December 7, 2017 (JUBA) – A senior United Nations official has urged peacekeepers and staffs to closely work with the vulnerable people in South Sudan if they were to gain the mutual trust and confidence.
- The Victims’ Rights Advocate for the United Nations, Jane Connors, speaking at a press conference in Juba, the capital of South Sudan (UN Photo/Isaac Billy)
Jane Connors, the UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, said cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel not only breaks down a relationship, but also destroys the trust communities have in the world body.
“It is conduct which is absolutely abhorrent and a conduct which is extraordinarily painful to its victims and undermines the UN itself and, of course, dents the trust that communities should have in the UN,” said Connors, at the end of her visit to the war-torn nation.
“It is about dignity for the victims, compassion, a real feeling of empathy, a feeling that they are not forgotten, that victims feel they can tell their story to someone like myself and, if they’re lucky, to the Secretary-General as some have been able to do,” she added.
The senior UN official visited South Sudan to promote the importance of the “no excuses, zero tolerance” approach to UN personnel.
During her visit, Connors met victims and local authorities and spent time listening to the concerns of internally displaced persons residing at the UN Mission in South Sudan protection of civilians’ sites.
“There should be no victims. Women and girls should not feel pain,” she told crowds of people at the Malakal camp in Upper Nile region.
“All I can say is the UN entities, funds, programmes, agencies and the Mission stand with you but you are in the lead to say no and act,” she added.
Last year, there were 103 allegations made against UN staff world over, with four them in South Sudan, according to the world body.
The low number, the UN said, could be due to reluctance on part of victims to report abuse because of the stigma attached, but it encourages reporting to that perpetrators are held accountable.
“Many victims are focused on their lives, as you know, legal processes take a long time and many victims wish to move on. They are interested in justice, but at the same time, they wish to rebuild their lives, move into a scenario whereby they feel valued, they are not stigmatized, and that is the approach we need to take,” said Connors.
“We need to ask the victim what she or he wants and not substitute our judgement, not say you need to do this, you need to do the other,” she added.
Three in five women at the UN-run protection of civilian sites around the South Sudan capital, Juba experienced rape or sexual assault, according to a 2016 UN report.