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)

UNHCR chief welcomes US leadership over global crisis

CHICAGO, United States, March 18 (UNHCR) – During a week-long visit to the United States, the head of the United Nations refugee agency welcomed Washington’s longstanding commitment to resettling more refugees than any other country and emphasized that managing the refugee crisis is a global responsibility.

Speaking on a visit to Chicago, where he met with refugees, US lawmakers and resettlement agencies, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “Resettlement addresses the needs of the most vulnerable and is the safest way to move people from one country to another. Refugees flee terror, they don’t bring terror to countries. Their arrival is very carefully vetted, so there should be no fear.”

War, conflict and persecution have forced around 60 million people worldwide to flee for their lives, the largest number since World War II. Nearly 20 million of these are refugees and more than half are children.

The conflict in Syria is the main driver of this global crisis, forcing more than 4.8 million Syrians to become refugees mostly in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

“Massive refugee flows are a global responsibility,” said Grandi. “The tragedy of Syria has shown that this cannot be just the responsibility of two or three countries bordering a country at war – the responsibility has to be shared more widely.”

The United States resettles more refugees than any other country including 90 per cent of African refugees. This year the US plans to resettle 85,000 refugees, including at least 10,000 from the Syria conflict.

“I hope the United States, along with European countries and others, will continue to increase the numbers of Syrian refugees that they resettle,” said Grandi. Last year, the United States resettled 70,000 refugees from 70 countries and it plans to increase this number to 100,000 in 2017.

While in the Midwestern city, Grandi visited RefugeeOne, a Chicago area non-profit that works with refugees fleeing war, persecution and terror, helping them to build new lives of safety, dignity and self-reliance.

Finding employment is a major step for a refugee to become self-reliant and one of the businesses that RefugeeOne has long partnered with is Eli’s Cheesecake Company, which has been employing refugees for over 25 years.

“For me, when I came to the United States in 1994, it was a blessing because Congo has had war for decades,” said Elias Kasongo, Eli’s manager for purchasing and materials, who was first placed to work at the cheesecake company as a cleaner more than 20 years ago.

“If you work hard then you can achieve things. I’d like to say thank you to America and to the people of America for opening the doors to people like me,” added Kasongo, who is now an American citizen.

“It takes UNHCR to protect us, RefugeeOne to place us in jobs and people like Marc to help us become productive,” he added, referring to the President of Eli’s Cheesecake Company.

Myanmar: UN chief welcomes election of first civilian President in more than 50 years

Following the historic national polls last 8 November, United NationsSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Htin Kyaw, who was elected today by the Myanmar Parliament as the first civilian President in more than five decades.

“He welcomes this as a significant achievement towards advancing the democratic reforms ushered in by the outgoing Government,” indicated a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

“The Secretary-General hopes the people of Myanmar will continue steadfastly on the path of democracy and national reconciliation and, at this defining moment of transition, calls upon President-elect U Htin Kyaw, as well as all other significant stakeholders, to work inclusively towards a smooth and peaceful consolidation of unity and stability in the country,” it added.

The UN chief also reaffirmed the readiness of the United Nations to continue to support efforts to advance peace, development, human rights and the rule of law for the benefit of all the peoples of Myanmar.

The Organization has long been involved in Myanmar’s transition after more than 50 years of military rule, appointing a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the issue. In 2007 Mr. Ban set up the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar,” a consultative forum of 14 countries to assist him in his efforts to spur change in the South-East Asian nation.

On International Women’s Day, UN officials call to ‘Step It Up’ for gender equality

Senior United Nations officials from around the world are marking International Women’s Day with calls to “Step It Up” with more resources and greater political action to achieve gender equality by 2030.

“I remain outraged by the denial of rights to women and girls – but I take heart from the people everywhere who act on the secure knowledge that women’s empowerment leads to society’s advancement,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day.

“Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future.”

Listing successes during the past eight years within the UN linked to gender equality and women’s empowerment, Mr. Ban said he has signed nearly 150 letters of appointment for women in positions for Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General.

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards,” he said. “Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers.”

The theme for this year’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” The year 2030 is the deadline for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include targets on achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, as well as ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning.

The other half of the theme is a reference to UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, which asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap, by the 2030 deadline.

As part of this initiative, more than 90 Member States have pledged concrete actions “to crack some of the fundamental barriers to achievement of gender equality in their countries,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Given the “unprecedented” expressions of political will, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka called for the beginning of a countdown to substantive gender equality by 2030, supported by accountability and measurable actions.

“The participation of women at all levels and the strengthening of the women’s movement has never been so critical, working together with boys and men, to empower nations, build stronger economies and healthier societies,” she said.

Promoting gender equality is also a top priority guiding the work of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

In her message, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called the promotion of gender equality “a transformational force for more just, inclusive and sustainable development.”

She noted that despite progress, steep obstacles remain before genuine equality is a reality for all women and girls.

“The new global agenda will succeed only if every country advances the rights, ingenuity and innovation of every one of its citizens, starting with girls and women,” Ms. Bokova said referring to the SDGs and Agenda 2030.

In Geneva, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke about his conversations with Syrian women who have been affected by the country’s five-year war.

In a video message, Mr. de Mistura said he has been able to see the women’s “enormous suffering and their dignity” and yet they have retained hope and given the international community hope.

“They have, and must have, the right to be part of the political process and the negotiations which we, at the UN, are planning to have. They are part of the future of Syria, of the present and of the past. They have much to say and much to teach us,” said Mr. de Mistura, who has established a special advisory board comprised solely of Syrian women to advise him about what is really needed in political aspects of Syria.