UNSOA Message on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Prohibited Conduct

10 Aug 2015

UNSOA Message on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Prohibited Conduct

The United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) is reiterating the importance of observing staff regulations and rules, upholding the standards of conduct as outlined in several organisational guidelines, to avoid behaviour that negatively impacts on the work place and infringes on the rights of peers as well as the populations which they serve. The standards of conduct for UN staff provides the duties and responsibilities of staff and related personnel, managers; and also provides a guide that staff should behave in a manner befitting international civil servants.

Zam Zam Nagujja Kasujja, legal officer with UNSOA and focal point for Conduct and Discipline including PSEA says strict adherence to these rules is crucial because “the work of UN staff and related personnel directly reflects on the values and aspirations of the United Nations as an organisation, and so the behaviour of staff and other persons performing work on behalf of the United Nations has to be exemplary”.

What are those aspects of behaviour that negate the work place?

The United Nations in its guidelines has stipulated conduct that is prohibited at the work place to provide an environment that is free of discrimination, harassment or any form of abuse. As Ms. Nagujja Kasujja explains, the unacceptable behaviour takes many forms.

“There are many ways, some of them may be inadvertent, some may be deliberate in which a work environment can become hostile or untenable. For example if you have a rude colleague, a rude peer or even your supervisor; if your supervisor is rude to you, that will create a hostile work environment. Things like harassment which can take many forms, it can be gestures, it can be words, it can be actions,” she says.

What are the responsibilities of managers in ensuring a conducive environment for work?

The managers and staff at the various UN duty stations have obligations to ensure that the desired conducive workplace is indeed a reality. Staff members for instance are required to treat peers with respect and dignity, declare situations where they may have conflict of interests, especially regarding the UN procurement systems and report any occurrence of abuse among other charges. Managers, by virtue of the authority entrusted to them are mandated to be the role models for that desired work place behaviour.

“Managers have a primary duty to be role models. So they are supposed to be the examples to the staff, to the supervisees, to contractors, to all persons under their supervision. They are not supposed to engage in discrimination on grounds of race, sex, gender and any other grounds for discrimination. They are supposed to respect their staff so that their staff can also respect them. They are supposed to avoid autocratic styles of leadership, dictatorships, they are supposed to guide the staff. So If a manager does not do this, this affects the whole team and a team that does not feel appreciated by the leadership will not give its best performance,” explains Zam Zam Nagujja, UNSOA legal officer.

What reporting mechanisms are in place for staff if faced with prohibited conduct?

The UN has put in place mechanisms through which cases of abuse can be reported. These include both informal and informal measures. Cases can be reported through respective supervisors, the Human Resources Manager, the Conduct and Discipline Focal Persons or even the Head of Mission. UN personnel also have access to the office of the Ombudsman based in Nairobi whose role is to facilitate informal conflict resolution.

“On the whole, the United Nations encourages informal resolution of conflicts or work disputes when they occur. On a formal level, a staff member is supposed to write a formal complaint to the Head of Mission and that takes a whole different process all together. It will be assessed to ascertain whether it is being made in good faith. The United Nations takes prohibited conduct very seriously and if the facts initially reveal that there is a possibility of harassment, discrimination or abuse of authority, a special panel is appointed to investigate the matter,” Ms. Nagujja Kasujja elaborates.

What is the policy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in relation to staff and the populations in their mission areas?

Further conduct explicitly prohibited is Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. The measures in place are not only meant to protect UN staff but also the populations in the various communities in which UN staff and related personnel work.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse is considered serious misconduct by the organisation, which can lead to imposition of disciplinary measures against a staff member, including dismissal from the organisation. The populations are vulnerable; there is differential power between the UN and the populations. There is a level of trust that the UN comes along with to restore peace and stability, so in such a situation, if UN staff engage in sexual exploitation, that is the abuse of trust, they abuse the trust of the population,” Ms. Zam Zam Nagujja adds.

Could you please specifically define Sexual Abuse?

Sexual exploitation is differentiated from abuse. “Sexual abuse is actual rape, sex without consent.  The organisation has zero tolerance for this. The Secretary-General passed special measures for protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. This was in the Secretary-General’s bulletin of 2003 (13) and in that bulletin, they have set out Uniform Standards. They are called Uniform Standards because they apply to all personnel serving in the UN; whether you are uniformed personnel or civilian. They have also been extended to bind contractors and UN Volunteers, as well as experts on mission who may come to serve. The critical areas are about four. First is there is zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse in the UN. This means that there is no complacency, if an incident is reported of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, it will be investigated and appropriate disciplinary measures will be imposed. Secondly, sex with children below 18 years is prohibited,” she explains.

The other prohibited critical areas include sexual relations in exchange for money or employment, as well as discouraging sexual acts with beneficiaries of assistance.

How can managers prevent Sexual Exploitation and Abuse?

With support from staff, the United Nations charges its managers to ensure work places free of all forms of exploitation and abuse and to ensure that preventive systems in place are effective. They are mandated to ensure that staff have all the relevant information they need, to conduct trainings and town hall briefings for staff and ensuring that communication channels are kept open in relation to standards of conduct. Staff counsellors and medical services among other support mechanisms have also been put in place in cases of abuse.

Finally, what message do you give all staff regarding expected conduct and behaviour?

I appeal to all UN staff to be reminded of the huge responsibility they carry on behalf of the organisation and to respect diversity, uphold their integrity and professional conduct at all times.

“It is important that staff know that regardless of your position, regardless of your rank within the organisation, we all have an equal right to a harmonious work environment. We all have the responsibility to treat each other with respect, to be mindful of avoiding harassment, to be mindful of behaving in such a way that we don’t encourage discrimination in the work place and managers equally have the duty to ensure that the workplace is free of harassment, free of abuse of authority and free of discrimination so that we can all deliver the mandates of our missions to the best of our ability,” Ms. Zam Zam appeals.