Sexual aggression in and around the United Nations

Accounts of sexual abuse at or in connection with the work of the United nations have been around for far too long. Journalist Mae Jong heard from 43 UN workers in the process of writing this article. This 2021 piece also assembles accounts going back to 1991.

The 1991 case involved an allegation of sexual harassment by Cathy Claxton, her alleged perpetrator Luis Maria Gomez and his lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Cathy’s allegation was upheld, Gomez resigned but kept his pension and then returned to the UN as a Senior Advisor.

Echoes of this pattern can be seen in the recent International Civil Service College case involving Kingston Rhodes, despite the introduction of a ‘clearcheck’ database intended to ensure that those against whom allegations are upheld and for whom employment is terminated are not re-hired. Perhaps unremunerated positions do not count as hiring, so abusers can return in different guises.

Some extracts from Mae Jong’s piece:

“In the past 14 years, the U.N. has referred just 33 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation to national authorities globally. Over that same period, it received 120 reports of sexual abuse and exploitation in Haiti alone.”

Many of those to whom Mae Jong spoke were not interested in reporting:

“Many of the women and men I spoke with said they did not formally report sexual misconduct because they had little faith in a system they called byzantine, haphazard, and unreliable. Some U.N. agencies abide by the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” while others have a lighter burden of proof: that of providing “clear and convincing evidence.” “

On the systemic shortcomings of the UN internal accountability processes:

“The U.N. is by design ill-suited for disciplining its employees. It cannot unilaterally make policies for its various agencies, which span multiple continents, sociocultural norms, and economic realities. The internal justice system answers to the General Assembly, which appoints the secretary-general, who does not have authority over the goings-on at U.N. agencies, some of which avail themselves of the International Labour Organization for settling disputes, while others use the dispute and appeals tribunals, which in turn draw on findings from the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which can only investigate — not sanction — employees accused of misconduct. And so on.”

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