Remarks at the 75th meeting of the General Assembly Agenda Item 131: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Implementing a Zero Tolerance Policy    

Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy
Senior Advisor for UN Management and Reform
New York, New York
September 2, 2021


Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The United States reaffirms its commitment to effectively address sexual exploitation and abuse, including in the UN system. We strongly support the United Nations zero tolerance policy and the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen its implementation.

Sexual exploitation and abuse is a scourge. It inflicts devastating harm on individuals and communities, particularly vulnerable communities that various UN operations are mandated to protect and support in their recovery from crisis or conflict. It also undermines the legitimacy of the United Nations itself, as well as the effectiveness of UN field operations, including peacekeeping missions, agencies, funds, and programs, in particular when those responsible are not held accountable. The United States supports the recognition in this resolution that protection from and response to sexual exploitation and abuse requires a multifaceted approach that includes survivor-centered response and prevention approaches, attacking the root causes and contributing factors of SEA, meaningfully responding to incidents of SEA when they are reported, and ensuring accountability, including for those of senior management.

We are disappointed that this resolution does not recognize the importance of addressing “survivors” of SEA. The terms “victim” and “survivor” each have their place and serve different purposes. While the term “victim” is a legal definition necessary and most frequently utilized within the justice system, “survivor” is used as a term of empowerment to convey an individual’s resiliency and capacity to recover and thrive. Both are important and should have their place in this resolution.

UN action must recognize the vital importance of a survivor-centered approach to SEA that treats survivors with dignity and respect; protects privacy and confidentiality; supports their needs and wishes and their capacity to make decisions about interventions; and places their safety, welfare, and rights before other considerations.

The United States also supports the authority of the Secretary-General to take necessary measures to implement the zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse. We look forward to the Secretary-General’s analysis of shortcomings and possible solutions to improve the UN system’s response, including through existing systems such as Gender Based Violence response and prevention programs, service mapping, information management, and referral pathways.

Finally, the United States would like to express its deep concern regarding the lack of progress on SEA in negotiations in the General Assembly Fifth Committee in recent years. The General Assembly Fifth Committee, not the Plenary, is the dedicated body for discussing the Secretary-General’s report on special measures for protection from SEA, where all Member States have the benefit of support from the Secretariat and sufficient time for negotiations. All Member States must dedicate themselves to action in the Fifth Committee in the next second resumed session.

We all must continue to do our utmost to eradicate this heinous phenomenon wherever it may exist in the UN system.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.