UN says Malakal sex abuse will be probed

By William Madouk Garang 

Suspected aid workers who committed sexual crimes against vulnerable people at Malakal Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites will be investigated and prosecuted, UN Peace mission said.

On Wednesday, a joint investigation by The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera found that UN peacekeepers, agencies staff and aid-workers continue to abuse civilians sexually at Malakal PoC site.

Head of UN Mission in South Sudan; (UNMISS) Nicholas Haysom assured survivors of justices asserting that they take no comfort of purported sexual exploitation and abuses.

“Firstly, we would want to assure South Sudanese that the allegation contained in the media report will be thoroughly investigated” said Haysom who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.

“As long as there is an imbalance in power between aid workers and aid beneficiaries, the UN must itself take note of the consequences of this phenomenon in all areas where we are present,” he continued.

He lamented that sexual exploitation and abuse by UN staff, implementing partners or associated personnel is a betrayal of trust for a vulnerable population that they swore to protect.

“The harm caused to victims is lasting, as is the damage to the aid community seeking to assist South Sudanese beneficiaries. Anyone suspected will be investigated and punished whoever they are and without restriction,” he added.

Mr. Haysom said zero-tolerance policy will be highlighted to staff, civilians or uniformed of UN protocol on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) that is obligatory including the duty to report incidents that come to knowledge of any staff members.

He disclosed that 14 community-based complaint centers were established to improve on complaints reporting and 13 Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) taskforces to systematize and enforce the approach.

The UN boss in the country cited that they recognize the importance of protecting, supporting victims and placing them at their prevention and protection centers.

Just a day after the joint investigation, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gutterres ordered for a report detailing the actions taken by UN country team against suspected aid workers.

Published on its website early Thursday, The New Humanitarian quoted the camp residents saying the UN peacekeepers paid bribes for access to women living at the protection of civilian’s site.

Aid workers with organizations such as the IOM, MSF, WFP and World Vision were among the alleged culprits, with rape claims and sexual abuse of minors, including pressuring women and girls to have sex for gifts, and other types of abuses.

WFP has admitted that it had received six allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against its staff in South Sudan – two in 2019, one in 2020, and three in 2021.

The International Organization for Migration also told The New Humanitarian that it had received 11 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against its workers in Malakal since 2017.

In the report, Malakal PoC residents said, sexual exploitation, mostly perpetrated by humanitarian workers, was being experienced “on a daily basis.”

It said the UN and NGO workers rented houses in the camps to have sex with women while the UN peacekeepers were paying bribes to gain access to women.

Camp residents also said three girls had been raped and impregnated by a teacher in 2018 – some schools in the camp are supported by UN agencies and NGOs.

Although aid officials have often fired workers if sexual abuse cases are found to be substantiated, referring cases like rape for criminal prosecution is more difficult.

However, the UN peace mission refuted the claims asserting that they are putting a lot of emphasis to make sure that culprits are punished.

According to a UN database, since 2016, the UN has referred only two cases to South Sudan’s government.

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