Secretary-General Comments on Film on Issue of Sex Trafficking, Stressing Need for Wider Awareness, ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy Response
These are the remarks, as prepared for delivery, of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a panel discussion in New York today after a screening of the film, The Whistleblower:
What you have just seen is based on real events. It sheds light on an important issue — and a critical area of the UN’s work.
Regretfully, the film’s protagonist, Kathryn Bolkovac, cannot join us this evening. I understand her son is getting married this weekend. However, we greatly appreciate the participation of Ms. Madeleine Rees, as well as Ms. Larysa Kondracki, who directed The Whistleblower. Their dedicated efforts, along with those of like-minded people elsewhere, have helped to expose and correct human rights violations.
Sex trafficking and forced prostitution is a crime. It strips individuals of their dignity. Often, it condemns them to lives of misery. Increasingly, it has taken on a frightening global dimension. The victims are women and children — and men, as well — all over the world. Crimes of sexual violence and trafficking are particularly prevalent in regions of conflict, which serves only to compound the costs of war. That is why we are here this evening.
When I heard of this film, I decided to see it myself with my senior advisers. Having done so, I wanted you, my colleagues, to see it as well. And I wanted us to discuss it, which is why I arranged this panel. I also felt it was important for the producer and director to be here.
In all of our work, it is essential to face up to difficult issues. When we fall short, we must learn the lessons and act on them. I was deeply saddened by the involvement of the international community, particularly the United Nations, in the abuses connected with the trafficking of women and their uses as sex slaves. This movie tells that ugly story.
There are many human sides to the story. The wrenching departure of young girls from parents, exploitation, loss of innocence, the numbed international response. The film humanizes the victims. And it can help us to deter abuse and do our job better. Yet let me also say: it is important that the public recognizes the many steps the UN has taken since then to prevent and punish such terrible abuses. In a nutshell, the UN has a clear policy, shaped by the crimes portrayed in this film. That policy is no tolerance. None.
This policy began under my predecessor and continues today. At the operational level, this means clear standards and codes of conduct for UN peacekeepers and staff in the field. Conduct and Discipline Units have been placed in each peacekeeping operation. Working with the Member States, we have established stricter standards for recruiting and training UN personnel. Many missions have instituted more specific measures, depending on the situation on the ground. Those include curfews, the delineation of areas that are out-of-bounds to UN military personnel.
Violations of these rules are rigorously enforced. Violations are investigated by the heads of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Service and followed up on with Member States. We are all aware of the various instances in which UN peacekeepers were repatriated or punished for such abuses in recent years. Member States also have a key role to play. Our guest today, Ambassador José Luis Cancela, the Permanent Representative of Uruguay, can speak to how seriously we deal with such cases.
Let me close with two final points: First, incidents relating to sexual abuse now come within the jurisdiction of the Office of Internal Oversight Services. Those who “blow the whistle” should now find that protections are firmly in place. Issues of retaliation can also be taken to the Ethics Office. But, we don’t want staff to wait until a situation escalates. Early prevention and intervention for a wide range of issues is available through our Ombudsman and Mediation Office. Second, we have seen a substantial effort in recent years to develop and strengthen international frameworks for protecting and empowering women.
Later this month, under the presidency of Nigeria, the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security. Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations has increasingly occupied the attention of the Security Council. Resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1960 (2010) recognize it as a grave violation of human rights and a threat to peace and security. In addition, the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security highlights the importance of involving women in all aspects of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
We are actively recruiting female police officers from around the world. One reason is that the more female police we deploy, the more women come forward to report violence against them. This advances both justice and deterrence. Our goal is to ensure that women account for at least 20 per cent of UN Police by the year 2014. We are more than halfway to our target.
Most recently, we have created UN Women, a dynamic new agency for empowering women worldwide. And I have appointed my own Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, a strong and ardent activist for women’s rights.
The bottom line is that we have made much progress since the dark period portrayed in this film. We also know that we still have much to do. This film reminds us how important one person’s voice can be. It underscores how important it is to speak out against abuse or injustice. Those who do so, in good faith, must not be punished, nor should they be met with resistance from within.
Rules alone are not sufficient. We need to promote a culture in which people feel free and obliged to raise their voices in the face of wrongdoing and abuse. As Secretary-General, I try to lead by example. We must hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards. For this reason, we are glad to have had the opportunity to screen The Whistleblower for United Nations staff and Member States. To the filmmakers, thank you for raising this important issue. Thank you for speaking out with passion and conviction.