Projects supported by a UN trust fund for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, are helping victims to regain their dignity, learn new skills, and improve their livelihoods.
Details of the projects, and the ways which they are having a positive effect on the lives of victims and children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse, are contained within the trust fund’s latest annual report, which was released on Monday.
Over the past year, six projects were launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and, in Liberia, an education and vocational training project supported training of project leaders, and community meetings.
A video released to coincide with the publication of the report, shows the effect a community project has had on the life of one of the victims, a young woman in eastern DRC, who has now learned to read and write, and to become self-sufficient by weaving, and selling, baskets.
The fund also supports community-based complaint networks in DRC, made up of representatives of women's and youth associations, religious leaders, local chiefs and the police.
These networks educate the community on the risks associated with sexual exploitation and abuse and how to report it, develop projects which support victims, and act as a bridge between communities of vulnerable people and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO).
Introducing the annual report, Catherine Pollard, the UN Under Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, noted that, as well as contributions from 21 countries, the fund is financed by payments withheld from personnel, as a result of substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse. The funding, she said, is “essential for the Trust Fund to continue to help restore the dignity of victims, break stigma, and facilitate their reintegration within their communities”.
COVID-19 pandemic hampers communication
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on many of the projects: restrictions on movements have made communication with victims more difficult, and some community gatherings have been suspended.
UN Conduct and Discipline Teams, and Field Victims’ Rights Advocates, are providing support through interim measures, until restrictions are lifted, and projects can restart.
Ms. Pollard emphasized that the projects supported by the fund must take into account the feedback from victims, and their ideas for the future: “they are at the heart of our response, and will always underpin the implementation of the Trust Fund. I hope that we will be able to continue this important work.”
Her words were echoed by Jane Connors, the UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, who works globally to ensure victim assistance, and advocates for their rights.
“When you hear from these people, you understand what they want”, she said. “You have to listen to them, you need to project their wishes and desires so that they can have, as much as possible, a trajectory which is positive.”
Speaking to journalists in March, Ms. Connors accepted that, whilst UN-led projects to support victims are proving effective, there is still much more that needs to be done.
“We need to appreciate what these wrongs do to victims and their communities; what these wrongs do to the very purpose of the United Nations’ work, because these wrongs do indeed fracture trust”, she said.