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Conclusion on Protection from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Author UNHCR Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
Publication Date 10 October 2003
Citation / Document Symbol No. 98 (LIV) - 2003
Related Document Conclusion sur la protection contre l'exploitation et les sévices sexuels
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Conclusion on Protection from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, 10 October 2003, No. 98 (LIV) - 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f93b2c44.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
Comments Executive Commitee 54th session. Contained in United Nations General Assembly document A/AC.96/987 and document no. 12A (A/58/12/Add.1)

The Executive Committee,

Reaffirming its Conclusions No. 39 (XXXVI), No. 47 (XXXVIII), No. 54 (XXXIX), No. 60 (XL), No. 64 (XLI), No. 68 (XLIII), No. 73 (XLIV), No.74 (XLVI), No. 79 (XLVII), No. 84 (XLVIII), No. 85 (XLIX), No. 87 (L), No. 91 (LII) and No.94 (LIII) and in particular the need to combat sexual and gender-based violence in refugee situations; and recalling also in this context the relevant goals and objectives of the Agenda for Protection;

Recalling the international community's efforts to strengthen the international legal framework for combating sexual abuse and exploitation;

Recalling also the report of the United Nations Office of the Internal Oversight Services on the investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa1, and resolution A/RES/57/306;

Noting distressing reports over the last few years that refugees and asylum-seekers, in particular women and children, have been victims of sexual abuse and exploitation during flight or upon arrival in their country of asylum, and deeply concerned that this has negatively impacted their access to basic protection and assistance, including health care and education, the issuance of personal documentation or granting of refugee status;

Recognizing that sexual abuse and exploitation are a consequence of unequal power relationships; a dynamic that is often exacerbated during humanitarian crises characterized by widespread violence, mass displacement, and the breakdown in family structures, social and value systems; and noting with distress, the involvement of humanitarian workers, officials and other persons working closely with refugee populations;

Acknowledging that inadequate protection or inappropriate assistance, particularly the quantity and quality of food and other material assistance, increases the vulnerability of refugees and asylum-seekers to sexual abuse and exploitation;

Recognizing the importance of effective mechanisms to prevent and respond to the occurrence of sexual abuse and exploitation in all phases of the refugee experience;

Recognizing that the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration in the design and implementation of all prevention and response measures, to ensure the protection of children from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation;

Welcoming the June 2002 Report of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task-Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises and its plan of action to address the problem of sexual abuse and exploitation;

Recalling previous UNHCR policies and guidelines intended to address violence against refugees, including the 1989 Policy and 1991 Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women; the 1993 Policy on Refugee Children and 1994 Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and Care, the 1995 Sexual Violence against Refugees: Guidelines on Prevention and Response, as updated in 2003; and the High Commissioner's 2001 Five Commitments to Refugee Women;

Noting the issuance in May 2003 of UNHCR's revised Guidelines on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Refugee, Returnee and Displaced Situations, as well as the UNHCR Guidelines on International Protection, Gender-Related Persecution, of May 2002, and noting UNHCR's endeavours to address the problem of sexual and gender-based violence in the field and the various training initiatives undertaken to date to provide staff with the practical skills necessary to meet the protection needs of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation;

Welcoming UNHCR's efforts to address the problem through the promulgation and implementation of a Code of Conduct for UNHCR staff, in accordance with the plan of action of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's Task Force on Protection From Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises; and the amendment of its programme implementation sub-agreements to include a requirement for implementing partners to have similar Codes of Conduct and for these to be implemented fully;

(a)  Calls upon States, UNHCR and its implementing and operational partners to ensure that appropriate systems to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation, are in place, ensuring the needs of women and children, as well those of vulnerable persons, are addressed at all times; and recommends that measures to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of refugees and asylum-seekers be guided by the importance of:

