Sexual Abuse in the United Nations

by Thomas Rose

The good news is that the number of allegations of sexual abuse by individuals working for the United Nations is down. The troubling news is that they exist at all.

A new report to the Secretary General lists the total number of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation allegations in 2014 at 79 compared to 96 the year before.  The allegations are spread out over half a dozen different agencies that deal with everything from refugees, to development, to food, to relief work among Palestinians, to peacekeeping operations.

All the allegations involve UN staff or people contracted by the UN and they are all disturbing, not only because they deal with sexual abuse but because they involve individuals entrusted to safeguard some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

By far the largest number of claims, 51, originates within nine peacekeeping operations, with a whopping 81% of those allegations emanating from missions in six African nations.  The mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports the largest number of abuses at 13, followed by South Sudan and Liberia at 12 apiece, Mali at 5, and Abyei and Cote d’Ivoire at 1 apiece.

It is tragic that having been forced to flee their homes because of internal strife or other humanitarian emergencies these individuals must now worry about whether their protector will turn out to be just another predator.

The alleged offences range from sexual assaults of a minor, to soliciting prostitutes, to trading favours for sex, to trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation, to rape.  In the report tabled last month but only released in March, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon states that new efforts to achieve the UN’s zero tolerance policy goals are being put in place, including enhanced monitoring and reporting efforts as well as initiatives to ensure ‘robust’ prosecution of suspects.

But for some NGOs, this isn’t good enough.  In an open letter to all UN members, Stephen Lewis Co-Director of AIDS-Free World accuses the UN of sitting on a report by an Expert Team highly critical of past and on-going measures to combat sexual abuse and exploitation.  The report was submitted to Ban two years ago.

Lewis says his group is releasing the report to illustrate why the need for immediate action is so critical.  The 2013 assessment of UN efforts claims, inter alia, that the UN does not know how serious the problem is, or refuses to admit it, because the official numbers mask “serious underreporting” of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Despite Ban’s assurances that the UN will eventually eliminate sexual abuse of the vulnerable by UN employees, the Expert Team report claims that Ban’s zero tolerance policy is fighting an ingrained culture of impunity ‘where those who break the rules are not punished’.

The battle to end sexual abuse by UN employees, especially peacekeepers is perhaps one of the most sensitive and damning issues facing such operations.  The need to take all steps necessary to end the abuse now is paramount not only for those abused, but for all the women and men at the UN who remain dedicated and passionate about working to make the world a better place.

Thomas Rose, LL.M, MSL, is a TSHEPO Fellow who lectures in justice and journalism courses at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The UN Report on sexual exploitation and abuse can be accessed at

The Expert Team’s Report can be accessed at

Nigeria’s presidential election: It is too close to call

Nigeria’s presidential election: It is too close to call

By Nevena Aksin

Today, millions of Nigerians are voting in what is regarded as the most closely contested presidential election in Nigeria’s modern era, and the first where an opposition victory stands a legitimate chance. Recent polls show a competition simply too close to call, with the two major parties (The People’s Democratic Party and The All Progressives Congress) commanding approximately 42 percent of the votes each(Whitehead, 2015). There are 14 contestants in this election, but the two leading candidates are the current President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the former Army General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

President Jonathan, a Christian southerner who is strongly supported in the oil- rich Niger Delta, has served as Nigeria’s President since 2010. While his term has not been all smooth sailing, under his administration Nigeria has made significant progress. Among others, his administration has promoted the advancement of democracy by creating an enabling environment where people of different backgrounds, views and opinions can be accommodated. He has promoted free speech and liberalized the press. In addition, the 2011 elections, barring some flaws, has been lauded as the most free and fair election in Nigeria’s history. Under his administration, Nigeria rebased its GDP and is now one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Under his leadership, Nigeria introduced the Nigerian electronic identity card (e-ID card), which analysts suggest is very secure and one of the largest in Africa. Another achievement is the Almajiri system of education, which is aimed at increasing education in disadvantaged Northern parts of the country.

