The United Nations (UN) was formed to foster collaboration between countries from around the world in an effort to overcome global challenges such as poverty, natural disasters and warfare.
But the intergovernmental organisation is facing allegations of sweeping sexual harassment and assault incidents under the rug by ignoring complaints and silencing victims.
A number of current and former employees spoke to the Guardian under promises of anonymity, with many fearing the negative repercussions their claims could have on their careers.
The media outlet interviewed dozens of personnel, 15 of whom said they had experienced or reported sexual harassment or assault within the last five years. Alleged crimes ranged from verbal harassment to rape.
Many women said their jobs were threatened or they were forced to leave the UN after coming forward with allegations, whereas all of the supposed perpetrators remain in their posts, including a senior official.
Victims face a number of challenges to receiving justice. Sources who spoke to the Guardian said the UN’s internal investigation processes are substandard, with investigators failing to interview key witnesses and allegedly leaking information.
In some cases, perpetrators were allowed to influence proceedings or even interview their accusers. Victims also complained they did not receive adequate counselling or medical support services after a sexual assault.
Other problems include that senior officials often have diplomatic immunity, which means they don’t have to answer for their alleged crimes in national courts. Many incidents also occur in countries where justice systems are dysfunctional.
“Even when you summon your courage to complain and you exhaust all the internal mechanisms, like I did, all the resources, all the processes, there’s nothing for you,” one victim said.
“They mobilise friends, colleagues against you. I had threats, sent through friends, that ‘she will never set foot in this office again’.”
The UN admitted that under-reporting of sexual harassment and assaults was a problem within the organisation but claimed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had prioritised these issues and upheld a zero-tolerance policy.
Frank La Rue, assistant director-general of the UN’s cultural arm Unesco, was recently suspended after the Daily Mail revealed he was facing sexual harassment allegations.
However, the organisation appears to have a long way to go in protecting victims and ensuring they receive justice.
“It’s atrocious because this is an organisation that’s supposed to stand up for everyone’s rights. We’re such hypocrites,” said one woman who works on a peacekeeping mission in the Middle East.
Have you been a victim of institutional sexual assault or child abuse? Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers is here to help. Please talk to a member of our team for a free consultation.