  1. Ensuring explicit reference in codes of conduct and other relevant policies to the responsibilities of relevant personnel to prevent and respond appropriately to sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation;
  2. Ensuring the prompt investigation of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation;
  3. Ensuring that actions undertaken on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers, including women, children and vulnerable persons, enhance their meaningful participation in decision-making processes; that they are provided with sufficient information to form their opinions, and channels for communicating their concerns to humanitarian agencies, and are provided with full information about refugee protection and available assistance;
  4. Ensuring that needs assessments, evaluations and reports, identify vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation and abuse and provide a basis for improved programme planning that minimizes risks and opportunities for sexual abuse and exploitation, and that protection and assistance processes, taking into account the quantity and quality of assistance and distribution methods, including supervision, are designed and implemented in a manner that reduces the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation;
  5. Ensuring that camp governance is conducted in an equitable manner that empowers women, children and vulnerable groups and that the physical layout of camps is designed in such a way as to make such individuals less vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation;
  6. Ensuring that easily accessible and confidential complaint and redress mechanisms are in place for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, and that they appropriately apply sanctions to perpetrators and ensure that such mechanisms respect due process rights of the accused, and safeguard the security and rights of the victim or witnesses;
  7. Ensuring the existence of adequate remedial measures in order to appropriately care for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation;
  8. Conducting training and capacity building on the prevention and response to sexual abuse and exploitation;


(b)  Calls upon UNHCR to continue to pursue its ongoing activities taken in the area of sexual abuse and exploitation with particular attention to:

  1. Ensuring full implementation of respective policies, codes of conduct, the guidelines on sexual and gender-based violence in refugee, returnee and internally displaced situations, as well as the UNHCR guidelines on gender-related persecution;
  2. Implementing the relevant recommendations from the evaluations of UNHCR's activities in the area of refugee women, refugee children and community services;
  3. Ensuring adequate levels of monitoring and supervision of programmes for prevention and protection from sexual abuse and exploitation, including through physical presence, and to support staff at field level to implement concrete programmes of action;
  4. Developing mechanisms to ensure accountability, including at senior levels, in the implementation of all protection and assistance activities to prevent sexual and gender-based violence;
  5. Promoting gender balance in staff at all levels, both at headquarters and in the field, as well as expert and specialist competence, while having regard to merit selection principles;


(c)  Urges all States, consistent with applicable international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law:

  1. to protect refugees and asylum-seekers, especially children, from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence; and
  2. to cooperate in eliminating all forms of discrimination, sexual exploitation and violence against female refugees and asylum-seekers, and to promote their active involvement in decisions affecting their lives and communities;


(d)  Urges States to respect and ensure the right of all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction, to security of person, inter alia by enforcing relevant national laws, consistent with international law, and by adopting concrete measures, where they do not exist, to prevent and combat sexual abuse and exploitation including through:

  1. The development and implementation of training programmes, guidelines and other practical measures aimed at promoting respect by all government officials, as well as persons acting on behalf of the State, who have contact with refugee populations, for the right of every individual to security of person and at promoting protection from sexual abuse and exploitation;
  2. Appropriate follow-up action in response to allegations of sexual violence and exploitation including, where necessary, by implementation of remedies, such as facilitating the filing and investigation of complaints of sexual violence and exploitation, the prosecution of offenders, and timely and proportional disciplinary sanctions in cases of abuse of power or gross negligence resulting in sexual exploitation;
  3. Complaint and redress mechanisms, where appropriate, which are easily accessible, do not compromise the security of the survivors or other informants, and give due regard to confidentiality. Such complaint mechanisms should, where feasible, provide victims and witnesses with referrals to support services with appropriately trained personnel, including in particular female counsellors;


(e)  Calls on States to ensure that all humanitarian agencies funded by them and working with refugees integrate and promote policies consistent with the core principles of the plan of action of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises;

(f)  Calls on UNHCR to support its internal investigation capacity within the Inspector General's Office to ensure that the Office is able to react swiftly and effectively to ascertain the veracity of any allegations of sexual abuse or exploitation by UNHCR or implementing partner staff;

(g)  Calls upon the international community in cooperation with UNHCR and other international organisations to mobilize the resources necessary to ensure the provision of protection and material assistance in support of host countries, based on international solidarity, cooperation, burden and responsibility-sharing, since inadequate protection, or inadequate, inappropriate or poorly distributed assistance can increase the vulnerability of refugees and asylum-seekers to sexual abuse and exploitation;

(h)  Calls upon UNHCR to continue its cooperation with other actors to ensure protection from exploitation and abuse of refugees and asylum-seekers, including through participation in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises, and other coordination mechanisms;

(i)  Calls upon UNHCR to continue to report on a regular basis on progress made in the implementation of measures to combat sexual abuse and exploitation.
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1  A/57/465

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