Turtle Bay

U.N. to schedule viewing of film that makes it look bad

Ending weeks of internal deliberations and indecision, the U.N. has finally decided to organize a public viewing of The Whistleblower, a controversial new film that depicts one of the darkest tales in U.N. history: the story of how peacekeepers became implicated in sex-trafficking trade in Bosnia. The U.N. Department of Public Information, whose top official ...

Ending weeks of internal deliberations and indecision, the U.N. has finally decided to organize a public viewing of The Whistleblower, a controversial new film that depicts one of the darkest tales in U.N. history: the story of how peacekeepers became implicated in sex-trafficking trade in Bosnia.

The U.N. Department of Public Information, whose top official once counseled ignoring the film’s release, issued a statement to staff announcing the U.N. intention to organize a screening sometime in September, following a panel. Invitations will be sent out to the film’s director, and media.

"No one gains anything by putting their head in the sand," reads the announcement. "In turning the spotlight on human trafficking, forced prostitution and misconduct by UN staff, the movie provides an opportunity for the UN to address these issues head-on by acknowledging lapses, and by pointing to what has been done to address them, both as it relates to international efforts against sex-trafficking and internal measures in the UN to tighten controls and accountability."   

The memo includes a series of bullet pointed lines suggesting that the U.N. has taken steps to address the organization’s failings in Bosnia. Here they are, attached for your edification:

Stating the facts

The events depicted in "The Whistleblower" took place more than a decade ago. Combating human trafficking and violence against women are now high on the UN agenda. And since then, important systemic changes to address misconduct and protect whistleblowers have been put into place.  For example:

  • There is now a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual exploitation and abuse, instituted by the Secretary-General;
  • There are mandatory pre-deployment and in-mission induction trainings, a written code of personal conduct for Blue Helmets, and investigations and disciplinary measures;
  • More robust systems have been set up to handle misconduct in peacekeeping operations, with a Conduct and Discipline Unit established within the Department of Field Support, and Conduct and Discipline Teams in each peacekeeping mission.
  • To ensure transparency, regularly updated statistics on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse and misconduct in general are available on the UN’s peacekeeping website and on the Conduct and Discipline Unit Website.
  • The Secretariat has worked with Member States to ensure that they take appropriate administrative and/or legal action against wrongdoers under their own national processes.
  • The UN has also worked with Member States to improve the recruitment of police personnel to ensure that they meet the highest professional and ethical standards.
  • A UN "whistleblower policy" that protects staff from retaliation was instituted in 2005, and the UN Ethics Office was created in 2006;
  • A new internal justice system in the UN was introduced in 2009, with independent judges, giving added controls to ensure that administrative decisions are made according to prevailing rules, including those protecting whistleblowers.
  • The Secretary-General’s commitment to accountability is further solidified through the Senior Manager’s Compact, and mandatory on-line training courses about harassment and integrity awareness for all UN staff.

The announcement however omitted one salient fact. In response to scandals implicating U.N. peacekeepers in overseas missions, the U.N. General Assembly passed a 2005 resolution that transferred substantial authority for policing such crimes from the United Nations to the governments whose nationals behave badly.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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