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The United Nations is a Hotbed of Sexual Harassment

And without direct action from the U.S. and Europe, the problem will never be fixed.
United Nations

Regardless of where it’s done or who does it, there’s simply no excuse for sexual harassment. But such allegations, when credible and substantiated, ought to be particularly damning in the public sector where taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for the lavish salaries of predatory officials. Nowhere is this problem worse than at the United Nations, which receives more than $10 billion per year from American taxpayers alone. A recent survey suggesting rampant sexual misconduct at the global bureaucracy underscores the need for the hundreds of nations bankrolling the UN to demand accountability. Governments around the world need to put a halt to the UN’s mission creep—and its other creeps.

An online survey conducted by Deloitte in November asked tens of thousands of UN employees and contractors a straightforward question: have you experienced sexual harassment on the job? More than 30,000 workers responded (roughly a fifth of the total), and the answers were not good. Deloitte’s data suggests that a third of UN workers have experienced inappropriate behavior since 2016, and nearly 39 percent reported harassment at some point during their UN careers. While jokes and inappropriate stories were the most common forms of harassment, an astounding 10 percent of respondents reported being touched inappropriately. More than 1 percent reported attempted or achieved assault or rape.

These issues are hardly new. In November 2017, Reuters reported that “thirty-one new cases alleging sexual abuse or exploitation by United Nations personnel” had been filed over the preceding few months. But the new report from Deloitte adds some context, highlighting a larger problem of inclusiveness. While UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the need for an inclusive workforce where sexual and ethnic minorities are well-represented, Deloitte’s data shows that lesbian, gay, and queer staff reported the highest levels of abuse.

These findings couldn’t have come at a worse time for the UN, which recently faced accusations that LGBT refugees in Kenya had been denied supplies and shelter by the UN refugee agency. Overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in refugee camps were exacerbated by rampant sexual discrimination against gay Kenyans who relied on the UN for survival. While the agency claims it is in the process of resettling hundreds of vulnerable refugees to a safer area with a lower risk of repression, Reuters reports that these transfers typically take years. Mbazira Moses, a spokesman for the LGBT group Refugee Flag Kakuma, notes, “It’s three weeks and the situation is not any better here than in Kakuma. People are scared and facing death threats from other LGBT refugees here. Some sleep with knives under their pillows.”

Nor is the UN’s abysmal record of dealing with sexual threats and crimes limited to internal issues and isolated instances of refugee handling. In the Congo, hundreds of civilians have documented sexual abuse complaints against the UN force entrusted to protect them. Fourteen-year-old girls in UN-guarded camps should not have to fear being violated by “peacekeepers.” There have been thousands of complaints worldwide over the last decade alone. And the UN’s habit of barring host countries from participating in abuse investigations only furthers the perception of a corrupt, unresponsive organization.

Fortunately, the UN is finally taking steps in the right direction. Secretary-General Guterres recently spoke of efforts to step up enforcement against sexual crimes and bar offenders from being rehired. The U.S. has recently applied pressure, but has failed to tackle this issue head on. America’s recent moves to withdraw from the useless Human Rights Council and Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization might push the UN towards curtailing wasteful operations, but they will do little to stop the underlying predatory culture.

The U.S. and the EU need to withhold funding unless the situation improves. Otherwise UN workers will continue to live in perpetual fear of harassment. Taxpayers cannot continue to be held hostage to the machinations of sexual predators hiding behind the veneer of a once-respectable organization.

Ross Marchand is the director of policy at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.