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New UN Tool Aims to Stop Sexual Wrongdoers from Finding New Jobs in Aid World

FILE - The United Nations headquarters building is pictured though a window with the U.N. logo in the foreground.
FILE - The United Nations headquarters building is pictured though a window with the U.N. logo in the foreground.

The United Nations will launch a screening system to prevent former employees guilty of sexual misconduct from finding new jobs with its agencies or other charities, a senior official said Friday, part of an effort to address its #MeToo issue.

The tool will be an electronic registry of information to be available across the U.N.'s vast international reach and eventually to other groups, said Jan Beagle, U.N. under-secretary-general for management, following a high-level meeting in London.

Prominent U.N. bodies including the World Food Program (WFP) and refugee agency (UNHCR) fired several staff last year amid concerns raised that sexual misconduct was going unreported in a culture of silence and impunity at U.N. offices worldwide.

The wider aid sector was rocked by reports that some staff at Oxfam, one of the biggest disaster relief charities, paid for sex during a relief mission after a 2010 earthquake.

And in February, a high-level official at the U.N. children's agency UNICEF resigned over inappropriate behavior toward women in his previous role as head of Save the Children UK.

Plans for the U.N. screening tool to register workers found guilty of sexual misconduct were announced at the gathering of its agency heads in London this week.

"[It] is a screening tool so that when we have confirmed perpetrators of sexual harassment in the system, we can ensure that they are not able to move around," Beagle told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

Beagle said groundwork for the system, which will be managed by the secretariat, is complete and it was expected to be fully operational by the summer.

"In due course when we have some experience with it, we would like to extend it to other partners," Beagle said, referring to aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations and other groups.

#MeToo campaign

The plans come amid the #MeToo campaign, in which women around the world have taken to social media to share their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse. It was sparked by accusations made last year against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year appointed Beagle to lead a special task force to address the issue.

At the London meeting, U.N. agencies also discussed setting up 24-hour help lines for workers, agreed on a common definition of harassment and were told to hire more specialized investigators, preferably women, to speed up probes, said Beagle.

"Most of our investigators are specialized in things like fraud, which is a different type of skill," she said. The secretariat has already started the recruiting process, she added.

An exclusive survey by Reuters in February found more than 120 staff from leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct.

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