An Ex-senior United Nations member has said claims of sexual abuse and corruption at the United Nations (UN) should urgently be investigated by an independent panel.
Purna Sen’s comments came as a result of a BBC investigation which revealed the sackings of a number of UN staff who tried to expose alleged wrongdoing. Mrs. Sen said the UN should “step up” and adopt any suggestions made by a panel.
A spokesperson for the UN disclosed to the media in an interview that it is focused on ensuring that people felt safe to report abuse.
The documentary by the BBC titled: The Whistleblowers: Inside the UN, details allegations of corruption, management turning a blind eye to wrongdoing and sexual abuse. Per reports, staff members who tried to report allegations revealed that they were penalised after speaking out, and some were sacked.
An Account by Sen
In the video documentary, Mrs. Sen, who was appointed Spokeswoman on Harassment, Assault and Discrimination in 2018, said there were women at the UN who had been “approached, accosted and raped”. The more men were allowed to get away with it, she said, “the more they will keep doing it”. She told investigators that she is not surprised by the “deeply upsetting” testimonies.
“It suggests that sometimes the protection of the senior folk within each organisation matters more than the absence of harm to those who aren’t powerful. It means there is a real tension within an organisation which not only upholds and advocates for human rights but is actually the birthplace of most of these human rights, yet it hasn’t learned to bring them home to the people who work for that organisation.”Ex-senior United Nations member, Purna Sen
Mrs. Sen said she wanted UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to appoint a diverse external panel to consider staff experiences and recommend a focused set of actions.
Response from UN Secretary-General’s Office
In a statement, Mr. Guterres’ office noted that it remained open to any external review of its efforts “to combat misconduct of any kind”. The Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that the Secretary-General has “taken this extremely seriously since he came into office”, adding that “We continue to do whatever we can to support victims and are focused on improving the systems and ensuring that people feel safe to report abuse”.
When asked about external oversight, Mr. Dujarric said “There is full transparency and we have an internal independent body that reports to the member states of the UN General Assembly”.
“We are not afraid of any scrutiny. We are doing whatever we can to break this climate of fear.”Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric
The United Nations has a protected legal status and senior staff have diplomatic immunity from all national laws. This is granted to the organisation to protect it from interference when doing its work. But the UN said it is not granted for the personal benefit of staff, so does not protect those who commit crimes such as sexual assault.
As such, all staff complaints have to be addressed internally. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) handles the most serious allegations, including claims of criminality, but has no legal authority. However, investigations suggested that the OIOS is not always effective.