When the most vulnerable in this world look to the UN for protection, they should do so in the belief that their suffering is over, not beginning.

Statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson of the UK Mission to the UN at the General Assembly Briefing on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

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Thank you Mr President, and thank you Edmond and Atul for the briefings you have just given us.

I have to say that the sickening revelations from the Central African Republic last week did mark a new and disturbing low in a crisis that has gone unchecked for far too long.

What must happen now, I think you’ve been really clear about this. And, as the President of the General Assembly said, the women and children at the heart of this crisis must be protected and supported as a priority. Secondly, the United Nations and affected Member States must investigate these allegations urgently, thoroughly and decisively. And thirdly, once those investigations conclude, perpetrators must be held to account and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

These three actions form the first step towards repairing the damage and rebuilding trust. Like others, we welcome the role being played by UNICEF in caring for the women and children at the heart of this issue. And we fully support the Secretary-General’s efforts to instil a zero-tolerance attitude to sexual exploitation and abuse. This includes his ability to repatriate contingents with a proven pattern of abuse.

But we also need to recognise that we have been here before and far too many times. Time after time, we use the words ‘never again’ and those words have proven hollow. It’s clear therefore that we’re not doing enough.

The United Nations needs to further strengthen its vetting processes and implement the Human Rights Screening Policy. Furthermore, United Nations staff as well as people living in the host country must be empowered, wherever they are, to say something when they see something. That’s the slogan that you’re using, that’s the slogan that we must all use. We all have a duty to give voice to the victims of these terrible acts.

Troop contributing countries must also do their part.

So ahead of their deployment to South Sudan and Somalia later this year, all United Kingdom troops will receive robust pre-deployment training covering sexual exploitation and abuse. We hope others will do the same. And crucially, all troop contributors need to ensure that any individuals who have committed these acts, whether in service to the United Nations or in their own countries, are never deployed.

Mr President,

We cannot underestimate what is at stake here. These continued allegations are having a massive impact on the credibility and reputation of this organisation of which we’re all a part. The very concept of peacekeeping is being tarnished before our eyes. When the most vulnerable in this world, women and children who have lost everything, when they look to the UN for protection, they should do so in the belief that their suffering is over, not just beginning.

The acts of these individuals, rape, sexual violence, child abuse, these acts have brought unimaginable horrors to women and children who have already suffered far too much. It cannot continue, it must not continue, whether in the Central African Republic or any other country. The world is watching us and it’s long past time to act.

I wanted to ask just one question to Special Coordinator Lute, and I know that you are about to go to the Central African Republic. But the question is really why has it taken so long, why in your view has it taken so long for some of these allegations to surface?

Thank you very much.

Published 5 April 2016