

The UN Security Council will decide on the future of the Mission by 15 December.

Op-ed: “The Fight Against Sexual Exploitation” by head of UN Mission in the Central African Republic

The Fight against Sexual Exploitation By Parfait Onanga-Anyanga

A few days ago, I woke up to yet another horrible allegation against peacekeepers serving in the UN Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the peacekeeping operation that I lead. I read that Peacekeepers had allegedly raped a 14 year old girl in a small town located in the remote central regions of this massive country. As I began to react to this deeply shocking news, we learned of another series of new allegations dating back to 2014 and 2015, brought to my attention by colleagues from UNICEF and UNHCR.

I have no words strong enough to describe the distress I feel when confronted with these appaling allegations. Confronted with these horrors, I am personally overwhelmed by deep feelings of despair and anger. My colleagues in MINUSCA and at UN HQ feel just as I do. And yet as awful as this scourge may be, it is my job to put an end to it in my mission. Walking away is not an option and I am committed to giving this my all. We must not stop our efforts until we can ensure that all the perpetrators are identified, the victims get all the care they deserve and, perhaps most importantly, those responsibile are brought to justice.

Since I joined this mission in late August 2015, I have committed myself and MINUSCA to a policy of transparency and accountability. I have traveled thousands of miles around this country, going from camp to camp and from city to city, reiterating a stern message that Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) is entirely unacceptable and reminding all our UN personnel, both uniformed and civilian, of our obligations to protect the people of the Central African Republic. This journey led us to some harrowing encounters with family members of survivors of sexual assault by armed groups and by international peacekeepers, both UN and non UN. And while I am incredibly disappointed that the Mission I am so privileged to lead is registering the highest number of SEA cases among all UN Peacekeeping missions, I have also been encouraged by the positive feedback I have received from victims, from the population and national authorities but also from UN member States on the strong and principled posture the Mission has adopted to tackle this important issue.

This will be a collective effort. Over the past few weeks, my spirits were lifted by the recent adoption of resolution 2272 (2016) by the UN Security Council, on March 11th, which fully backs the Secretary-General’s strong leadership in rooting out SEA from UN Peacekeeping missions. Under this new resolution, should troop or police contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs) not prosecute their own alleged perpetrators within a six months period, the Secretary-General will be entitled to repatriate entire units as he recently did with troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and from the Republic of Congo. Another source of hope in making a more effective impact in the fight against SEA came from the Secretary-General’s recent appointment of Ms. Jane Holl Lute, on 8 February, as his Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations’ response to sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers.

On our side, I have made the fight against SEA one of the Mission’s top priorities. A SEA Taskforce has been established. MINUSCA Force and Police are conducting patrols around MINUSCA camps to monitor the off-duty activities of uniformed personnel. Under my direct leadership, Regional SEA Joint Prevention Teams are being established in our three regional headquarters and in other field offices with a significant presence of our troops. These are steps in the right direction but we may have more dark days before we see light at the end of the tunnel.

Above all, we must put the victims at the heart of all our efforts. We put a premium on their care by making emergency assistance available, while closely coordinating with all relevant UN and non UN offices and agencies for longer-term support, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF, UNFPA or Mercy Corps and others. I know the path to achieving that objective will not be easy because of the very nature of the environment in which we operate but we remain committed to the fight.

I make one point in all my conversations, whether with our military and police or with representatives of local populations: the days of silence are over; now is the time to come forward and to stand up. Now is the time for the rights of victims to come first. The fight against SEA is first and foremost a fight for human rights. Victims must not suffer the double horror of abuse and exclusion when, after being assaulted, they are asked to go through the horrendous pain of rejection by their own communities because of the enduring burden of cultural stigma. I will continue to fight this fight for every woman and every child, girl or boy, so that no 14 year old child–the same age as my daughter Eliwa–in this country is a victim of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Central African Republic

(This article has previously been carried by Newsweek)