The advancement of women in politics has been another significant achievement. I will focus on this a bit more here. Currently, 25% of the top positions in federal government are held by women (AMOI, 2015). In 2010, Jonathan appointed Dr. Diezani Alison-Madueke to the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources. Since her appointment, she has increased oil production to approximately 2.3 million barrels per day and has also increased the participation of indigenous oil and gas companies in the industry. Women are now the third largest emerging market in the world; in order to increase and sustain economic growth, countries must begin to invest in women (AMOI, 2015). Jonathan’s efforts to promote affirmative action principles and increase gender equality are internationally recognized for their contribution to Africa’s political and economic transformation. Other women holding prominent positions in politics include Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Miriam Aloma Mukhtar (Nigeria’s first female Chief Justice), Stella Oduah, Joy Ogwu (Nigeria’s representatives at the United Nations), Sarah Jibril, and Viola Onwuliri (AMOI, 2015).

Moving forward, Jonathan’s commitment to empowering women will be crucial for Nigeria’s economic growth and development. Noted as some of the most outstanding and audacious commitments, Jonathan’s determination to increase women’s participation in politics has allowed Nigeria to appointment of women into senior political positions.                                                             


President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan 

Despite his notable changes, Nigerians continue to harbour distrust and dislike for Jonathan due to his lack of political will to combat government corruption. It is estimated that approximately 70% of oil revenues only benefit a mere 2% of the entire population due to government corruption. In addition, Nigeria’s central bank governor was terminated in 2014 after he announced 20 billion dollars was unaccounted for in oil revenues. Many locals regard Jonathan’s government as the most corrupt yet whereby his desperation for re-election is so strong that he would never damage a relationship with corrupt political allies.

As a result, Nigerians are prepared to turn to Buhari, who is largely considered as untainted. Buhari, a Muslim northerner, is dedicated to implementing anti-corruption measures and tightened security (Soyombo, 2014). He states, “Rebuilding the army and other security agencies will… be a top priority of my government. I will ensure that never again will terrorists find a safe haven in Nigeria.”

He intends to implement effective military action against Boko Haram and stated that he would reunite more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the group with their families. Despite the fact that many Nigerians view his efforts as genuine and honest, the APC is made up of many of the many old political elites who known to engage in corruption, and whose credentials and transparency are weak (Soyombo, 2014).


Muhammadu Buhari

As many Nigerians are left to choose between Jonathan or Buhari, some Nigerians will decide not to vote at all. Oluwaseyi Adepoju, a political man doesn’t demonstrate any interest in the election. Adepoju  expressed, “There is simply no good choice to be made,”. Even if there were any worthy presidential candidates, he lost faith in Nigeria’s political system a long time ago.


AMOI. (2015, Winter Special Edition). Championing Gender Equality in Nigeria. AMOI   Magazine, 35-111.
Soyombo, F. (2014). Will Muhammadu Buhari be Nigeria’s next president? Aljazeera. Retrieved   from    niger-2014123191647111939.html
Whitehead, E. (2015). A tough choice in Nigeria’s elections. Aljazeera. Retrieved from          150215134322835.html

What are we doing about water? By Paul Jarrett

What are we doing about water?

By Paul Jarrett

Tomorrow (March 22), the world will be commemorating the World Water Day. It is a time to reflect on the importance of water to life and ask ourselves why so many people in the world are deprived of water and the role of both the private and public sector policies in ensuring that not a single person goes without water. Access to water is a human right and this right has many other dimensions including adequacy, safety and affordability. However, across different parts of the world, the fight over water rights is in fact intensifying, as clean and safe water becomes scarce due to pollution, climate change, droughts and other factors. Governments all over the world have tinkered with a mix of policies to try and ensure people get safe and adequate water and that this resource is managed sustainably. The urgency to ensure water is high on the development agenda though reaffirmed under the Millennium Development Goals has not resulted in much progress on the ground in many countries. Statistics provided by Aquafed (2011) show that least 1.9 billion people use water that is unsafe and dangerous for their health and 3.4 billion people use water of doubtful quality.

Recently, Peter Brabeck-Lemathe, the Chairman of Nestle, stirred up a lot of controversy by saying that water is not a human right and that it is a good whose value should be determined through the free market. Of course water, just like healthcare, education is not a ‘free good’. Someone has to provide it and that costs money. Although he later retracted the statement, claiming that it was taken out of context and that everyone should have access to water, he still asserted that water is a precious resource that needs to be managed by the private sector (McGraw 2013).

