28 July 2006

Special Committee Continues Consideration of Measures Aimed at Sexual Exploitation by Peacekeepers

Revised Model Memorandum of Understanding, Draft Victim Assistance Strategy Discussed

NEW YORK, 27 July (UN Headquarters) -- Continuing its work to combat sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations and related personnel in peacekeeping missions in a resumed session today, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations approved the recommendations of the Working Group of Experts on the matter, which requested the Secretariat to produce a revised draft of the Organization's model memorandum of understanding with troop-contributing countries, including a proposal on National Investigations Officers, and taking account of Member States' views expressed in the course of 2005 and 2006.

The new version of the memorandum of understanding would be issued as a General Assembly document in all official languages by September and, discussed at the next meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts in December, along with the draft victim assistance strategy, which has been prepared by the Secretary-General at the request of the Special Committee.  The Committee intends to consider the findings of the Experts' Group at the conclusion of the Group's work on 15 or 18 December.  The Committee's next substantive session has been scheduled for 26 February to 16 March 2007.

Approving its report, as amended, during its paragraph-by-paragraph consideration of document A/AC.121/44 today, the Special Committee also noted that the documents needed by the Experts' Group had not been officially issued at the time of its meeting on 26 and 27 June, although the draft United Nations policy statement and the Secretary-General's strategy for victim assistance was subsequently issued with the date of 5 June 2006 (A/60/877).  A report on the work of the Experts' Group was presented to the Special Committee by its Vice-Chairperson, Beata Peksa Krawiec (Poland).

The Working Group of Experts from Member States was established by Assembly resolution 60/263 of 16 June, pursuant to the decision of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations as contained in its report A/60/19, to consider the Secretary-General's strategy for victim assistance and the revised draft model memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and Member States contributing resources to peacekeeping operations.

The Secretary-General's Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, recalled that, in April last year, the Special Committee had recognized the urgent need for a comprehensive strategy for assisting victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations staff and related personnel.  While a number of steps had been taken since to address the problem, there was still no policy in place to provide assistance and support to the victims of those heinous acts.  "This is unacceptable," he said.  He supported the Secretary-General's comprehensive, thoughtful and practical proposal for providing assistance to victims.

Turning to the proposed revisions to the model memorandum of understanding, he said that maintaining good order and discipline in peacekeeping operations could no longer be seen as optional, and that the standards of conduct needed to be legally binding on both the United Nations and troop contributors.  Including clear language on standards of conduct would benefit the United Nations and troop contributors, but, the victims of sexual violence and abuse would benefit the most.  To them, it could mean better collection of evidence, more information on action by troop contributors against offenders, and better care for children fathered by peacekeepers.  A revised model memorandum of understanding could reduce significantly the number of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, and would provide greater justice to victims.  He urged Member States to reach agreement on a text during the Assembly's sixty-first session.

A briefing on the status of work was also provided by Philip Cooper of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who said that the vast majority of peacekeepers served with honour and distinction, joining the United Nations to serve and protect the local population.  "We dishonour these brave men and women when we fail to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, and when we fail to punish those individuals who commit those appalling acts," he said.  The Secretary-General's draft strategy and revised memorandum of understanding were two practical ways for the United Nations to fulfil its obligation to serve and protect.

The draft strategy had been presented during the June meeting of the Experts' Working Group, he continued.  What was new was that one agency or agencies would implement the programmes, on behalf of the entire system in a given country, to ensure a coordinated and common approach.  Most of the strategy fell within the Secretary-General's prerogative and could be implemented without further endorsement from Member States, whose formal approval was required for only two elements.  One of them was a proposal that disciplinary fines obtained from a staff member be used for assistance and support to victims.  The deduction of such fines required a change to the Staff Regulations and Rules.  The other related to the allocation of mission budgets for providing assistance and support to the victims and, required approval of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).  At present, the strategy proposed adoption of a localized, pooled funding mechanism for a 12-month trial period.  After that, further consideration could be given to the most appropriate funding mechanism, based on the information obtained.

He added that, because of the urgent need to respond to the needs of victims, both to alleviate the harm caused and to restore the Organization's credibility, the United Nations intended to begin implementing all the elements of the strategy that fell within the Secretary-General's prerogative.

Special attention was given today to the issue of DNA sampling and testing.  Mr. Cooper said that the strategy contained a proposal, which referred to DNA testing in cases of allegation of paternity.  Some Member States had already approached the United Nations for assistance in obtaining DNA samples from the children of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, in accordance with their national procedures for child support claims, which the United Nations was willing to facilitate with the consent of the victims concerned.

Several speakers, including the representatives of Iran and Morocco, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, sought further clarification on the matter, in particular regarding the privacy and ethical concerns in connection with DNA sampling and testing.

Addressing those concerns, an expert said that the DNA tests did not specify any traits or physical characteristics of a person being tested.  The testing should be done by a laboratory that had international certification.  The procedure itself was painless: a saliva sample was taken by a cotton swab in the mouth.  The profiles of the child and the alleged father were then compared for similarities.  DNA testing was accurate and reliable.  It could not only prove paternity, but, also exonerate the innocent.

In response to a question from the representative of the Russian Federation, an expert explained that earlier drafts of the strategy had contained a proposal for comprehensive sampling of all United Nations staff, but, it did not apply to related personnel.  A sample would have been taken as a staff member joined a mission and would be kept on file until there was a cause to test it.  However, the proposal had now been removed, as comprehensive sampling raised certain legal issues, which required further study.

The proposal on the table now was that the United Nations would facilitate DNA testing, should Member States request such assistance, she said.  For example, if a Member State had a case alleging paternity before it, the United Nations would provide assistance in obtaining samples.

At the opening of its resumed meeting, the Special Committee observed a minute of silence in tribute to the peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, who had been killed in southern Lebanon several days ago.

In that connection, India's representative expressed condolences to the countries that had lost peacekeepers earlier this week and proposed that a special session of the Special Committee be held to consider the issue of safety and security of peacekeepers.

The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, established in 1965 with a mandate to conduct a comprehensive review of all issues relating to peacekeeping, reports to the Assembly, as required, through the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).  The Committee is comprised of 124 Member States, mostly past or current contributors of peacekeeping personnel.  Other States and entities also participate in the work of the Committee and its working groups, as observers.

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