UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations on Friday reported 31 new allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against peacekeepers and civilians working for U.N. agencies in the three-month period from July and through September — almost half against those employed to help refugees.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric released the figures and said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "is obviously disappointed and saddened that these actions continue."
The United Nations has been in the spotlight for several years over allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo.
According to U.N. figures, there were 80 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving U.N. peacekeepers and 65 allegations involved U.N. civilian staff in 2016, an increase from 2015.
Guterres announced new measures in March to tackle the increase in sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers and staff, including a new focus on victims and bans on alcohol and fraternization for troops.
According to Dujarric, there were 12 allegations against peacekeepers and 19 against civilians working for U.N. agencies between July 1 and September 30.
Fifteen of the allegations involved the Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency known as UNHCR, which helps more than 22 million people who have fled to other countries, he said. Three involved civilians working for the U.N. migration agency, the International Office for Migration, and one who worked for the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.
This was the first three-month update, and Dujarric said the U.N. would continue the practice of quarterly reporting.
Of the 12 U.N. peacekeepers alleged to have been involved in sexual abuse or exploitation, he said, four were serving in Congo, three in Liberia, two in Central African Republic, and one each in Mali, Haiti and South Sudan.
The other alleged perpetrators included five civilians from host countries working for the U.N., 10 civilians helping to implement U.N. programs, and three U.N. consultants, Dujarric said.
The alleged victims included at least 24 women and six girls, he said.
As for the allegations, Dujarric said an investigation had substantiated one claim involving UNHCR.
He said 13 others — including two involving UNHCR — were at various stages in the investigative process, 10 others were under preliminary assessment, and seven where limited information had been provided were under review.
The first victims' rights advocate, Jane Connors, who was appointed as part of Guterres' initiative, just returned from a visit to Central African Republic with the U.N. chief. Last year, the violence-torn country had the highest number of misconduct allegations against peacekeepers in the world.
Connors told reporters Friday that her priority "is to give visibility to those who have suffered ... and support them as they rebuild their lives."
Medical aid, support
Victims in the Central African Republic are getting medical assistance, food, and psychological and social support, Connors said, and she talked to them "about their wishes and needs and aspirations, and how they saw their lives going forward."
She added that some receive opportunities for education and income-generating activities, she said.
The Code Blue campaign, a watchdog group, reported in September that leaked case files showed "egregious mishandling" of sexual misconduct allegations against U.N. peacekeepers in CAR.
Code Blue cited 14 cases that were investigated last year in order to determine whether the allegations could be substantiated. In eight cases, it said, the alleged victims were not even interviewed.
Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which organized the Code Blue campaign, said she was "appalled and offended" at Connors' presentation.
The focus of the victims' rights advocate has swung away "from ensuring victims' access to justice" to "a vague, ever-shifting menu of services," she said.
"There is no victims' bill of rights that codifies exactly which rights victims of U.N. sexual abuse hold and can demand," Donovan told AP. "The concept is a public relations response to serious crimes, a further exploitation of women and children who have already been violated by the U.N."