I believe the majority of us would agree that water is a precious resource, but the dilemma is who can we trust to manage this resource to benefit all. Given this reality, I believe that water is a human right that should be protected, monitored and controlled at some level in the name of development. Torado and Smith (2012) define development as, “the process of improving the quality of all human lives and capabilities by raising peoples’ level of living, self-esteem, and freedom.” But to benefit all people, in both developed and developing countries, should the private or public sector be the guardian of this natural resource?

Proponents of the privatization of water argue that the market is more efficient than the public sector at providing quality services. Private providers say that that they have the resources to do so, even if (unlike the public sector) they pass along more of the costs to the users for upkeep. But countries such as Ghana, India, South Africa and Bolivia have seen privatization backfire. Pressure from the World Bank and the IMF to repay debts pushed them into privatizing water services. As a result many residents have been disconnected from services and prices have increased by as much as 400%, as they did in Bolivia (Kornfeld, 2010). In these cases, privatization is ripping that very resource out of the hands of those who need it to sustain a basic life. Indeed, in some cases clean water was taken away completely.

Are publicly owned utilities therefore the better answer to providing the world’s water needs? In the case of Bolivia the government had been corrupt and mismanaged their economy, forcing them to sell their water rights to repay their debt. Despite government mismanagement, publicly owned resources can be less expensive to operate than private ones. For example, as in the United States, publicly owned water is eligible for tax breaks and tax-free bonds, whereas privately owned water is not (Polycarpou, 2010). However, it can be argued that publicly owned services are not always cheaper or better.

In Canada all we have to do is look at our own past with the contaminated water tragedy that occurred in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000. Eventually the E. coli out break made many ill, cost lives and millions of dollars (CBC News, 2004). Also, publicly owned water has neglected the basic need of development. Governments are challenged to maintain safe, clean drinking water and provide access to all people. Look, for instance, at the reserves in Canada where many Aboriginal people groups are not able to access this basic need.

Governments still have a role despite their flaws. In Bolivia, the people protested and had the government reverse privatization of their water. I understand that there is more to the situation than this, but the Bolivian people must have believed that they had more of voice with their government than with a corporation. In the early 1990’s, South Africa was also required to payback loans by privatizing their water systems. The people were unable to pay for the services, water was cut off and they returned to their polluted rivers. Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux (Suez), the French water conglomerate’s contract was eventually terminated due to contaminated water (Kornfeld, 2010).

Water is needed on so many levels of development: self-preservation, agriculture, sanitation, and electricity to name a few. As a result of these needs I believe corporations are going to continue to pursue control of this natural resource. In my opinion I would argue that despite the shortfalls in many government policies they are still the best option in protecting water as a human right. A responsible government will reflect the voice of many.

We can only speculate on the motives behind companies like Nestle’ and Mr. Brabeck. However, I believe a corporations goal is to make a profit, so why would a company such as Nestle’ be any different? Mr. Brabeck does however, agree with the United Nations that there is enough fresh water on a global scale, but that it is not distributed equally, and that much is wasted, polluted and unmanaged. The question still remains, however, of whether the public or private sector should assume control over sustainable water management. If we have a clear answer to this question and make people aware that they have an inalienable right to water, then we would have made a big difference. On March 22, we can demand that governments and whoever is tasked with providing us with safe, reliable and adequate water for our needs, do so responsibly and effectively.


Aquafed (2011) Worldwide needs for safe drinking water are underestimated:

billions of people are impacted.

CBC News, (2004, Dec 20). Canada’s worst-ever E. coli contamination. CBC News.        Retrieved from,

Kornfeld, Itzchak. “A global water apartheid: from revelation to resolution.” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law May 2010: 701+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

McGraw, G. (n.d.). Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck Says We Don’t Have a Right to Water, Believes We Do Have a Right to Water and Everyone’s Confused. (Video). Retrieved February 27, 2015, from

(n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2015, from

Todaro, M., & Smith, S. (2012). Economic development (11th ed.). Boston: Addison-Wesley.