On 7 July 2016, I was invited to a closed seminar on protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, organized by an umbrella organization working on child protection Keeping Children Safe. I attended the seminar as a thematic expert on UN internal mechanisms dealing with allegations of serious misconduct. There were representatives of civil society organizations working on child protection, academics and donor representatives. I was particularly impressed with the presence of four representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
How the UN deals with sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) cases internally, as well as how it follows up with member States that send their personnel to serve in UN Peace Operations, is one of the areas that I looked into in depth in my research. I provided information as to how it works and how I recommend the civil society, including Keeping Children Safe and its member organizations, to contribute to a better accountability of individual wrongdoers. Keeping Children Safe is in fact more focused and interested in the protection side of SEA cases, and it advocates for all organizations to abide by the International Child Safeguarding Standards. My research is focused on individual criminal accountability. It was interesting to see the crossroad between the two, as all the participants acknowledged, because accountability is also part of prevention.
My recommendation was for the civil society to play a continuous and more systematic role in monitoring and tracking cases, which would work as a good pressure on the UN and member States to take an appropriate action in a timely manner. Currently there are human rights organizations that report some SEA cases, some of which are making a good impact, but the data are too limited to have a sense of the scale of the issue.
I hope that with the current momentum to address the SEA issue, we will be able to make a real change with no return.