Speech

“When a girl looks up to a blue helmet, she should do so not in fear, but in hope.”

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Meeting on Peacekeeping Operations and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

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Thank you Mr President. I am very grateful to the Secretary-General for his urgency in bringing this issue to the Council and for his briefing today.

For nearly 70 years, the pale blue helmets of the United Nations’ Peacekeepers have been synonymous with the work of the UN. In the sixteen missions ongoing today and in the fifty four that came before, each and every peacekeeper presents the human face of this organisation and the principles that we stand for.

In upholding those principles, many have paid the ultimate price. At the outset, I’d like to pay tribute to the 3,444 peacekeepers who have lost their lives since 1948, including 104 from my own country.

We all know why they their sacrifice was needed. Peacekeeping by definition can be dangerous, preserving international peace and security, not in word, but in deed. In the midst of conflict and chaos, peacekeepers bring safety and hope to those most in need, to those in the darkest moments of their lives.

But to fulfil that crucial role, peacekeepers need the trust of those they seek to protect. When a girl looks up to a blue helmet, she should do so not in fear, but in hope. And every time that a peacekeeper fails to live up to our principles, or fails to uphold the integrity and decency that is expected of the United Nations, that trust is undermined.

Today we have heard about the worst abuse of trust imaginable. The sickening actions of a small number of individuals now threaten the reputation of the entire United Nations. Such actions are a horrific betrayal of the faith placed in the UN by the very people in need of protection; people who have already suffered the trauma of conflict. These crimes truly are a cancer in our system.

The stories that have emerged from the Central African Republic are harrowing. We cannot shy away from them. We cannot hide behind an acronym. This is not ‘SEA’. It is abuse, it is exploitation, it is women and girls being raped and manipulated for sex.

For too long this has existed in the shadows, in rumours and speculation, concealed by incompetence and, yes, by conspiracy. Today, we have brought some overdue light to this darkness. We now need to prove that we will never let it happen again.

We all have a role to play in that; we cannot pretend this is just a matter just for other countries. When our collective reputation is threatened, collective action is needed. Ahead of their deployments to South Sudan and Somalia, all troops from the United Kingdom will be vetted rigorously and receive robust pre-deployment training covering sexual exploitation and abuse. And I hope all troop contributing countries will do the same.

The UN system must also bear its share of responsibility. We welcome the Secretary-General’s decisiveness in withdrawing units facing credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. We support his prerogative to name and shame countries who contribute these units. And we fully support the appointment of Jane Holl Lute as Special Coordinator on the UN’s response to this terrible scourge. But this is just the start. The coming months will need to see bold UN reforms.

This must include designing a system for reporting allegations that is trusted by host communities. And when allegations are proven, the UN must act quickly and decisively, and well within the Secretary-General’s suggested six month deadline.

The United Kingdom has committed funds to assist the UN and the Special Coordinator in these efforts this year. Some of this money will be spent rebuilding much needed trust in communities hosting peacekeepers. I hope that other Member States will join us in committing financial support too.

The world is watching us today. So let us be clear; this cannot continue; this must not continue. The report is a wake-up call that simply cannot be ignored. It is a call for all of us to do everything in our power to protect those in our collective care. The reputation of peacekeepers, of this Security Council and of the United Nations is at stake.

So this Council has a clear responsibility to ensure accountability and to take action. I hope we can adopt the Security Council resolution under negotiation in the coming days. That will be a valuable step forward but it cannot be our last.

Thank you.

Published 10 March 2016