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United Nations Sexual Assault/Harassment Reports on Wikileaks

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February 25, 2009

By Shelley Walden (Whistleblower Typepad)[1]

The website Wikileaks recently posted numerous confidential UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigative reports. Certain reports demonstrate how OIOS investigated sexual assault/harassment allegations made by those within and outside the United Nations, including:

  • Allegations made by female employees in the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo of sexual exploitation/rape by a staff member who threatened their continuing employment. OIOS did not fully investigate this case or make a judicial referral due to a lack of corroborating evidence.
  • Sexual harassment and abuse of employees of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). OIOS found insufficient evidence to support the sexual harassment allegations. OIOS then attempted to identify the individual who had leaked the harassment allegations to the British, U.S. and Ethiopian governments. OIOS recommended that the suspected leakers be disciplined and that the Office of Legal Affairs consider initiating a civil suit against a former employee for “damage” caused by this leak.
  • Allegations of sexual harassment by an employee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The case was initially investigated by two people at UNRWA who had no “formal investigative training” and found no harassment. OIOS subsequently investigated and found that the evidence tended to support the allegations of sexual harassment but not of workplace harassment. Because the harasser had retired, he was not disciplined.
  • 217 allegations of abuse of girls and women by peacekeepers in Eastern Congo against 39 peacekeepers. Of these, only one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against an individual peacekeeper was substantiated. It is not clear what disciplinary measures, if any, were taken.

It should be noted that in most of these cases there were multiple complainants, a circumstance that lends substantial credence to the allegations. But even in cases where there were numerous complainants, OIOS rarely found proof of wrongdoing. Even more disturbingly, in the few instances in which OIOS did substantiate sexual assault allegations, it appears that disciplinary measures may not have been taken. This suggests that sexual assailants in the UN can attack with impunity. To address this situation, the UN should reform OIOS (as suggested in two recent studies) and the UN formal justice system and refer prosecution of assault perpetrators to the relevant national authorities for criminal prosecution.

First appeared in Whistleblower Typepad. Thanks to Shelley Walden for covering this issue. Copyright remains the aforementioned.

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