Stepping up to prevention

DAKAR, 4 July 2012 (IRIN) - IRIN surveys the development of policy and practice since the launch of a ground-breaking report in 2002, in terms of preventing the perpetration of sexual abuse by humanitarian aid workers and their associates.

2002: A report by UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Save the Children reveals the prevalence of SEA in West Africa, and documents allegations against 40 aid agencies.

A Plan of Action on protection from SEA is developed, using six core principles now included in the code of conduct and staff rules and regulations of IASC member agencies:
- SEA is grounds for dismissal
- Sexual activity with children under 18 is prohibited
- Exchange of goods and services for sex is prohibited
- Sexual relationships between humanitarian workers and beneficiaries are strongly discouraged
- Co-workers have an obligation to report SEA concerns
- Managers must create an environment that prohibits SEA

2003: The UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on Special Measures for Protection from SEA is issued. Every year since 2003 the Secretary-General has issued a report with updates on the scope of the problem and the prevention and response measures taken by the UN.

2002-2004: An IASC Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse looks at best practices in providing a consistent, effective approach across all agencies.

2004: The Building Safer Organizations (BSO) project, now part of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), is set up to help NGOs apply PSEA.

2005: Following the final IASC task force report, the UN Executive Committees on Humanitarian Affairs and Peace and Security (ECHA and ECPS) meets to discuss implementation of the goals.

It is decided to focus on strengthening UN investigative capacity, victim assistance, training, and getting buy-in from countries contributing troops.

A working group of 30 members, the ECHA/ECPS and NGO Task Force on PSEA, is set up.

2006: Save the Children UK reports high levels of abuse of girls in Liberia, some as young as eight. According to the report, in 2004 peacekeepers in DRC exchanged food for sex. During the UN mission in Cambodia in 1992-93 the number of commercial sex workers rose from 6,000 to 25,000, many of them children.

HAP-International publishes To complain or not to complain: still the question.

2008: A global UN and NGO meeting on PSEA agrees to address SEA in terms of management and coordination, engagement with local populations, prevention and response.

2008: Save the Children UK publishes No one to turn to.

2010: An independent review is published to evaluate progress made by IASC members in ensuring that vulnerable people were not sexually exploited or abused by people associated with humanitarian agencies. It also looked at progress on putting in place policies to protect aid beneficiaries against SEA. Self-evaluation was carried out in DRC, Nepal, Kenya, Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Thailand and Yemen.

2011: A new IASC task force was established as a result of the IASC review. Among other activities the task force has developed and endorsed Minimum Operating Standards on PSEA, to apply to all members. Members also agreed to nominate Senior Focal Points among IASC members and to submit work plans to make shows of commitment more concrete.

For more stories on humanitarian accountability, please visit our In-Depth

aj/he/cb