The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom on Wednesday promised to open investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in Malakal Protection of Civilians site in Upper Nile State.
“We want to assure South Sudanese that the allegations contained in the media reports will be thoroughly investigated. Even though the article does not implicate UN staff directly, we take no comfort,” Haysom said during press conference in Juba.
His remarks come on the heels of a recent report by the New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera news agency that revealed that sexual abuse committed by aid workers in the Malakal PoC since 2015 have not been thoroughly investigated.
The report added that sexual exploitation and abuse implicating staff of humanitarian agencies continue unabated at the PoC.
“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,” Haysom said.
He disclosed that the UN system has long maintained a zero-tolerance policy for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse by aid worker whether in the United Nations, implementing partners and associated personnel, is a betrayal of trust of a vulnerable population that we are all sworn 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. This has long been the case,” Haysom said.
The UNMISS head noted that though the allegations addressed in the Al Jazeera report pin non-UN staff, he regards it as potentially applying to UN staff.
“We don’t take, as I mentioned, we don’t take any comfort from it, let me stress no incident is passed over and all are investigated fully through investigative units. What we do know also is there is underreporting and so we need to continue to approach the phenomenon even if we are not the recipient of complaints,” he said.
Haysom revealed that UNMISS will continue to report and to monitor conflict-related sexual violence across the country despite the allegations against aid workers in the media report.
He said that UNMISS has established 14 community-based complaint centres to encourage the reporting of complaints, as well as 13 Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) taskforces to systematize and enforce the approach.
“The UN has also recognized the importance of protecting and supporting victims, placing them at the centre of our prevention and protection approach. We have established three centres to promote the victim-based approach and additional centres are planned,” Haysom said.