Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among 48 world leaders who have endorsed a collective statement issued by UN chief Antonio Guterres reaffirming their continued personal commitment to support efforts to combat sexual exploitation across the UN system and to make zero tolerance of such cases a reality.
UN peacekeeping missions are facing allegations of sexual abuse in African countries. In 2017, Guterres had launched a campaign to prevent and end sexual exploitation by UN personnel.
In the same year, the UN Secretary-General made a startling admission that "sexual exploitation and abuse is a problem of the entire United Nations".
"Majority of the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse are done by the civilian organisations of the UN," he had said.
The world leaders, including Modi, US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and 21 UN entities voiced their commitment to work together in partnership with the Secretary-General to implement his strategy to strengthen a system-wide approach across all UN bodies and all categories of personnel – military, police, and civilian.
We underscore the crucial role of this partnership in the achievement of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse. Together, we reaffirm our commitment to make zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse a reality.
This is an urgent and moral imperative, as well as an operational necessity to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of the United Nations around the world," the leaders and the entities said in their endorsement of the collective statement.
They said they recognize the need for the consistent and coordinated implementation of policies and approaches to prevent the occurrence of such cases across the UN system and the ongoing need to ensure accountability for perpetrators.
"We strongly encourage the efforts of the Secretary-General in confronting unequal power relationships and gender roles through meaningful organisational culture change," the leaders, who are the members of the Circle of Leadership on the Prevention of and Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Operations, said.
They also recognised the shared responsibility of the UN and its member states to protect victims and whistle-blowers and take appropriate action against perpetrators, commending nations who have contributed to the Trust Fund in Support of Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and those that are signatories to the Voluntary Compact on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.
The leaders and entities welcomed the steps taken by the UN to enhance the institutional response by actively following up on reports and cases, saying they are convinced that the highest standards of conduct require training, capacity-building, awareness-raising, vetting and the appropriate enforcement of national laws.
"We pledge to continue our efforts to elevate the rights and dignity of victims and expand opportunities and modalities for them to report sexual exploitation and abuse and advocate for their own needs. In this regard, we also reaffirm the importance of the role of the Victims' Rights Advocate," they said.
The leaders called for further strengthening of an integrated response to victim assistance across the UN system, together with member states and civil society.
The other leaders who endorsed the UN chief's campaign include Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau, Brazil President Michel Temer, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron.