Ambassador Hamamoto at IOM’s Global Chiefs of Mission Meeting: Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Operations

HamamotoPodium
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto (U.S. Mission photo archive)

Remarks by Ambassador Hamamoto at IOM’s 5th Global Chiefs of Mission Meeting

Palais des Nations,
Geneva,
September 7, 2016

Director General Swing, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: I would like to speak with you today about trust, accountability and the steps that we, the international community, must take in order to further our efforts to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian operations.

Sexual exploitation and abuse isn’t a comfortable topic.  Unfortunately, all too often we become complacent. We may start to believe that if there are no reports then it isn’t happening, and therefore, there is no need to take preventative action. But we all know that is not the reality.

Sexual exploitation and abuse breach the trust that is the very foundation of any humanitarian or peacekeeping operation. It only takes seconds or a few isolated actions to destroy the trust that men, women, and children have placed in us. So we have to make sure that the principle of “do no harm” underpins all our humanitarian efforts – and this includes preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.  Commitment and accountability from senior levels – from all of us in this room – is critical to tackling this issue.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Tanzania to visit refugee camps.  As I entered Mtendeli Camp, a new busload of refugees was arriving from the border with Burundi.  There were so many women and girls, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them had suffered horrific acts of rape and molestation during their long walk to Tanzania, which we hear reports of on a daily basis.

Sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms is a scourge – one we must overcome…together.  But enduring such abuse and exploitation from those who are meant to provide safety and protection is especially intolerable and must be stopped.  We must have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers.  The protection of civilians is a solemn responsibility we all share.

I don’t need to remind anyone here about last year’s appalling reports of exploitation and abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.   We have no idea exactly how pervasive this problem is, but we are keenly aware that the same risks exist in humanitarian operations.  That’s why it is vital that we incorporate protection from sexual exploitation and abuse into each and every humanitarian operation.

This has been a long-term commitment of the United States.  As early as 2003, the U.S. government began requiring all partners to have codes of conduct in place consistent with the six core principles for the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) identified by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).

This helped galvanize our humanitarian organization partners into truly committing themselves to a higher standard of conduct – if they wanted U.S. government funding, they needed to have these core principles integrated into their organizational structure.  We are also training our staff on how to monitor PSEA efforts as they review proposals, as well as when they are visiting partners in the field.

These efforts are highly effective, as well as cost effective.  This creates an incentive for all of us to fully integrate them into an organization’s operating costs and accountability mechanisms.  In fact, organizations should be integrating PSEA activities as part and parcel of the way they do business.   That’s how change will happen – how we will instill a new culture of accountability.  And accountability to affected populations is a central priority for the U.S. government.

We already have the tools:  The mandatory training you receive on PSEA and the new section in your Chief of Mission manual are important in outlining roles and responsibilities for all staff in this area – not just in relation to internal mechanisms, but also with external partners and with persons of concern and beneficiaries.  This last point is important, because we’ve seen partners who are still not actively involving local and national organizations in their PSEA response.  In most crises, though, these organizations are the first to respond and to interact with beneficiaries.

Partners also continue to struggle to find ways to effectively communicate and interact with beneficiaries.  And that’s a real problem – true accountability requires the meaningful engagement of beneficiaries in the design and delivery of programs.  It also ensures that there is a strong complaints mechanism in place.  To that end, we need better coordination between humanitarian and peacekeeping actors on complaints reporting and protocols.

Now, these challenges aren’t insurmountable.  But everyone needs to be part of the solution – we all have a role to play.

Donors can be a catalyst to help establish and communicate best practices.  To the extent possible, donors should try to have similar minimum requirements and standards on PSEA.  Monitoring PSEA implementation plans and consistently raising the issue reinforces with partners how important it is to have this basic foundation in all their operations.  Donors should also try to create an atmosphere of trust with our partners in order to establish open dialogue on challenges and lessons learned without fear of reprisal.

Most of you will have come across our Refugee Coordinators in the field – their monitoring and dialogue with you and with other partners on the ground is an important way to keep focused attention on these issues.

Senior management needs to ensure that appropriate measures are in place.  These measures play a key role in setting the standard in instituting these policies, guidelines, and procedures.  Not only does this include supporting community based complaints mechanisms, and immediately taking action, but also following up when reports arise, and evaluating how organizational policies help or hinder participation in these mechanisms.

Partners need to use the draft guidelines and work together to develop community-driven complaints mechanisms, at both the field and inter-agency levels.  This will help them establish clear processes for referral and follow-up when cases are reported.

In order to strengthen collective sexual exploitation and abuse prevention and response measures, the United States has supported IOM on behalf of the IASC to develop standards for community-based complaints mechanisms, and we will continue to collaborate with IOM on its efforts to strengthen collective prevention and response measures.  While agency PSEA commitments are currently at an all-time high, experience has shown that an inter-agency approach is necessary to provide a coherent and effective response.

IOM has been a critical partner in our efforts.  Director General Swing, I would like to take this opportunity to commend you for your role as the IASC official champion on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse since 2013.  You’ve been a true leader on this issue, setting an example for many of us in this space.

As we open the floor for discussion, I’m interested in hearing from all of you about your experiences in the field, and what you are doing in your countries to address situations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  And I welcome your feedback on what donor governments can do to reinforce the importance of this issue.

These are extremely challenging times – with millions of victims of conflict and natural disaster around the world in need of assistance.  When vulnerable populations turn to the international community for protection and assistance, that is exactly what they should receive.  With the help of IOM’s leadership, your commitment in the field, and our collective efforts, we can make real progress on systematically and effectively responding to, and ultimately preventing, sexual exploitation and abuse.

Thank you.