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UN names first victims' rights official to combat sexual abuse by soldiers

UN head Antonio Guterres has tapped Jane Connors to put victims first as she works to eliminate sexual exploitation committed by peacekeeping troops. The organization has faced allegations of systemic sexual violence.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced Wednesday that Jane Connors will become the organization's first Victims' Rights Advocate.

The creation of Connors' role is part of the UN's promise to address accusations of sexual exploitation by its international peacekeepers, known as blue helmets, that have largely centered on the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR)

A statement from Guterres' office said that Connors "will support an integrated, strategic response to victim assistance in coordination with United Nations system actors with responsibility for assisting victims." Connors will work with governmental and non-governmental organizations alike to "build networks of support and to help ensure that the full effect of local laws, including remedies for victims, are brought to bear," it added.

Connors currently serves as Amnesty International's advocacy director for law and policy. She previously worked at the UN in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

UN to stop sexual abuse

UN Secretary-General Guterres (picture alliance/KEYSTONE/S. Di Nolfi)

UN Secretary-General Guterres has promised a victim-centered approach to eliminating sexual abuse among blue helmets

Guterres' announcement follows through on his March promise to eliminate sexual exploitation that occurs under the UN banner and provide support for victims of abuse by blue helmets. In addition to creating role of Victims' Rights Advcoate, Guterres also threatened to stop payments to countries that fail to adequately investigate alleged sexual abuse by their troops.

At present, the UN can investigate abuse allegations and remove accused peacekeepers. However, any legal action must be taken by the soldiers' country of origin, which often means that blue helmets accused of sexual exploitation have not had to face official charges.

The UN has been shaken by a series of allegations against its peacekeeping soldiers stationed in multiple African countries. In 2016, accusations surfaced that blue helmets on a peacekeeping mission in the CAR had committed sexual crimes including sexual assault, rape, abuse of minors and transactional sex. After investigating, the UN identified 41 suspected soldiers from Gabon and Burundi in December 2016 before passing proceedings onto those countries. 

The in June 2017, the Republic of the Congo withdrew around 600 of its troops in the CAR in relation to sexual abuse allegations, leaving some 140 Congolese soldiers under the UN banner.

Peacekeepers in Haiti have also allegedly committed sexual exploitation crimes. 

The CAR currently hosts some 12,870 UN troops, according figures from the region's UN mission page. The country, which has been ravaged by religiously-fueled civil war for over four years, received its first UN troops in April 2014.

Fighters in the Central African Republic (Getty Images/AFP/A. Huguet)

Sectarian violence has been ongoing in the CAR since a 2012

cmb/rc (EFE, dpa)

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