Remarks at the 2019 UNICEF Executive Board Session on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
February 6, 2019


Thank you. Mr. President. The United States would like to align ourselves with the statement just delivered by the United Kingdom.

The US appreciates Executive Director Fore’s strong leadership on protecting aid recipients from sexual exploitation and abuse by staff and aid workers and for commissioning an Independent Panel to review UNICEF’s approaches for strengthening systems for protection against sexual exploitation and abuse. We would also like to express appreciation to the many other donors and stakeholders here today who are committed to addressing sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment both within the development and humanitarian assistance communities and among beneficiaries. Continuing momentum on this work is critical to ensuring its long-term success.

The central message of the Panel’s report is clear. UNICEF needs a coherent and whole-of-organization strategy and action plan to address this challenge effectively. UNICEF must act directly and decisively to translate the Panel’s recommendations into action, and we urge UNICEF to continue to focus attention on the critical health dimensions of this serious problem, including its potential for long-term mental and physical health impacts.

Because children are extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse – and are often targeted by perpetrators – it’s also important that UNICEF’s PSEA action plan include implementing awareness-raising campaigns targeting children, creating safe reporting mechanisms that are easily accessible, and ensuring that investigations balance privacy concerns and avoid further traumatizing victims. We call on UNICEF to also increase transparency surrounding allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and to closely monitor all implementing partners.

We appreciate the action points outlined by the Panel’s thorough review, which highlight several key areas, and which will allow UNICEF to advance PSEA through better management and coordination, community engagement, and improved prevention and response. As the report emphasizes, UNICEF alone cannot ensure protection from SEA. Urgent and concerted action within the wider UN system, as well as the international humanitarian and development assistance communities is needed. Also, the Panel’s findings indicate that that there is still much more UNICEF can and must do to strengthen protections against SEA and harassment within its own remit – across all UNICEF offices and programs, among its implementing partners and in all the communities where it works.

The United States is firmly committed to ending the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse wherever the UN and its partners are working around the world. We urge UNICEF to continue prioritizing PSEA efforts by emphasizing prevention protocols, promoting early and genuine interactive engagement with communities, and mandating accountability, to include due process, for all forms of sexual misconduct and abuse. We’ve proposed additional language in our own grant agreement with UNICEF from the U.S. Agency for International Development to reinforce these messages.

Moreover, Mr. President, my delegation remains concerned about allegations of sexual exploitation and abusive or harassing conduct by staff across the UN system. SEA destroys confidence in UN agencies and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and risk, undoing decades of hard work building programs to serve aid recipients and their families. We encourage UNICEF to continue to look for and implement policies to prevent and address sexual exploitation in the workplace as well as SEA. UNICEF can and must also play a key role in pushing for urgent concerted action across international humanitarian and development sectors to prevent SEA and particularly attend to the protection of children, women, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups who are the beneficiaries or family members of the beneficiaries of UNICEF programs.

Our end goal is clear. To prevent sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment and to end the cycle of impunity – all of which require wholesale changes in organizational culture throughout the aid sector so that we can provide real accountability to the beneficiaries we serve. Mr. President, the United States is committed to working with UNICEF and other UN agencies to achieve these results.

I thank you for your attention.