By Alice Cuddy • last updated: 24/02/2018
Leading agencies in the United Nations system received allegations of more than 150 cases of sexual abuse or harassment last year, with seven out of 14 entities contacted by Euronews confirming reports of incidents in 2017.
Many of the cases reported last year are still under investigation, while at least 19 have been "substantiated".
The UN Secretariat acknowledged that in several cases in recent years involving its staff and affiliated agencies, alleged offenders have resigned before the disciplinary process finished.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Independent Labour Organization (ILO) were the only two UN agencies contacted by Euronews to have received no formal complaints of sexual misconduct in either 2016 or 2017.
The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did not respond to multiple enquiries by the time of publication, while the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it had “no comment to make.”
UNAIDS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The deputy chiefs of UNICEF and UNAIDS have both stepped down in recent days following allegations of sexual harassment.
After being contacted by Euronews about misconduct at the institution, the UN announced at its regular briefing on Thursday evening that it had received 40 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse across its entities and implementing partners in the last three months of 2017.
“With over 95,000 civilians and 90,000 uniformed personnel working for the UN, sexual exploitation and abuse are not reflective of the conduct of the majority of the dedicated women and men who serve the Organization,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman of the UN secretary-general.
But, he added, “every allegation involving our personnel undermines our values and principles and the sacrifice of those who serve with pride and professionalism in some of the most dangerous places in the world.”
Personnel on UN peacekeeping and special political missions had more reports of sexual misconduct brought against them in 2017 than any other agency contacted by Euronews.
Of 62 complaints of sexual exploitation and abuse in 2017, 13 have been "substantiated", while 43 are still pending and six have been deemed "unsubstantiated".
Sixteen of the cases last year were allegedly committed against children.
Seven allegations have been recorded so far this year.
Fifty-six paternity claims were brought against personnel on UN peacekeeping and special political missions last year as a result of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse. Four have already been brought this year.
There were also six cases of sexual harassment last year.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it received 39 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in 2017, and 18 allegations of sexual harassment.
Nineteen of the sexual exploitation and abuse cases involved UNHCR personnel, while 20 involved staff were from partners or entities with a contractual link to the agency.
Of the 39 allegations, 16 investigations were opened or referred; 15 allegations are still under assessment; and eight allegations were closed.
One of the cases was "substantiated", with disciplinary proceedings ongoing.
The 18 sexual harassment allegations included 13 against UNHCR staff, one against an affiliated workforce, three against implementing partners and one against “other entities”.
Seven investigations into sexual harassment were opened in 2017 of which two have been "substantiated", and five remain ongoing.
Two staff members were dismissed because of sexual harassment.
Six allegations remain under assessment and five were closed or referred to another entity.
UN Women, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Bank, the UN Secretariat and the World Food Programme (WFP) also received complaints of sexual abuse or harassment last year.
UN specialised agency World Health Organization recorded four cases of alleged sexual harassment in 2016, but said it did not have any available information for last year.
In an internal message earlier this month, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV) and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov told staff there would be a “zero-tolerance” approach to sexual harassment.
“Those who breach their duties will be held accountable; those who speak out will be protected,” he wrote.
The message, which echoed sentiments by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, came just weeks after The Guardian published a report in which staff said sexual harassment and assault was rife at the institution amid a culture of impunity.
The report found that many UN employees who have experienced harassment or assault do not trust the investigation process, and fear retaliation if they speak out.
A WFP spokesperson told Euronews the agency was aware there may be “under-reporting of this issue” and that it was making changes to its policy on sexual harassment and abuse, which will include ending the six-month time limit for reporting violations; allowing anonymous complaints from former employees; and enforcing stronger punishments for anyone who retaliates against a victim/
The ILO said it has decided the “time is ripe” for adopting a new Convention on violence and harassment at work, and is set to hold a discussion on possible new standards to combat the issue later this year.