Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
It is with great pleasure and conviction that I share with you today Rwanda’s stance and commitment to ending sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations. I thank the Secretary-General for convening this urgent meeting to discuss and combat the sexual exploitation and abuse of any human being, particularly those affected by conflict and war. I am honoured to be here with each of you and look forward to the engaging discussions that are to follow.
The Government of the Republic of Rwanda is devoted to ensuring that as we deliver on our responsibility to protect, we protect with the utmost integrity the lives of those that we have been tasked to safeguard. The Kigali Principles, which resulted from the International Conference on the Protection of Civilians held earlier this year in Rwanda and continues to be endorsed by a growing number of troop and police contributing countries, have touched on this important issue by advancing the steps that must be taken to achieve a zero tolerance policy while at the same time underscoring the need to report on all human rights abuses.
Rwanda believes that all sexual violence and abuse are inadmissible and our military and judicial policies are a testament of this unyielding commitment to ending such abhorrent actions. The Rwandan Defense Forces has an absolute zero tolerance for sexual indiscipline and we ensure that our forces receive thorough training that covers sexual exploitation and abuse, in which we use UN manuals as an additional reference. Judicially, the Rwandan penal code punishes all those found guilty of the crime, including peacekeepers operating internationally.
The truth of the matter, dear colleagues, is that these people are our people. We, troop and police contributing countries, must take urgent action by engaging with the Secretariat on the recommendations made by the Secretary-General in accordance with the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations’ report, which I thank the members of the Panel for their extraordinary work – it will undoubtedly improve peacekeeping operations.
Those of us, who have suffered the scourge of war, losing thousands as a result of extreme violence, must lead the way in ridding today’s conflicts of sexual exploitation and abuse. We can do our part to take direct and immediate action to hold our peacekeepers accountable for their conduct. However, we must also acknowledge and demand the support of the Secretariat and Security Council, which are paramount to preventing such abuse and furthering our success in implementing the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy.
Let me take this moment to advance Rwanda’s insights into the recommendations on sexual exploitation and abuse that the Secretary-General outlined in his implementation report. Calling into mind the shortfalls of the peacekeepers that have tainted the United Nations’ reputation, we wholeheartedly know that combating sexual exploitation and abuse begins long before our peacekeepers arrive to the mission area. Pre-deployment training on sexual exploitation and abuse can create a culture that does not tolerate any degree of abuse, as witnessed firsthand by Rwanda.
Another prevention tool is the Misconduct Tracking System proposed by the Secretary-General that vets personnel for prior misconduct. Vetting starts during the recruitment to join security forces and it continues throughout the progression of an officer’s career. However, there is room for growth in this area and as such we must work to implement a system that includes all categories of personnel, from individual officers to contingents and civilian staff members.
In regard to current responses to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, numerous deficiencies exist that have poisoned the reputation and good deeds of our overall outstanding peacekeepers. One of these grave shortfalls is that investigations can take longer than expected – a time frame that is intolerable considering the pain and suffering endured by victims. We welcome the Secretary-General’s recommendation to address this and we are committed to doing our part to reduce this time frame but the greater task and responsibility lies with the Secretariat. This is undoubtedly an urgent call to the Secretariat to help reduce the administrative burdens that plague these investigations.
We can additionally remedy these shortfalls by continuing to empower women by further advocating for them and actively increasing their participation in peacekeeping operations. Rwanda takes tremendous pride in the women that have and currently serve as blue helmets.
As Member States, we must continue to report, prosecute and criminalize those who have been convicted of taking advantage of the most vulnerable: the women and children entangled in today’s conflicts. These efforts should also apply to those operating as non-UN personnel working under the Security Council mandate. It should also be expected that national and regional entities deploying outside of the UN mandate are held to the same standards as UN personnel, including independent investigations with the outcomes brought to the attention and action of the Security Council. Transparency, objectivity and accountability should define the Secretariat’s work when addressing this issue.
To conclude, let me say that the time to take immediate and effective action is now. We must all, individually and collectively, do what is in our means to enforce the zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse while also working towards eradicating its existence in peacekeeping operations. As we continue working within our capacity to strengthen all measures relating to sexual exploitation and abuse, we must also hold other stakeholders accountable. By working collectively we can eliminate past wrongdoings and re-focus our efforts on upholding the infinite acts of great courage undertaken by our peacekeepers, time and time again.
And may I additionally conclude with the following quote by Rabbi Elazar,”One who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.” We are here for the victims and although we are currently far from the regions where conflicts are taking place, we must acknowledge that it could be our daughters, our sons, our brothers, our mothers, our wives undergoing this. We will work towards naming those people that endanger their lives. Once again, these could be our children or our wives; not that I wish this upon you or anyone, but that we face these many, real truths.
Let us stand together to fight these heinous crimes.