25 October 2017

Africa: A B-Minus for UN Conduct?

Photo: New Times
Commissioner of Police Bruce Munyambo, who represented the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, decorates Rwandan peacekeepers serving as Formed Police Unit under the United Nations mission in South Sudan yesterday.

The world body submits an annual report detailing staff crimes and misconduct - this year's results are in

Humanitarian organisations aren't always staffed by saints: Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault occur just as in other industries. The UN goes above and beyond when it comes to transparency on crimes and misconduct by its staff, although the results can make for grim and, at times, bizarre reading.

IRIN pulled down the most recent annual report, for the year between July 1st 2016 and June 30th, 2017. In 24 cases, the UN referred "credible allegations of criminal conduct" to Member States. As in previous years, it is unclear what took place after. Here are some of the incidents listed:

A staffer "engaged in the sexual exploitation and abuse of a minor." They were fired with no compensation and made no appeal.

Another staff member "engaged in a sexual relations with a beneficiary of United Nations assistance and paid the beneficiary of assistance in connection with those sexual relations." The staffer was penalised by "separation from service with compensation in lieu of notice and without termination indemnity, together with a fine equivalent to one month's net base salary" -- in other words, they were fined while also receiving payment after being let go without notice.

A staff member sexually harassed someone who worked for an "external" entity and later joined a UN agency, "making unwanted advances and sending improper messages of a sexual nature, and continuing to contact the individual." The staffer was let go with compensation; the case was appealed and remains under review.

A staff member "repeatedly touched the breasts of another staff member who was working in a subordinate position in the staff member's office." They were let go and fined one month's salary (but also given compensation in lieu of notice).

A staff member was found to have masturbated "in the presence of employees of a contractor providing cleaning services at the workplace." In a second incident, the staffer "masturbated in public view." The employee was let go, with compensation. "Mitigating factors included long services with Organization in mission settings," said the report.

One staff member was found to have "used insulting and racially charged language towards a non-United Nations person" while driving an official vehicle. The staffer only received "written censure".

A security officer employed by the UN "engaged in disruptive behaviour at a local bar" then drove off erratically, failing to stop when told to.

Staff members were also cited for the theft or sale of various items, including cash; laptops; fuel; a generator; and... beehives.

In that bizarre incident, a staff member said implementing the UN's complex enterprise software had been so stressful that he stole ceremonial UN beehives. A disciplinary hearing report, published on 20 October, confirms the bizarre details. The Geneva staffer, who joined the UN in 1991, stole four beehives from the grounds of the historic Palais des Nations and hid them in his garage. He repainted them and threw away decorative plaques with noble inscriptions such as "peace" and "justice". The hives were gifts of the Swiss government to the UN and produced small amounts of honey. The investigation quickly identified the offender, from CCTV footage. He confessed, apologised, and returned the hives, but was soon dismissed. He appealed his sacking earlier this year. A key part of his defence was that he was under particular psychological stress due to his work on the UN's complex enterprise software, Umoja. He has since applied unsuccessfully for more than 50 UN jobs. The 20-page judgment from the UN's internal administrative tribunal dismissed his case, saying Umoja may have been stressful but the theft was serious and the sanction proportionate.

Several employees were cited for unauthorised outside activities and conflicts of interest: one worked for more than three years as both a UN employee and an employee of their national government; another reviewed documents for an outside company.

Other entries outlined false insurance claims, while one UN staffer was found to have "submitted to the Organization 43 falsified sick leave certificates."

During the reporting period, the UN completed 132 "dispositions", closing 136 separate cases as three staffers were cited multiple times. A total of 55 disciplinary measures were imposed on staff. Eight resulted in dismissals and 32 in "separation from service". Forty concluded in the "separation of the staff member" before the case was taken up by UN human resources, or before a disciplinary process.

Such reports were mandated by a 2005 General Assembly resolution that pushed greater institutional transparency.

In 2015, the report drew greater press attention after four UN staffers were fired for storing child pornography on their work computers and distributing it over the UN email system, and another employee was accused of transporting some 173 kilograms of marijuana. Though all these employees were dismissed, there is no accounting for whether they were charged criminally, either in the countries where the incident or incidents took place or in their home countries.

The following year's report, covering 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, also included serious allegations, including sexual relationships with minors and one incident of attempted sexual exploitation. Included were incidents of theft of various items, among them: corrugated metal, a bottle of wine (that staffer was fired after being charged with its safekeeping), fuel, refrigeration units, and concertina wire. Others were recorded cheating on UN exams or offering up bribes to secure employment. One staffer was let go for physical assault with a knife ("with compensation in lieu of notice"), while another threw a "large rock" at a colleague before taking a key to their own face to inflict injuries later blamed on their supervisor. One staffer physically assaulted a female volunteer "with whom the staff member had a romantic relationship." They too were given compensation when let go, according to the UN. In one instance, a staffer wore "ivory bangles, in violation of local laws." That resulted in written censure and ended any chance of a salary increase for a year.

There is an appeal process, and the reports indicate whether any such action is pending. The conduct of peacekeepers is not included; only the staff of the UN.

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