Organizational and operational accountability
While eradicating sexual misconduct requires attention to the values and attitudes that underlie individual behaviours, a critical component of this effort is strengthening the structures and systems that support or reinforce these behaviours. This ranges from systems such as recruiting staff and vetting and reference checking to the system in place to ensure safe and confidential reporting, the processes in place for investigation and disciplinary measures, and ensuring protection against retaliation.
Vetting and reference checking
UNHCR has taken measures, both internally and through interagency efforts, to ensure that perpetrators of sexual misconduct cannot move within the organization nor across the UN System.
In addition to including specific questions related to sexual misconduct in recruitment forms for self-certification, which enables the sanctioning of anyone trying to misrepresent themselves, UNHCR was among the first agencies to roll out the United Nations ClearCheck tracker, launched in June 2018.
Given its large operational footprint, UNHCR has also recognized the importance of this form of vetting and reference checking for the movement of personnel within the sector as a whole and has been the first UN agency to participate in the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme. In November 2021, UNHCR, OneHR and SCHR embarked on the first phase of piloting the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme for recruitment within the international profession category in three countries. Since then, it has been fully effective for all UNHCR recruitments, including for local recruitments, in seven operations.
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A key UNHCR priority is ensuring that reporting mechanisms are available, known, accessible and trusted and that victims and witnesses who report sexual misconduct feel safe and protected. A range of reporting mechanisms are in place to ensure that cases of sexual exploitation and abuse can be reported, including face-to-face, online, by email, and through the internal SpeakUp! Helpline.
Direct reporting can be made to UNHCR’s Inspector General’s Office (IGO), which is an independent internal oversight body. The IGO implements a victim-centered approach and ensures support from a UNHCR Victim Care Officer is offered to victims of sexual harassment.
The SpeakUp! Helpline
The SpeakUp! Helpline is a confidential independent helpline available to UNHCR personnel who wish to report misconduct or obtain advice on what to do when in doubt.
The helpline is managed by an external provider and is available 24/7 by phone, through a web form and a mobile application. It offers the possibility to report in complete anonymity.
The Victim Care Team
UNHCR personnel may also contact the Victim Care Team directly in relation to concerns over sexual harassment.
UNHCR Victim Care Officers provide confidential guidance on processes and services, accompany victims through the process, and assess risks and individual needs. The Victim Care Team also provides guidance to witnesses and advice to managers on support and risk mitigation in relation to sexual harassment.
UNHCR has invested heavily in strengthening the capacity and expertise of the organization’s investigative and disciplinary processes to guarantee timely and effective handling of sexual misconduct cases and ensure proper accountability processes. Sexual misconduct cases are prioritized in both the investigatory and disciplinary processes.
UNHCR’s Inspector General’s Office (IGO) is an independent internal body responsible for receiving, assessing, and investigating misconduct allegations involving UNHCR personnel, partner staff, vendors or contractors. The IGO is staffed with professional investigators, including senior female investigators, with extensive experience and expertise in their field and diverse backgrounds in police or military, international tribunals or similar functions in other international organizations.
Investigators have received specific training on how to handle cases of sexual exploitation, abuse, and sexual harassment. Most investigators are female, with a wide age distribution, and from various geographic, national, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations.
UNHCR also has a dedicated team of professional lawyers in its Legal Affairs Service, with administrative law expertise and experience advising on sexual misconduct. The most severe disciplinary measures are imposed if allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment are established following a disciplinary process led by the Legal Affairs Service.
Any UNHCR personnel who engage in sexual misconduct can expect to have their employment terminated. In such cases, perpetrators are registered in the ClearCheck database as having a final determination of sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment as relevant, and they will be prevented from consideration for future positions with the UN. Similarly, their name is also registered in the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme.
UNHCR works closely with the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations in New York to ensure that credible allegations of sexual misconduct that may amount to criminal conduct are referred to the national authorities for criminal prosecution.
The United Nations systematically cooperates with national authorities on referrals, including through appropriate waivers of immunity of UN personnel who are found to have engaged in sexual misconduct. UNHCR and the UN Office of Legal Affairs regularly follow up on the status of cases referred to national authorities.
Protection of witnesses and victims
UNHCR’s policy on Protection against Retaliation includes all UNHCR personnel, has a broad scope of protected activities, and allows for the extension of the timelines to request protection.
The policy provides preventive and interim measures to safeguard the complainant's interests, ensuring that UNHCR personnel are protected against retaliation or punishment for reporting misconduct or cooperating with an official audit or investigation.
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By protecting staff who may otherwise be reluctant to come forward, UNHCR has provided more safety and confidence for personnel to come forward and report misconduct.
Survivor and witness protection remains an essential area of strengthening, particularly in recognizing the difficulties presented by some of the challenging contexts in which we work.
This is guided by principles of the victim's well-being, protection and security outlined in UNHCR’s policy on a Victim-Centred Approach. This work may entail implementing security measures to protect against retaliation, re-victimization, and re-traumatization.
UNHCR ensures that victims of sexual exploitation and abuse have access to all appropriate support and assistance provided by the UN and other entities, including medical, psychosocial and legal assistance, as well as physical safety and security.
UNHCR’s Victim Care Team supports victims of sexual harassment. This support is automatically provided to victims unless they choose otherwise, shifting the responsibility of obtaining assistance from the individual to the organization.
Allegations and disciplinary actions
UNHCR regularly contributes data on SEA allegations related to UNHCR personnel and its partners to the UN system-wide iReport tracker. Reported allegations against an identifiable perpetrator and/or identifiable victim are published here, with data updated quarterly.
Personnel dismissed by UNHCR on grounds of sexual exploitation and abuse are recorded in the UN Clear check database to prevent their re-hire in any UN entity.
The majority of complaints received involve implementing partner personnel. See additional information on previous years, the status of various SEA allegations and the investigations involving the personnel or implementing partners.